My recent trip to Cambodia was on a shoestring budget. With tickets to visit the ancient city of Angkor starting at US$37 for one day and a limited time in Siem Reap, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see that many temples in Angkor.
Hostel staff advised that I would be able to see five temples in Angkor if I took a bike, more with a guide. My trusty Lonely Planet told me I could only manage three Angkor temples in 24 hours.
Not to be thwarted, I rented a bike for the day for US$3 and decided I would try and see as many as I could. I left my hostel at 4am, cycling through unlit city streets to get to the ticket office (confusingly, notwhere near the entrance of Angkor), before heading to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
I didn’t see five temples. I didn’t see three. I saw TEN temples in Angkor and I have the sweat-drenched t-shirt and toned glutes to prove it! Here are the ten temples in Angkor that I managed to squeeze into just one day:
Of all the temples in Angkor, Angkor Wat is obviously the most famous and most visited. It’s the largest religious monument in the world. First Hindu, then Buddhist, the facade is iconic and the giant, ancient stone building is just as humbling when you see it in person.
Most notably, people visit Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. I was one of those people. However, what the guide books don’t tell you is that everyone else is there too. There were literally thousands of people there, all poised with camera in hand. Not exactly the peaceful Buddhist tranquility you are looking for.
However, if you walk around or through the temple, so that you’re not facing the front, you can find a spot all to yourself (see below).
After feeling awe-inspired, but slightly claustrophobic at Angkor Wat, I then decided to cycle to Ta Prohm. On the way, I passed the beautiful waters of Sra Srang. This isn’t so much of a ‘temple’ as a reservoir, but the guardian lion statues looking out over the water are beautiful.
Tomb Raider. This is exactly what you think of when you see Ta Prohm and with good reason; it’s where the Tomb Raider opening sequence was filmed.The way the natural landscape has taken over the temples and become part of the architecture are what make this temple so popular.
This is a personal favourite. The great thing about exploring the temples of Angkor is that you never know what you might find. Yes, some people stick to Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm, but the best temples in Angkor are the ones that you discover while you’re travelling between the famous ones.
Little Ta Keo was tucked away, but as I cycled past I couldn’t resists a look inside. The grounds were nearly completely deserted. I had finally found a temple that I could explore in peace.
I believe this temple is named Angkor Thom, but as with most of the temples of Angkor, I’m never quite sure where I am on the map. Angkor Thom is also the name of the cenntral part of the ancient city, just to add to the confusion.
The best this about this temple is that you can climb up to the roof. The climb isn’t for the faint-hearted. The steep, thin steps and bamboo ladders (bamboo ladders!) will give you butterflies, but the view from the top is worth it.
The many faces of Bayon are what make this temple stand out. Bayon was the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. The hundreds of carved happy faces look incredible, but they were also apparently meant to instill fear in visitors. The ultimate ‘Big Brother is Watching You’!!
Baphuon is also known as the biggest jigsaw in the world. Back in the day, it was part of the Royal Palace, though it fell into ruin throughout the ages. In order to save the temple, it was taken apart by restorers in 1960, so that it could be put back together again, but stronger. However, the Khmer Rouge interrupted the restoration and the stones were scattered.
In April 2011, the temple was finally declared fully restored, though no one knows if it is really so close to the original.
I’m not going to lie, by the time I got to this temple I was hot, exhausted, sweaty and ravenous. So much so that I didn’t take any photos (hence the Wikimedia pic above). Of all the temples in Angkor, this is the one I have nearly no memory of.
Instead, what I do remember is that this temple was next to a very nice little restaurant, where I guzzled a huge plate of fried noodles and downed an entire young coconut.
Now that I had been fed and watered, I was back on my bike again ready for the next temple. Preah Khan is a beautiful temple, though it’s also an unsettling optical illusion. The grid of identical rectangular chambers seems to go on forever.
However, if you keep going right through until the end, you can cross a bridge of headless statues and end up at the lake. You just have to find your way first through the maze…
Just when you insist that you can’t possibly see any more temples in Angkor, you come across Neak Pean. The temple is built on an artificial island and you must cross this picturesque bridge over the lake in order to get there. The lake is a very spiritual lake and there’s a myth that a visit to Neak Peak will cure illness.
Visiting the Temples in Angkor
So, you hostel staff and guidebooks may tell you differently, but it is entirely possible to see ten (or more!) temples in Angkor in just 24 hours. You can even do it on a bike, including cycling to and from the city centre (and making a 4am detour to the ticketing office).
Of course, before you visit the manificent temples of Angkor, I would strongly recommend the following. Drink lots of water and bring three bottle of water more than you think you’ll need. You will also need anti-bac and tissues for when you need to pee (good luck with the toilets). Finally, don’t lose or misplace or forget your Angkor pass! I had mine checked at almost every temples I went to.
And enjoy your visit the Angkor Wat and the amazing temples of Angkor!