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FaceOfBayon

Detail from Bayon Temple

Angkor Wat is rightly billed as the top travel destination in Cambodia. Because of its size – and despite its popularity – it is possible to explore this historic site without feeling constantly hemmed in by the crowds. The biggest tip I can give for Angkor Wat is not to rush or pack in the various temples and sights. The middle of the day is not a time to be exploring. If you hire a tuk-tuk driver like we did, remember that you are paying for the day. You should head out early morning to hit a temple or two, head back to your hotel for a few hours rest, then head out again around 3pm for a couple more temples before sunset. Doing this for three days should allow you comfortable time to explore the main sights within the central Angkor complex. It’s better to see six temples ‘properly’ than rush around and see twelve but feel exhausted!

One of the beauties of Angkor is that there is a variety of different temples that offer different things at different times of day. The best map for pre-planning your trip is this one.

We had intended to go further afield to temples such as Beng Malea, but in the end stayed around the central area, which has more than enough for three days. Some highlights include:

  • Sras Srang  a perfect spot for sunrise, less crowded than Angkor Wat, and near to Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, which are good temples for early morning exploring. We saw our first (and only!) sunrise here.
  • Angkor Wat – obviously this is the one that you come to see, although it probably wasn’t the most memorable temple we visited. Still, it’s worth taking your time over it – we saw it in the afternoon and in the evening, and it was more atmospheric later in the day.
  • The whole complex of Angkor Thom offers a variety of temples that can be seen over a relaxing afternoon of exploring. Bayon has the famous faces carved into the rock, while nearby Baphuon is reminiscent of an Aztec pyramid that you can climb to the top of.
  • One of the best-known temples is Ta Prohm, a jungle temple covered in foliage and broken up by impressive spung trees. The battle between the stones of the ruined temple and the trees is incredible, leaving one with a sense of the epic battle between man-made objects and the nature that surrounds them, played out over hundreds of years. Ta Prohm featured in Tomb Raider and gets very busy – for a similar scene, including spung trees, go to Preah Khan.
  • Banteay Srey – one of the most distinctive-looking temples, Banteay Srey is a few kilometres away from the main complex. We loved tuk-tuking out here, as you wind through quiet country roads and passed rice fields. Definitely one of the highlights, but best to come here when you can avoid the crowds – we probably visited at the wrong time of day (10am-ish).
  • Banteay Samre – it could be argued that this temple offers little that can’t be seen elsewhere, but I really enjoy this one – it has a symmetrical layout with turrets and a central temple.
  • Phnom Bakheng – we enjoyed watching sunset on this hill overlooking the West Boray, but it was insanely crowded, possibly the worst spot crowd-wise of our three days. A better choice might be Pre Rup – it also gets crowded around sunset too, but it is very atmospheric.
  • The three temples north of Angkor Thom are a nice set to see late afternoon – Preah Khan, with its gargantuan spung trees and passageways, Neak Pean, with its atmospheric wooden walkway that traverses a swampy lake, and Ta Som, which has a much-photographed doorway (see below).

Okay, I seem to have named all of the temples, but they really do all offer different things. Here are a selection of photos from Angkor:

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Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

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Sunrise the next morning at Sras Srang

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Atmospheric temples early in the morning – worth the early start

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It was nice to see Ta Prohm before the crowds arrived

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Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom

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Two heads at Bayon

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The ‘Big One’ – Angkor Wat

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The much-photographed doorway at Ta Som.

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Sunset at Pre Rup with the crowds (HDR)

Don’t stress too much about seeing certain temples at certain times of day. Instead, remember that all of the temples are better-visited either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. One exception is Ta Prohm, which is covered by trees and so could be a good choice for mid-afternoon.

For sunrise,  I’d definitely recommend Sras Srang. We didn’t manage a second sunrise whlie at Angkor, but Angkor Wat is apparently good (if crowded).

For sunset, I’d recommend Pre Rup over Phnom Bakheng. Angkor Wat is also a good area to hang out at at this time of day.

Get around: Walking is impossible, and cycling would be exhausting if you had limited time. The best option is tuk-tuk. We rented one for $15 a day for two of us. We enjoyed journeying between temples through the countryside almost as much as the temples themselves.

Travel Rating (out of five): ★★★

One of the must-see destinations of the world, let along Cambodia. Angkor deserves at least three days – and also to be seen at an unhurried place.

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