The inspiring and breathtaking temples of Angkor in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap should be on every traveller’s bucket list.
Situated amongst dense rainforest between the Tonle Sap lake and the Kulen Mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the magnificent remains of the Khmer Empire, which date as far back as the 9th century.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire, the temples of Angkor were abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle. Centuries later, many of the temples are being restored.
The 40,100 hectare site is said to be one of the largest religious monuments in the world, welcoming over two million tourists each year.
To visit the temples, you are required to purchase an Angkor Pass from the official ticket centre between 4:30am – 5:30pm, every day, located just 4km from Siem Reap town-centre. You have a choice of a one-day (US$37), three-day (US$62) or seven-day (US$72) pass.
It is important to know there is a dress code when visiting the temples. As you are visiting a religious site, you’ll need to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. It can get quite hot during the day so make sure your clothing is light and bring a hat. Make sure you have comfortable shoes and if you are visiting in the wet season, bring an umbrella or a poncho.
Whilst there are over hundreds temple ruins to explore, I chose the three most impressive and popular to visit.
Angkor Wat is the largest and most popular temple, sitting on a site measuring 162.6 hectares. It was constructed in the 12th century to worship the Hindu god Vishnu before being transformed into a Buddhist shrine.
Five lotus-like towers are surrounded by a huge reservoir and the temple walls are covered with bas-relief sculptures representing eight different Hindu stories.
I strongly recommend visiting Angkor Wat just before sunrise to get some truly spectacular photos.
A tuk-tuk picked me up from my hotel at 4am and we made the bumpy ride to Angkor Wat in the darkness. Breakfast box, torch and umbrella in hand we made our way towards the temple after getting dropped off at the eastern gate.
As we approached the temple, we could hear the chants of Buddhist monks in Pali, the language of the early Buddhist scriptures as they beat on drums and waited for sunrise. It didn’t stop raining all morning which was good because the crowds were low and we were able to get prime position and take some stunning photos.
After sunrise, we spent about two hours exploring the temple before stopping for breakfast. You could easily spend a whole day here enjoying the intricate bas-reliefs sculptures.
Bayon is special because of the 216 smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara which protrude out of the 54 gothic towers. Each of the faces measure four metres in height and orientated towards the four cardinal points.
There are also significant bas-reliefs around the temple telling stories of war and the social lives of the Khmer people.
Exploring Bayon can be hard on the knees as it involves a lot of narrow corridors and steep steps. If you’re lucky you will be joined by the local monkeys. And whilst they make for a great photo opportunity – watch you food and belongings as they can be conniving little thieves!
Lying in a semi-ruined state engulfed by the jungle, Ta Prohm was originally constructed to be a monastery and university.
Ta Prohm was made famous because it featured in the film Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. Giant tree roots are intertwined with ancient ruins making it a popular and photogenic site.
Ta Prohm is currently going through restoration so parts of it were closed off to visitors.
Are the temples of Angkor on your bucket list?