The Archaeological Park Angkor is located close to the city Siem Reap in Cambodia. Most visitors just think of the famous temple Angkor Wat (‘big temple’) when they hear about the park, but actually it’s only a small part of this huge areal.
The biggest part of it is Angkor Thom (‘big city’), the former capital of the Angkor empire (9.-15 century). Today you can still see the old city wall and the impressive entrance gates. Beside that there are countless temples all over the park which makes it almost impossible to see all of them during one trip.
But these are my highlights and tips you can’t miss during your Angkor Wat visit!
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED TO VISIT Angkor Wat ?
I would suggest to split your tour into three days. You can buy one-day tickets, three-day tickets and seven-day tickets. A three-day ticket costs 62,- USD and it’s important that you carry it with you all the time – not only when you enter the park but also before entering the different sites like temples.
To plan just one day is not enough at all since you will just see a small fraction of the park and wont have enough time to explore the different buildings.
Doing the whole trip at one days is also really exhausting due to the high temperature and humidity in this area.
That’s why we split all of the Must Sees into three mornings to avoid the midday heat and the crowds. After the early morning hours the heat gets unbearable and busses with huge tourists groups are entering the park. Make sure you skip that and be an early bird!
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PACK?
First of all WATER!!! It’s really important to keep the heat & humidity in mind all the time! That’s why you should bring enough water and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. At the bigger attractions you will find small stalls which sell drinks and snacks but if you go to the outlying sites you barely find them.
You’re in the middle of the jungle but you don’t want to get eaten by the mosquitos and burnt by the sun, right? Bring an insect protection spray and sun blocker to make your visit in Angkor more pleasant! Keep in mind to pack a scarf too to cover your shoulders whenever you enter one of the temples.
The ideal transportation for your Angkor Wat Visit
We got us a driver for the all three days who picked us up every morning at our hotel in Siem Reap. He also accompanied us to all sites, showed us the best spots und brought us back to the hotel. It’s also life saving to rest some minutes in an air-conditioned car during the strong heat and have a place to store enough of water bottles between temple hopping!
If you don’t want to rent a driver it’s also possible to drive with one of the many Tuk Tuk’s to reach the different attractions. We also saw some people renting motorcycles or even bicycles – of course this is the most cost-efficient solution but I wouldn’t recommend it cause of the heat.
Angkor Wat opening hours:
Most of the attractions in the park open their gates at 7.30 am and closing around 6 pm. But there are a few exceptions: Angkor Wat, Pre Rup and Phnom Bakheng already open up at 5 am.
This is a map with the exact location of all mentioned places in this blog post
The best schedule for your Angkor Wat visit:
DAY 1 : ANGKOR THOM
For the first day we planned to explore the ‘big city’ Angkor Thom and started our tour at 6.15 am from the hotel to arrive before the guided groups and to avoid the strong midday heat. Most of the tourists (especially the ones who bought a one-day ticket) spend the early morning at Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise and to explore this temple directly afterwards. They only start to visit the other sites at around 8 am.
The former city wall is still in a good condition and most of all the entrance gates with the famous stone faces are really impressive.
Our first stop is the South Gate (1), where we enter the ancient city. You can find a gate for each point of the compass (except for the East – here are two gates located). The South Gate ist the one which is located the closest to Siem Reap.
Thanks to a secret tip of our driver, we made a stop at the East Gate (2) and we were the only people there! Not only because of the early time but also since it’s the only gate which is not connected to the main roads but only accessible by a small & inconspicuous road.
Next to the East Gate is a small hill which leads up to the wide city wall and you can walk along the top to reach the Victory Gate (3) – the former gate for the king – in about 15 mins. The way is nicely shady and we didn’t met any other tourists here.
At the Victory Gate you can take wonderful pictures with the stone faces and a small way leads back down to the street.
Our next stop is Bayon (4), the greatest and most famous temple in Angkor Thom. It opens at 7.30 am and there were already a few tourists when we arrived. But the temple area is quite big – so you wont get overwhelmed by the crowds. Bayon is well known for its countless stone faces all over the place which give this temple a special atmosphere.
Another popular site in Angkor Thom is the Terrace of the Elephants (5) in the Western part of the former city. It’s the ancient entrance area of the royal palace and is really impressive due to its size. You can find many wonderful statues and reliefs in the walls.
The Baphuon (6) temple was one of my favorites in Angkor Thom, since the view from here is one of a kind. A steep staircase leads up to the temple and you can overlook the whole area.
About 10.30 am we drove back to the hotel since the heat got more and more unbearable and the crowds bigger.
DAY 2: THE OUTLYING TEMPLES
We start our second day at 6.15 am from our hotel to visit the outlying temples.
The first one on our list is Pre Rup (7) cause it’s one of the sites which already open up at 5am. The huge temple with three towers gets a majestic golden glow by the early sunshine. Right in the center you will find a stone stairway which leads up to the central tower.
Next on our list ist the temple Ta Som (8) which only opens at 7.30 am so we had to wait a few minutes before the gate opened up. The good thing about that is that we had the whole temple to ourselves – most people only come here about noon! It’s neither one of the temples which are still in a good condition nor one of the biggest ones BUT the photo spot at the East gate is very famous: The gate almost became one with a Banyan tree which grows on top of it. It’s covering the old stones with its big roots inch by inch year after year. I found it very impressive to see how nature reclaims the place.
The next temple has a really nice jungle vibe and got super popular due to the movie Tomb Raider: Ta Prohm (9). Unfortunately it’s not as quiet as the other places due to its popularity. The temple is always crowded no matter which time of the day you arrive cause everyone wants to feel like Angelina Jolie on a movie set once in their lives, right?! 😉 But it’s worth a visit anyway!
Ta Prohm is also covered by many Banyan Trees which muddle through the temple complex with their sometimes really bizarre looking roots. The whole complex is relatively spacious and there are many reliefs, ruins and mysterious rocks to discover.
DAY 3: Visiting ANGKOR WAT
Your visit in the Angkor Park wouldn’t be complete without seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat . Every single tourist who comes to Siem Read wants to be part of this natural spectacle at least once which makes it to the most visited place in Angkor!
We had to get up really early this morning cause our driver already picked us up at 4.45 am before the sun started to rise. The closer we came to the temple the more people we saw!
After passing the main entrance through the West Gate (10) ( which opens at 5 am), most of the people go to the left water basin (11) to shoot the famous water reflection shots. But the water level was really low during the time of our visit and the number of tourists at this spot was overwhelming! That’s why we decided to go right from the. main way to reach the South library (12). You can walk up some steps to have a higher position and take nice photos of Angkor Wat without having hundreds of heads right before your lens.
Another amazing spot lies directly at the right side after passing the West Gate. There were no other people and it offers the best view over Angkor Wat with the sunrise behind it and even on the library.
After the last orange hues of the sunrise disappeared (and all pics have been shot 😉 ) we went inside Angkor Wat to discover the temple with its unique symmetric structure and the many reliefs on the walls.
You will find is a steep staircase which leads inside the central tower. It only opens up at 7.30 am and you have to be really careful with your choice of clothes. Normally it’s fine to cover your shoulders with a scarf while visiting any temple but not for this holy place. You have to wear a closable jacket, a shirt or sweater and your knees have to be covered by a long skirt or trousers too (both men and women!) There are two strict guards which are checking every single person before they are allowed to enter the staircase. So keep that in mind!
After strolling through the temple for around an hour it was time for us to say goodbye to Angkor Wat and all the surrounding mysterious temples!
A Secret Tip for your visit:
The ticket inspectors at the entrances of the archaeological site only work until 5.30 pm. So you can save one day of your ticket if you just want to see the sunset and enter the park after this time. But be aware that there’s not a single street light in the park and it gets super dark after sunset. Make sure to bring a lamp for you way back if you drive with a bicycle!
Résumé of our Angkor Wat visit
Visiting Angkor really blew my mind! Almost nowhere else on earth you get the possibility to get so close to an ancient place – you will feel like stepping back in time! In my opinion Angkor Wat is a Must See on everyones bucket list, which will be an unforgettable experience if you plan your visit properly!