The Angkor Wat and the other 1000 year old temples built by the great Khmer civilization are collectively one of the wonders of the world. Siem Reap, Cambodia is the starting point for a visit to the temples at Angkor but it’s still at least a 30 minute drive from the center of town to the closest temples. Many people choose to take a rickshaw or tuk tuk from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. Our group chose to hire a guide and driver to take us to Angkor in AC comfort. Read on to learn more about our two day tour of the temples in and around Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Hiring a car and driver at Angkor Instead of a tuk tuk makes more sense.
Temperatures top out at about 40 °C in summer. If you are not used to that kind of heat then driving around in air-conditioned comfort is worth the extra cost for your comfort and safety as one could easily get a heat stroke or dehydration in the heat.
Know Where to Go for Tickets:
The temple complex at Angkor is very popular with tourists as is always crowded. Our guide took us to the exact right line we needed to be in to queue for tickets to the temple complex. We definitely saved time because we didn’t have to scratch our heads to figure out where to go at the ticket booth.
Learn the History of the Angkor Temples and Khmer Civilization:
I believe that we got more out of our visit to Angkor by hiring a private guide to accompany our driver. Drivers in Cambodia generally don’t speak English. If you want someone to accompany you around to the temples to explain what you’re seeing and the history of the place, a private guide is a must.
Best Spot for Photo ops:
By hiring a private guide to visit Angkor Wat, we also ensured that we’d position ourselves in the best spot for photos. We decided to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and our guide knew exactly where we should stand and what time we should be there.
Avoid the Crowds:
Our guide also really helped us avoid the crowds. The area we were standing in was just as picturesque and much less crowded. I didn’t have to run the gauntlet of selfie poles to get my shots! Our guide also knew which order to take us through the temples to avoid the busloads of tourists that tend to descend on these wonders of Cambodia.
Day 1 – The Temples Around Angkor Thom
Exploring the Royal City of Angkor Thom:
We started our visit to the temples at Angkor Thom, the royal city of the Khmer civilization in Cambodia. The approach to Angkor Thom is lined on one side with gods and the other side with demons.
Bayon – The Temple with the Faces:
Dozens of faces carved in stone stared down at us at Bayon Temple. Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II, archeologists suspect that at least some of the faces were done in his likeness.
Ta Prohm – The Temple from Tomb Raider:
Our next stop was Ta Prohm. Also known as the “Tomb Raider Temple”, Ta Prohm features impressive trees that have embedded themselves in the temple ruins. Ta Prohm feels very much like the setting of a Hollywood movie.
Angkor Wat – The Temple with the Towers:
Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most iconic Khmer temple. We visited in the late afternoon and entered through the back entrance so we could make the most of the light at this time of day.
Buddhist monks and Buddha statues adorned in gold added a pop of colour to the second level of the temple.
Angkor Wat also features ornately carved portraits of 12th century women. The devata statues seem to add an element of mystery and elegance to the temple.
Day 2 – Sunrise Over Angkor Wat
Experience Sunrise at Angkor Wat:
We decided to start our second day with a 5 am pick-up so that we could catch sunrise over Angkor Wat. Note that many tour companies charge extra “hazard pay” (~$25) for the early start so make sure you’re aware of any hidden costs before departing. We watched a perfect sunrise over Angkor Wat and then watched the clouds dance over the temple complex. It was truly one of the most amazing things that I’ve seen in my life to date.
Climbing Bakan at Angkor Wat:
The advantage of visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise is that you can get a good spot in the queue when Bakan opens. Bakan is the third level of Angkor Wat and is a place of active worship by Buddhist monks.
Pre Rip – The Temple with the Bricks:
After visiting Angkor Wat, we continued on to Pre Rip, one of the older temples at Angkor and made with a different style of masonry. We enjoyed watching the sun dance over the golden bricks.
Eastern Mebon – The Temple with the Elephants:
Next up was Eastern Mebon, the temple with the elephants. Each corner of the temple was adorned with a large and impressive elephant. We learned that each elephant was carved in place making them even more impressive.
Neak Pean – The Temple with the Reservoir and Hospital:
Neak Pean Temple itself was quite modest but the setting was mindblowing.
Situated on an ancient reservoir, we walked across a wooden bridge through water. Dead trees from the constant ebb and flow of the water added a unique ambiance.
Preah Khan – The Temple with the Trees and Doors:
Preah Khan reminded me a bit of Ta Prohm because of the trees emerging from the temple ruins.
We walked through doorway after doorway in a scene that really did feel like something out of a movie.
Banteay Srei – The Temple with the Yellow and Pink Stone:
Banteay Srei is one of the oldest temples in the Angkor temple complex and was built with yellow and pink stone. The stone itself allowed for intricately carved decorations all around the temple. This Khmer temple is tiny but so impressive.
Banteay Samré – Bridging Designs:
Our last stop was Banteay Samré, also one of the older temples at Angkor. Banteay Samré bridges the styles that we saw at Banteay Srei (the pink and yellow stone) but features curved towers and pillars in the window frames that foreshadow the architecture at Angkor Wat.