The Angkor Archeological Park is a large temple complex located north of Siem Reap in the town of Angkor. “Angkor” translates to “city” and “Wat” to “temple”. And Angkor Wat is the most popular temple in the entire complex. It’s the highlight of any trip to Cambodia, one of the most important archaeological sites in all of SE Asia, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which helps to keep it protected.
This complete guide will provide you with everything you need to know prior to visiting Angkor Wat, including the best way to see the temples, entrance fees, hours, and how to get around.
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Complete Guide to Angkor Wat
Things to Know Before You Go
- You’ll need to dress conservatively in the Angkor Archeological complex so be sure to cover your shoulders and your knees. Check out our complete packing list!
- Plan on going to the park early, before sunrise, to beat the heat.
- Wear flat shoes and plan on getting them incredibly dusty.
- Beware of scams around the temples. Men offering to show you the best photo opportunities or give you some history of the temple are only looking for a tip.
- Children trying to sell you various trinkets are everywhere here. It’s probably best not to encourage them by buying anything.
Getting to Angkor Wat
The closest city to Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. It takes about 15 minutes to get from the city center to the main entrance of the Angkor Archaeological Complex.
There is an international airport in Siem Reap (REP) so catching a flight from Phnom Penh or any large cities nearby is relatively easy.
If you would prefer to travel to Siem Reap by bus, Giant Ibis is a reliable, low-cost company with several buses daily from Phnom Penh. The trip takes about 6 hours and you’ll stop 2-3 times for food and bathroom breaks. It’s easiest to book bus tickets on Bookaway.com.
Getting Around Angkor Wat
Most people hire a tuk-tuk for the day to take them between temples. Hire a driver the day before you plan to see the temples so that they can pick you up from your hotel, bright and early before sunrise. They’ll drive you to the most popular temples and wait for you while you explore each one.
There are two standard tours that you can take of the park – the Grand Circuit Tour and the Small Circuit Tour. The small tour will cost about $15 USD and the large tour generally runs about $20 USD. You can customize the tours a bit if you find a tuk-tuk driver who speaks fluent English.
If you want more freedom and flexibility, you can rent a motorbike or a bicycle and ride to the Angkor Archaeological Park on your own. Keep in mind that getting home on a bicycle after a long day in the sun will not be very fun.
Angkor Wat Entrance Fees and Hours
Angkor Archaeological Park Entrance Fees
- 1-day ticket – $37 USD
- 3-day ticket (valid for 1 week) – $62 USD
- 7-day ticket (valid for 1 month) – $72 USD
- Children under 12 can enter for free but must show their passports.
- Tickets issued after 5 pm are valid for the next day.
- These tickets include entrances to all temples except Kulen Mountain and Bengmealea temple.
If you’re buying a 3-day or 7-day pass, you’ll have your photo taken at the ticket counter. Then your ticket with your photo will be laminated. They do this so you can’t resell your ticket to anyone else (unless you find someone who looks exactly like you).
Angkor Archaeological Complex Entrance Hours
- Angkor Wat Temple and Srah Srang: 5 am – 5:30 pm (open for sunrise)
- Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup Temples: 5 am – 7 pm (open for sunrise and sunset)
- All other temples: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm
You’ll need to keep your pass on you at all times as it will be checked at the entrance to every major temple in the Angkor complex as well as when you enter the park on your tuk-tuk. If you purchase either a 3-day or 7-day pass, you will have your photo taken and your entire pass (photo included) will be laminated. This is to keep people from reselling or sharing their tickets.
History of Angkor Wat
The city of Angkor was built as the Khmer capital in the 12th century under the rule of King Suryavarman II. In its heyday, the city was quite large and had a massive population. Some historians believe that as many as one million people may have lived here. But what happened to those people is unclear.
Interestingly, toward the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat transformed from a Hindu religious center to a Buddhist one. And Buddhism is practiced here to this day. You may see monks wandering around the Angkor Wat temple, some even offering a blessing for a small donation.
Where to Watch Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Sunrise from the Angkor Wat Reflection Pond
The most popular place to watch the sunrise is from the reflection pond right outside of the famous Angkor Wat temple. It is incredibly crowded and if you don’t lock down a spot by 5 am, you’ll probably be behind the first line of tripods. Expect a huge crowd of tourists vying for the best view of the temple. All that aside, it truly is the most beautiful spot to watch the sunrise in the park.
Sunrise from Outside the Angkor Wat Compound
If that sounds too hectic, there are more peaceful spots to watch the sunrise. The easiest is to sit on the retaining wall of the moat that surrounds the Angkor Wat complex. Most people head straight inside the compound for sunrise so you’ll have this view almost entirely to yourself.
The benefit of watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is that the temple opens earlier than most others. So you can start exploring immediately after. Whereas if you watch the sunrise at Srah Srang or Pre Rup, the nearby temples don’t open until 7:30 am. So you’ll need to grab breakfast and a coffee and wait.
Sunrise from Sra Srang
Srah Srang (sometimes spelled Srassrang) is a large man-made lake with an ancient stone landing platform at the western end. Here you can sit and watch the sunrise over the lake in relative peace, far from the madness of the sunrise crowds at Angkor Wat. It doesn’t have the impressive temple view that the lake in front of Angkor Wat offers, but it attracts far fewer people.
Sunrise from Pre Rup
Pre Roup temple opens early so you can climb to the top for sunrise to see the view below. It also attracts far fewer tourists and offers really nice views of the surrounding jungle, although you won’t have views of other temples.
Sunrise from Phnom Bakheng
Phnom Bakheng temple is also open for sunrise. It provides a high vantage point of the surrounding countryside and a view of Angkor Wat far in the distance. That being said, it’s probably the least impressive of your sunrise options and it’s much more popular for sunset (see below).
Where ever you decided to watch the sunrise in Angkor, make sure you invest in a lightweight travel tripod so you can capture the moment!
Where to Watch Sunset at Angkor Wat
Sunset at Phnom Bakheng
The most popular place to watch the sunset in Angkor Archaeological Park is from the top of the Phnom Bakheng temple. However, it is extremely popular and only 300 people are allowed to enter at a time. So plan on arriving three hours early to ensure that you’ll get a spot.
There is a corner at the top with a view of Angkor Wat (although you’ll need a zoom lens). Lock this spot down to see the colors of the temple change with the setting sun.
Sunset at Pre Rup
Sunset at Pre Rup also offers a nice view. It will also be quite crowded, but there is no limit on the number of visitors. You’ll mainly be watching the sunset over the surrounding jungle as there are no other temples in sight.
Sunset at Angkor Wat
Probably the best option is to head back to the reflection pool in front of Angkor Wat to watch the temple turn beautiful colors against the changing sky (although the sun will be behind you). Keep in mind that the guards will kick you out of the complex promptly at 5:45 pm.
The Small Circuit and Grand Circuit Tour Routes
There are essentially two different tour routes – the Small Circuit Tour and the Grand Circuit Tour. Click on the links to read all about the routes, what temples you’ll visit, and everything else you need to know!
Small Circuit Tour Route
If you choose the Small Circuit Tour, expect to pay about $15 USD to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day. You’ll visit the major temple attractions in the park, including Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, and Ta Prohm, as well as a few others. If you add temples or take a long time at each spot, consider adding a small tip for your driver.
If you’d rather travel by car, the cost is generally $40-50 USD for the Small Circuit Tour depending on the time commitment and the number of people in your party. Some people choose to rent a bicycle or a motorbike for the day to see the temples at their own pace.
Grand Circuit Tour Route
The Grand Circuit Tour will run you about $20 USD. This route takes you farther out into the park to see a few of our favorite, less crowded temples like Ta Som and Preah Khan. If you have extra time to spend in Siem Reap, we would highly recommend doing both tours as all of the temples in the park are spectacular!
Not-to-Miss Temples in Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the most well-known of the temples in the ancient city of Angkor. The view of Angkor Wat from the reflection pond at the front entrance is the one that every tourist here wants to snap. And the iconic temple shape is actually on the Cambodian flag.
Built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, it is believed that construction took 30 years. And because the temple is oriented to the west rather than the east, as most Khmer temples are, it is believed that Suryavarman intended it to be his mausoleum upon his death.
Angkor Wat is a large temple so you’ll need at least an hour or two to get through it. You must climb a set of steep stairs to reach the central temple and generally, a queue of people is waiting to get in. The central temple opens at 6:40 am and it’s best to get into line sometime between 7 am and 7:30 am. That way you miss the opening rush as well as the tour bus groups.
This is also the only temple that might be worth spending a bit extra for a tour guide. There are some really beautiful and well-preserved carvings that tell a lengthy story. A tour guide can show you the most significant carvings and explain the story.
The Bayon Temple is a spectacular Gothic-style temple at the center of the ancient royal city of Angkor Thom. As you approach the entrance to the temple, look up. You’ll see the first of the 216 faces smiling down at you. These massive faces are everywhere here – some on top of tall towers, and others are close enough to touch. The amount of work that went to carving these sculptures is remarkable, to say the least.
Bayon is best enjoyed in the early morning, right at 7:30 am when the gate opens. Or later in the day, closer to sunset. There are fewer crowds to compete with and the light creates more dramatic contrast on the carved faces. For the best views of the many faces, head up to the rooftop. Many of the statues are roped off to keep tourists from touching but you can still capture some amazing photos here.
Plan to spend at least two hours wandering around this enormous temple.
Ta Prohm was constructed in the late 12th to early 13th centuries. It is one of the most popular complexes in the Angkor Archaeological Park due to the fact that it is literally being consumed by the surrounding jungle. Strangler figs are wrapping their massive roots around these buildings which creates a setting unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (unless you’ve watched Lara Croft Tomb Raider as parts of it were filmed right in this temple).
This complex is huge so plan on spending close to two hours here. Due to the fragile nature of the temples, walkways have been constructed to keep tourists contained. And ropes guard the most popular photo areas. You can take photos if you stay behind the ropes of course, but these areas get crowded so plan on waiting your turn.
Tour buses begin arriving around 8:30 am so if you want to avoid the crowds try to arrive right when the temple opens at 7:30 am.
Ta Som is one of the smaller temples in the park but contains some of the most intricate, well-preserved stonework. An incredible amount of work and precision went into the stone carvings and Ta Som is a great place to get an appreciation for that effort. It was built at the end of the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII and is a must-visit temple during your trip to Angkor Wat.
The most impressive sight at Ta Som is the eastern gate. As you approach it from the temple, you’ll see a large gate with a face watching you from the top. Pass through the gate to view the other side and you’ll see that a strangler fig looks to be consuming it. It’s a beautiful spot to snap a few photos.
Note that Ta Som is a part of the Grand Circuit Tour so you’ll likely only have time to visit if you have more than 1 day at Angkor Wat.
Preah Khan is also a part of the Grand Circuit Tour route. It was built in the 12th century at the site of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams in 1191 and was meant to honor his father. It is another good example of the surrounding nature consuming the ruins and has been left largely unrestored.
As you enter the temple, there is a central hall that leads all the way to the back of the temple. At first glance, you may think that you’ll be walking through this long hallway forever, all the way seeing the same style of architecture. But soon enough the temple opens up on each side to reveal a plethora of areas to explore.
This temple not only has very well-preserved carvings throughout but also has areas where the temple is being overrun with vegetation, similar to Ta Prohm. It is a very large temple with surprises around every corner and endless photography opportunities. You’ll want to spend at least an hour here.
Want to read all about the other temples of Angkor Wat? Check out all of the temple stops along the Small Circuit Tour and the Grand Circuit tour!
Want more information on the temples of Angkor? Check out our favorite guidebooks!