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Siem Reap was the first stop on our 3 week honeymoon in Southeast Asia, and Cambodia ended up being our favorite country by far. We were really excited about exploring all of the different temples, so before we even left on our trip we did extensive searches online to find the most interesting temples. We found a lot of information online, but not all of it was accurate. The most frustrating part was the searches we did through Google Images. Multiple times while searching for specific temples we would find photos that were completely different locations. It was obvious that people were posting and naming their photos with incorrect temple names… not helpful.
After our search frustrations, we wanted to make sure that other people searching for temples in Siem Reap would have a more accurate guide. The first step to creating this guide was making sure that we knew exactly what photos were taken at each temple. We did this by carrying around a notepad and a pen with us. Each time our tuk tuk driver would drop us off at a temple we would write the name on a piece of paper and take a picture of the temple name with our camera. This was perfect for when we organized our photos after a day of exploring temples. This was necessary, considering we visited over 15 temples in 3 days.
There are three different options for Angkor Passes, which allow for entrance to all of the Angkor temples and monuments in the Siem Reap area:
- $20 – One day
- $40 – Three day (valid for one week)
- $60 – Seven day (valid for one month)
You must pay for a pass in cash, as credit cards are not accepted. A photo is also required for each Angkor pass, which is taken onsite the day you get your pass. Because your photo is on the pass, this obviously means that it cannot be used by another person.
We were in Siem Reap for 5 days, and we decided to get the 7-day Angkor pass. Even though we only spent 3 days exploring temples, we knew that we needed an additional day for our Ziplining excursion with Flight of the Gibbon Angkor. The ziplining course is located within Angkor park, so a pass is needed in order to get there.
Angkor Temple Circuits
Wherever you are staying in Siem Reap, I’m pretty sure that they will have information on the different temple circuits. There are basically 2 circuits that they promote and they will usually refer to them as the Grand (Big) Circuit and the Small Circuit. There are a lot of different temples to see, which can be overwhelming, so this probably gives most tourists 2 easy options to choose from. I’m sure I won’t be the first to tell you this, but you don’t have to stick to the exact structure of these temple circuits. All 3 days we did slight modifications and bargained an acceptable price with our tuk tuk driver.
Siem Reap Angkor Temple Map
Our tuk tuk driver drove us everywhere we wanted to go, and if I were a normal person I would have just sat back and enjoyed the ride, but I’m not that normal. Mainly because I love maps and usually need to know where we are and where we’re headed next. This map is very similar to the map we carried around with us from temple to temple.
Our Top 3 Temples to Visit
Of course this is just our opinion, but we definitely left Siem Reap with a list of our favorite temples. These three definitely left an impression on us, and each of them for different reasons.
1. Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm is best known for the trees that grow in and around the temple. In many places the large trees have grown in, up, over, through, and on top of the walls of the temple. It’s amazing how not even a large stone temple can stop nature from continuing to grow and expand.
One of the great things about Ta Prohm is that there are so many different areas to explore that you could spend multiple hours walking (or climbing) around. Lynn and I actually decided to come back a second day to take more pictures and explore some of the areas we didn’t have time to during our first visit.
My advice would be to not stay where all of the tourists gather to take pictures. Venture into different areas and see some of the amazing beauty this temple has to offer.
2. Angkor Wat
We started our second day trying to capture one of those famous sunrises over Angkor Wat. This meant waking up at 5am and taking a tuk tuk in the dark to the temple… along with thousands of other tourists! It wasn’t a big deal though because Angkor Wat is huge.
The size of Angkor Wat is actually what made it so amazing to us. Even with thousands of people walking around, we were still able to find areas with very few people. For a lot of our pictures we tried to make sure that one or both of us were in the picture to show how large some of the structures were.
There is no doubt why Angkor Wat is one of top attractions in Siem Reap, and why people travel from all over the world to visit the temple. If you plan to visit, I would definitely suggest taking some time to read about the history of Angkor Wat and what it took to build this massive temple.
3. Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is actually not part of either circuit and will probably cost you a little extra to get to. Also, it’s not on the map I included above because it is about 35 kilometers north of Siem Reap and it takes about 45 minutes to get there. We added it on to our first day of temple exploring and were definitely glad we did.
Banteay Srei has very intricate carvings and has been very well maintained over the years. Unlike some of the other temples, the main section of this temple is roped off in order to preserve it’s detail and beauty. You will also notice that the stone used to build this temple has a reddish color which adds to its uniqueness.
Finishing Off Our Top 10 Temples in Siem Reap
Lynn and I constantly referred to Bayon as the temple of faces. It is most recognizable by the numerous faces that are built into the tall towers that make up the temple.
We arrived at Bayon a little later in the day, and because it is one of the more popular temples it was pretty crowded. The great thing about most of these temples is that they are so big that you can usually walk around and find a couple areas where it’s less crowded. While everyone was admiring the large stone faces, Lynn and I were enjoying some of the intricate carvings along a couple of the large stone walls.
5. Preah Khan
We were definitely surprised at how much we loved exploring Preah Khan. It wasn’t even on our list of “must see” temples, but it was part of the circuit we took on the first day. Oddly enough it was where we took some of our favorite photos during our time in Siem Reap.
Half way through exploring the temple we were approached by one of the park officers that gave us a very brief tour of some of the most important features of the temple. He also pointed out 3 or 4 photo opportunities. Even though we understood he was doing it to hopefully receive a tip, we enjoyed the brief tour and appreciated that he was not pushy at all about getting paid for his services. We gladly tipped him and left with some great pictures and a nice chunk of knowledge about the temple.
Baphuon is a large temple which is contained within the Angkor Thom area along with multiple other temples including Bayon (#4) and Phimeanakas (#9). I would recommend climbing to the very top of the temple for a nice view of the surrounding area.
After climbing to the top we climbed down a set of “stairs” near the back of the temple. In the back there was a path that wrapped around and connected with the back part of Phimeanakas. Along that path there was a cool tree with a very elaborate root structure that we took some pictures with as well (pictured above).
7. Ta Som
Unlike some of the temples that are out in the open, Ta Som sits sort of hidden back off of the road. The west entrance has a large archway with a giant stone face sitting on top.
The most photographed part of this temple is at the east gate, where there is a large tree that has grown around the entrance to the temple. A lot of the locals set up shops back in that area as well.
8. Ta Keo
On our final day of visiting temples we went to Ta Keo, which in some ways reminded me of the very first temple we visited in Siem Reap, Pre Rup. Both are lesser known temples, so there are fewer people there. Just that alone can make some of these temples more enjoyable than others.
On each side of Ta Keo there is a large set of stairs that you can climb up or down. Lynn and I made our way to one of the side staircases and spent quite a bit of time taking pictures with the camera set up on the tripod while no one was around. We had a lot of fun that day!
Phimeankas is another temple that you can climb to the top up some very steep stairs. Once at the top you can enjoy the views of the surrounding area.
Phimeanakas one of the more photographed, probably because of the vines that grow all over the front of the temple. If you come in through the main entrance to the temple, you’ll walk by the Terrace of the Elephants which is another very popular attraction.
10. Pre Rup
Pre Rup was our very first temple that we visited and pretty much set the tone for the rest of our trip. It was a nice “starter” temple as we were able to walk around, explore different areas, and climb up and down some of the large stone steps.
Even though Pre Rup wasn’t the largest or most intricate temple we saw, it was still pretty amazing and got us excited for the rest of the temples we were about to explore.
Additional Temples We Visited
Temples Lower on Our List
Neak Pean – We thought that Neak Pean was actually going to be pretty cool because it was surrounded by a large lake of water and had a long narrow walkway way that took you into the center. Once you arrived at the center it was very anticlimactic, because it was just a pool of water with a small stone structure in the center. It was almost not worth the walk across the walkway.
Phnom Bakheng – This temple sits on top of a pretty large hill. When we told our driver we wanted to go to this temple he seemed a little thrown off, and afterwards we realized why. It took us over 30 minutes to walk up the road that led us to the temple. The temple was under construction even though no one was working on it and there were no other tourists around at all. There were also no vendors up there like there were at the majority of the other temples. We were hoping to buy some water once we got to the temple, but were out of luck and had to hike back down the trail before we could find any water. Even though the temple was pretty high up and it had some nice views of the Siem Reap countryside, it wasn’t so breathtaking that I would recommend the hike up there.
As I mentioned before, we loved our time in Cambodia. Actually, we loved the country of Cambodia in general. A big part of our time in Cambodia was also spent traveling around by tuk tuk and exploring the temples. That is the main reason I wanted to put this temple guide together, because it was such an important part of our trip and I was hoping to make it easier for other people traveling to Cambodia to see the temples.
If you plan to see the majority of the temples, I would recommend getting at least the 3 day pass. I have seen other people writing about only needing a day to see the temples, which seems rushed to me, but I guess it depends on what level of interest you have. We were usually up and out the door by at least 9am to beat the heat each day. We would visit temples until the early afternoon and then head back to town for a late lunch. By then, it was usually pretty hot and we would spend the late afternoon cooling off at our hotel’s pool.
I hope this guide to the Siem Reap temples is helpful. If you have any additional suggestions or comments feel free to respond below. Have fun temple exploring!