Guide to the Angkor Wat

Ultimate Guide to the Angkor Wat Temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Visiting the breathtaking Angkor Wat is on the bucket list for many travelers coming to Asia. This 12th-century ancient temple complex in Cambodia, will transport you back in time with its grand scale and intricate details.Imagine wandering through 400 square kilometers of history and culture, taking in the beauty of each unique temple and the stories they hold.

Whether you’re a history buff, architecture enthusiast, or just looking for an unforgettable experience, Angkor Wat is a must-see destination that will leave you in awe and wonder. I spent 5 days exploring Angkor Wat and many of the other must-see temples in the complex to bring you this ultimate guide to the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

A Brief History of Angkor Wat & Angkor Complex

Angkor Wat is one of the most iconic and significant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It is a vast area located in Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia. This ancient temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be one of the most important religious monuments in the world. 

Built in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. However, over the centuries it was transformed into a Buddhist temple and today it remains one of the best-preserved examples of Khmer architecture. 

The intricate carvings, stunning bas-reliefs, and towering spires of Angkor Wat are a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the ancient Khmer people. 

Visiting Angkor Wat is an unforgettable experience that offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of Cambodia. It’s a must-see destination for any traveler who wants to explore the beauty of ancient architecture and immerse themselves in the spiritual and cultural heritage of Southeast Asia.

Map of Angkor Complex from Wikipedia

The Difference between Angkor Wat, Angkor Complex & Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat, Angkor Complex, and Angkor Thom are all different components of the ancient Khmer empire’s city and temple complex that existed in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered as the symbol of Cambodia. It was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II as a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu.

Angkor Complex refers to the entire area of the ancient city, which includes not only Angkor Wat but also many other temples and ruins that are spread out over an area of about 400 square kilometers. It was the capital of the Khmer empire from the 9th to the 15th century.

Angkor Thom is the ancient royal city that served as the capital of the Khmer empire during the late 12th century and early 13th century. The city is enclosed by a wall and moat, and is accessed via five gates, each adorned with statues of gods and demons. Inside the city, there are several temples and other structures, including the famous Bayon Temple, which is known for its many stone faces.

So to recap, Angkor Wat is a temple, Angkor Thom is the ancient capital city and Angkor Complex is the entire area that includes both Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom and other temples.

Where to Stay near Angkor Wat

Siem Reap isn’t that big but if you are planning to explore a lot of Angkor Wat and the other temples, it’s important to stay close by. You can find accommodation for all budgets in Siem Reap, especially near the popular Pub Street area in downtown – but Templation Angkor is the closest hotel to Angkor Wat.

The close proximity to the temples is exactly why I chose to stay at the Templation Angkor. Their private pool villas and suites at the gates of Angkor are the perfect place to unwind after exploring the temples.

Because they have many private pool villas, you will find the main pool area mostly empty throughout the day. Lush tropical plants and delicious in-house food you can order conveniently from your room by scanning a QR code on your phone make the experience perfect.

I spent four days at the amazing place and would return any time! Book your stay at Templation Angkor, the closest hotel to Angkor Wat.

The Best Time of Year to Visit Angkor Wat

Cambodia has a tropical climate with warm temperatures throughout the year, but it also experiences a wet season at various times.

The Angkor Complex is open year-round, but the best time to visit is during the cooler, drier season from November to March. Keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season and crowds will be large.

To avoid crowds, plan to visit at the beginning or end of the season or during the hot and rainy season from June to October when there are fewer visitors.

The Best Time of Day to Visit Angkor Wat

I spent 5 days in Siem Reap and visited Angkor Wat on three different occasions at three different times of the day. Each time, I had a new and different experience so I encourage you to visit as often as you can at different times of the day. The temple complex is open from 5:00am to 6:00pm daily.

However, if you’re only in Siem Reap for a short time and can only visit Angkor Wat once, the best time to visit is early in the morning, right after sunrise. This is when the complex is less crowded and the light is ideal for photography.

If you want to capture the iconic sunrise at Angkor Wat, arrive at the complex at around 5:00am. This is when the area can become quite crowded with tourists vying for the perfect shot. You can find more details about how to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat below.

If you are not focused on photography, consider watching the sunrise from a less crowded spot or exploring the main complex before the crowds arrive.

How much do the Angkor Wat Tickets Cost?

You have the choice between three different day passes for visiting Angkor Wat. It’s important to note that the ticket counters now accept most credit cards, except for American Express.

The current ticket options and prices are as follows:

  • 1-day ticket: $37 USD. While this option may be suitable for those short on time, it’s recommended to spend more than one day to fully experience the temples.
  • 3-day ticket: $62 USD. This is a great option for those who want to explore and appreciate the temples without feeling rushed.
  • 7-day ticket: $72 USD. This option is perfect for those spending a significant amount of time in Siem Reap and want to explore the historical complex in depth over several days.

Angkor Wat Tickets: How to buy your Entrance Pass

You can only purchase entrance tickets to the Angkor Archaeological Park from the Angkor Ticket Office (Angkor Enterprise); those purchased anywhere else are invalid.

To enter the Angkor Archaeological Park, it is important to purchase your tickets from the official Angkor Ticket Office (Angkor Enterprise) as tickets from other sources will be considered invalid.

To avoid long lines and frustration, I recommended purchasing your tickets online before your trip. It’s super easy and you can just print out the ticket and bring it with you.

Alternatively, many people also buy their tickets the evening before the planned visit.

NOTE | There are several checkpoints throughout the area where your ticket will be checked so always carry your ticket with you.

Getting my Angkor Pass checked on the way to the temples

How to get to Angkor Wat

You can only take a car up to the ticket check point. From there it’s about 1.5 km to Angkor War. That’s why the most common way to get to Angkor Wat is by tuk tuk or bike.

A tuk tuk ride to Angkor Wat cost around US$3 when I visited in November 2022. I did not rent a bike as the weather was too hot for me.

Most hotels will have tuk tuk drivers available to drive you to the temple whenever you like. When I stayed at the Templation Siem Reap, my driver and I communicated through Instagram messenger and he was available whenever I needed to go somewhere.

If you want to go to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise, you have to let your driver know the day before.

What to wear when visiting Angkor Wat

When visiting Angkor Wat, you should bring a hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle to protect yourself from the sun and stay hydrated.

You’re going to be doing A LOT of walking, so comfortable shoes are important as the temples are spread out over a large area.

Modest dress is required when visiting the temples, so it is best to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Avoid revealing or tight-fitting clothing as a sign of respect for the religious and cultural significance of the site.

A small backpack is best to carry your essentials and a camera to capture the beautiful views.

Angkor Wat Sunrise – How to See It

Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat was one of the best experiences during my entire Cambodia trip. Imagine standing before the ancient temple as the sun rises, casting a warm golden glow over its intricate carvings and architectural features. Not to mention, the temple complex is less crowded during the early morning hours, allowing you to fully appreciate the beauty of the site without distractions.

Tip #1: Go Early

Get to the temple at around 5 AM. The sunrise usually starts around 6 AM but you want to be early to get a good spot for the perfect shot. Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat is extremely popular and there will be many people. Don’t be late!

Tip #2: Understand the position of the sun

Many blog posts suggest “the perfect spot” for your Angkor Wat sunrise photos – but the best location actually depends on which month of the year you are visiting.

There are only 2 days in the whole year when the sun rises exactly behind the central tower of the temple: on the vernal equinox (March 21) and autumnal equinox (September 22). The temple was built intentionally with this in mind for the gods.

As the months go on, the sunrise starts to shift to the left of the towers and by June, you can see the sun farthest from the central tower. After June, it slowly starts to move back to center. And come September, the sun rises directly behind the central tower again and shifts to the right.

By December, the sun rises the farthest at the right side of the towers before it moves back to the center in March. It’s like the temple has its own little light show. Knowing this will give you a much better idea of where you can position yourself for a great Angkor Wat sunrise shot.

I created this graphic to illustrate the movements of the sun at Angkor Wat thourghout the year:

Tip #3: Use long exposure

Want to take your sunrise and sunset photos to the next level? It’s time to use the long exposure technique! This means keeping your camera’s shutter open for a longer period of time, allowing it to capture all the beautiful lights and produce a stunning, bright, and clear photo. Trust me, once you master this technique, your photos will never be the same!

Tip #4: Experiment between white balance settings

This is another useful trick to add more interesting colors to the already beautiful sunrise. When playing around with the white balance settings on your camera, you get some purple toned sunrise shots, while another WP setting might result in a more orange and pink sunrise. It’s a quick way to add some interest to your photo. Here is an example:

Tip #5 Don’t leave too early!

Before you start shooting right when the golden hour starts at 5:30 AM, let me share a common mistake that many people (including myself) have made. When the sky starts turning pink, purple, and orange around 6:00-6:15 AM, you’ll be tempted to pack up your gear and join the crowds heading inside the temple. But don’t do it!

Trust me, if you can hold out for just a little longer, around 6:30-6:45 AM, the sun will slowly peek out from behind the temple and create an even more beautiful photo opportunity.

And who knows, that photo may end up being even better than the colorful-sky one you took earlier. So, don’t follow the crowds, stay put and capture that perfect shot.

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour vs. Big Circuit

When visiting Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, two terms that you will hear are the small circuit and the big circuit tour. These are the two most common excursions around the temple complex, along with other temples outside of the complex but also covered by the Angkor Wat Pass.

Angkor Wat Small Circuit (red): Angkor Wat, Tonle Om Gate, Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm

Angkor Wat Grand Circuit (green): Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Srah Srang, Banteay Kdei

Angkor Wat Tours I Recommend

Must-Do
Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour with Monk Blessing Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour with Monk Blessing
$15.00
  • Witness sunrise along with a breathtaking view of an ancient Cambodian complex, Angkor Wat
  • Tucked deep inside the tropical forest of the country, Angkor Wat is the former capital of the expansive Khmer Empire
  • Be energized by the refreshing morning breeze and lifting fogs as it blows through the complex
  • Witness how the sunrise transforms the surroundings into a dramatic landscape
  • Learn about Cambodian culture with a monk blessing ceremony in one of the Buddhist temples


I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
Angkor Wat and nearby Temples Day Tour Angkor Wat and nearby Temples Day Tour
$ 17.79
  • Go on an exciting adventure to Cambodia’s historic Angkor Wat temple complex on this fun day tour
  • Travel to the South Gate of Angkor Thom and get a chance to visit the last capital city of the Khmer empire
  • Explore the fascinating ruins of the famous Ta Prohm Temple, featured in the hit Hollywood film Tomb Raider
  • Head to the top of Bakheng Hill for a scenic view of the sunset over Angkor Wat’s impressive landscape
  • Hear fascinating stories and trivia about Cambodia’s rich heritage, culture, and traditions from the tour’s expert guide


I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Support a Local Guide to visit Angkor Wat

When I visited Siem Reap, my hotel connected me with a local local guide to take me around the temples. Hiring guide Virak turned out to be the best decision I made during my trip!

Virak has been a local guide in Siem Reap for more than 30 years and he knows Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples like the back of his hand. His English tours are interesting and incredibly insightful. As I was traveling alone, he helped me to take amazing travel photos and videos as well.

Just shoot him a message via WhatsApp or send him an email and he will show you around Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

Guide Virak

How to contact Virak:

WhatsApp: (855) 1295 1677

Email: sovirakpich@gmail.com

What you’ll see at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is truly massive. It’s difficult to see it all in one visit (or even in three visits like I did). However, there are a few highlights you shouldn’t miss when visiting Angkor Wat.

Here is a fabulous map with all the highlights inside of Angkor Wat from HelloAngkor.com:

The Outer Enclosure

This is where you will begin your Angkor Wat explorations. The complex has a large moat that is 190 meters (620 feet) wide and goes around for over 5 kilometers (3 miles). The moat is 1.5 kilometers long from east to west and 1.3 kilometers long from north to south. This is where your tuk tuk driver will get you off and from there, you have to walk.

To reach the temple, you will cross the moat towards the gates and west wall of the outer enclosure. Then you enter through three ruined towers and you are inside the complex area.

View of inside the complex after passing through the entrance

Northern Library and Naga Stairway

There is a long walkway that is 350 meters (1,150 feet) long and connects the western entrance to the temple. The walkway has decorative balustrades in the shape of a Naga snake and six sets of steps on each side that lead down to the city. The theme of the seven-headed naga symbolizing the Khmer culture appears throughout most of the temples in Angkor.

On both sides of the walkway, there are libraries with entrances on each side, and there is a pond between the library and the temple. The ponds and the terrace that connects the walkway to the central structure are later additions to the temple’s design. The terrace is shaped like a cross and has lion statues guarding it.

Naga balustrades
Northern Library

Temple 1st Level

The Churning Of The Ocean Of Milk Bas-relief Frieze

Angkor Wat is famous not only for its architecture, but also for its detailed and extraordinary bas-relief friezes. These are carvings that show stories, and they mainly depict scenes from Hindu epics and historical war scenes.

One of the most famous bas-reliefs is called “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” which can be found in the southern part of the east gallery. It shows 88 demons on the left and 92 gods on the right, churning up the sea to get the elixir of immortality. The demons hold the head of a serpent and the gods hold its tail, and in the middle of the sea, the serpent is coiled around a mountain that turns and churns up the water. It’s like a tug-of-war between the demons and the gods.

Intricate Apsara Carvings

Angkor Wat is well-known for its doors and walls, which have over 3,000 apsaras or heavenly nymphs carved into them. These nymphs are very beautiful and charming, and each one is different from the others. In total, there are 37 different hairstyles that are represented in the carvings.

Temple 2nd Level

Here, the steps take you up to another chambered wall where you can see several statues which enclose another two libraries and terrace. You can see an array of Apsaras at each wall corner and beautifully carved pediments. Also, the stairs here lead up to the Bakan, the highest point of Angor Wat.

Bakan Level Viewpoint

The third level of Angkor Wat is called the Bakan. It has a huge 30-meter high base that supports the towers. The base has narrow staircases at each corner and a central staircase on its western side. You can reach the top using a wooden staircase on the northeast corner. The view from up here is absolutely breathtaking!

View from the Bakan

Which other Temples in the Angkor Complex are worth visiting?

Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple is located at the center of the Angkor Thom city ruins and is considered to be one of the most attractive temples in the complex. The temple is known for its 216 distinctive smiling face carvings. In addition to the impressive faces, the temple is also adorned with 1.2km of bas-reliefs with over 11,000 figures.

The temple has three levels, the first two are rectangular with a third, circular floor above. Many banyan trees are scattered around the property, making it a great spot for early morning or late afternoon photography.

Temple ruins with face carvings on the tower
Bayon is famous for its intricate stone faces

Tonle Om Gate (Southern Gate)

The Tonle Om South Gate is a must-see near Angkor Wat. It’s a decorative arch with 54 statues leading up to the gate. It is one of five gates that provide access to the Angkor Thom temple complex, including the Takaov Gate (West Gate), North Gate of Angkor Thom, Victory Gate, and Khmoch Gte (Gate of the Dead). The gate is part of a larger wall surrounding the temple complex.

You will cross this gate on the way to the Bayon temple coming from Angkor Wat.

Tonle Om Gate
54 statues lead the way up to the gate

Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm is also a must-see temple in the Angkor Complex. It is famous for being one of the shooting places for the 2001 Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie.

Despite this it truly is one of the most visually stunning and popular temples in the complex. Over centuries of being abandoned, silk cotton trees and huge vines have woven their way through the various ancient cracks and now reclaim the temple altogether.

Although some of the more iconic trees growing from the ruins have been removed to help protect the temple from collapse, it’s still a beautiful, otherworldly sight to see. The crowds can be overwhelming, so it’s best to arrive early.

The incredible trees growing on top of the temple

Preah Khan Temple

This temples was a former Buddhist university and is one of the largest and most charming temples in the Angkor complex. Unlike other temples that have undergone restoration, Preah Khan remains largely untouched, making it similar to Ta Prohm.

Trees grow amidst the ruins and mossy stones are scattered throughout, adding to its natural beauty. Despite its size, Preah Khan sees fewer crowds compared to other temples, making it a favorite among visitors.

I met very few people along the way when exploring this gem and was able to fully immerse myself in the fascinating atmosphere.

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Neak Pean

The name of this temple literally translates to “the entwined snakes”. It’s a rather small temple located on an island in the dry Jayatataka baray reservoir.

Originally dedicated to the Buddha, the temple was later rededicated to Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. During the rainy season, much of the temple area is flooded, but a wooden walkway allows access to the central sanctuary, which is fenced off for protection.

While the temple itself isn’t that impressive, the bridge walkway toward the small island makes more than up for it. There are thousands of blooming lotus flowers left and right of the walkway, which make for excellent shooting subjects. It’s a refreshing sight to see after all the temple ruins (as beautiful as they are).

Ta Som Temple

Small yet impressive, Ta Som is a must-visit temple in the Angkor Archeological Park. Despite its size, it holds unique charm, like its neighbors Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, with little restoration done on its semi-ruined structure and native vegetation growing through its walls.

A standout feature of Ta Som is the huge strangler fig tree that engulfs the eastern gopura. The temple’s Bayon-style towers feature serene faces, adding to its beauty. With many photo-worthy spots, Ta Som is a charming temple that shouldn’t be missed.

East Mebon Temple

The East Mebon Temple is truly a magnificent work of art that showcases the brilliant architecture and grandeur of the Angkorian era. Perched on an artificial island in the Eastern Baray, this temple-mountain is a sight to behold. As you explore its walls, you’ll be mesmerized by the intricate carvings and images of Hindu gods and scenes from daily life.

Despite its age, the temple is well-preserved and boasts a symmetrical layout, with a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers at each corner. This stunning structure provides a fascinating glimpse into Cambodia‘s rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re a history buff or simply appreciate stunning architecture, the East Mebon Temple is an absolute must-visit while exploring the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Pre Rup Temple

Built in the 10th century, Pre Rup Temple it is similar in design to the main Angkor Wat temple, featuring a three-tiered pyramid structure. Climbing up the steep steps, you’ll reach the top and enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

Pre Rup is also a great place to go for sunrise photography. There are much fewer crowds than the main Angkor Wat temple, but it can be busy at sunset.

Srah Srang Temple

Srah Srang is a tranquil and scenic reservoir from the 10th century, previously used as a bathing area.

Today, it’s a peaceful oasis with its lush surroundings and serene water views. It is an ideal location for capturing a breathtaking sunrise, with the sun creating stunning reflections on the water.

Only the foundation of this temple still remains but it’s a great place to sit down and enjoy the surrounding scenery.

Phnom Bakheng Temple

Phnom Bakheng is a popular place to watch the sunset in the Angkor Complex. It’s located on a hilltop and even overlooks Angkor Wat in the distance (bring a zoom lens!)

Definitely get here before 5PM as it gets really crowded and there’s a limit of only 300 people at a time.

On misty mornings, Phnom Bakheng creates a serene and atmospheric atmosphere to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat as well.

Banteay Srei Temple

If you are staying in Siem Reap for several days, I highly recommend taking half a day to visit Banteay Srei, about 20km from the main Angkor temple.

Banteay Srei is also known as the “Lady Temple,” “Citadel of Women,” or “Citadel of Beauty,” because of the beautiful red sandstone it was built with.

The temple is famous for the most intricate and best preserved carvings in the entire temple complex. Even Angkor Wat’s carvings aren’t as detailed as here.

For the best view of the rich red hue, visit in the early morning or late afternoon when the light enhances it and the lack of shade can be managed.

Have a great time at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap!

Exploring Siem Reap had been on my bucket list for years and it didn’t disappoint when I finally visited. If you are thinking about heading to Siem Reap to see this incredible temple complex, book your flight and do it. You’re not going to regret it.

Recommended Travel Guides for Cambodia

If you want to learn more about Angkor Wat and Cambodia and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:

Angkor Wat: 20 Must see temples

This travel guide is a must-have for anyone planning to explore the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It provides a carefully curated list of 20 must-see temples, along with GPS coordinates and practical tips. The guide also includes a complete Angkor Wat sunrise and sunset guide, tips for taking better pictures, and advice for disabled travelers and vegans/vegetarians. For the price of a cup of coffee, this book is a valuable resource that can enhance your trip to Angkor Wat. Buy this book.

Lonely Planet Cambodia

This guide provides the latest information on what to see, where to go, and what to do in Cambodia, including the country’s rich history and cultural experiences. Whether you’re interested in visiting the famous temples in Angkor, learning about Khmer history at the National Museum, or taking in a performance by the Cambodian Circus, this guide has got you covered. With up-to-date recommendations and insider tips, Lonely Planet’s Cambodia guide is your perfect travel companion to help you navigate this amazing country. Buy this book.

Cambodia: Temples of Angkor (2022 Travel Guide by Approach Guides with Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and more)

This travel guide is the definitive resource for exploring Angkor, Cambodia‘s premier World Heritage destination. It provides profiles of 23 top temples with nearly 200 high-resolution images, as well as detailed historical and architectural information, logistical advice, and personalized tips for getting the most out of your experience. Approach Guides, the publisher, specializes in producing travel guides that explore a destination’s cultural heritage in-depth. Buy this book.

Lonely Planet Cambodia Lonely Planet Cambodia
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02/17/2024 11:14 pm GMT
02/17/2024 11:09 pm GMT
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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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