The temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia are on many a bucket list. They’re the main signifying element of the city—much less why most travel to Cambodia in itself.
Let’s just admit that they are worth all the hype they create, and you must lay foot on them to truly understand this.
Having said that, pace yourself and do research before hand as to the ones you absolutely must visit taking into account the amount of time you have at hand.
About 2,000 temples have been uncovered in Cambodia and out of that only about 12 or so are most frequently visited. Also know that ‘temple hopping’ is not for everyone. It is tiring and for many, may become monotonous really quickly.
I should be one to talk though, because we ended up in five temples on one day and this included the big Kahuna –Angkor Wat both at sunrise and later on in the day.
This is a lot to do in one day and no doubt, we were beyond exhausted but we squeezed them in on that one day mainly because we had one day short in Cambodia than anticipated and we also wanted to use one day to just lounge plus did not want to pay our driver for an extra day of driving around. I would say though that if you’ve got three days, use two to do the temples. So after much research and being picky with the limited time we had, we visited these five.
Our favorites amongst the five were none other than Angkor Wat and Banteay Sri primarily because they were both the most unique, grand and the most different in architecture, history and also managed to hold our fascination for the longest period of time.
Temple Visit Do’s & Dont’s
Dress respectfully: cover shoulders and knees. Starting in August 2016, the government has issued strict rules stating that tourists will be asked to leave if not wearing appropriate clothing. What I wore: A midi skirt with a T-shirt tied at the waist.
Wear proper footwear: This means comfortable and preferably covered walking shoes which you don’t mind getting dirty. There is more walking and climbing involved than you may imagine and many of the temples also are dusty i.e. Banteay Srei has red sand everywhere. Please leave the stilettos and high heels at home (yes, people have worn these before). What I wore: A pair of black ballet flats with internal arch support.
Dress loosely and comfortably as it tends to get very hot and humid most times of the year. It can be misery evoking to make the mistake of choosing non-breathable or thick materials.
Be respectful of the monks and do not eat in front of them (they are not allowed to eat after noon) or talk loudly. This also includes refraining from asking them for a selfie (being serious here…)
Drink ample water to avoid dehydration caused from walking long distances in extremely hot or humid weather.
Pace yourself! as mentioned, many of the temples have a vast amount of land, stairs and possibly, climbs. It is very tiring, so go slow, at your comfort level and take rest when needed.
Plan the temples you want to visit and transport ahead of time along with an idea of approximate times it will take you to cover each and get from one to another.
Top 5 Temples
You can’t come to Siem Reap and miss this wonderous, grand and utterly jaw dropping 12th century architectural masterpiece. Angkor Wat is a metropolis made up of pillars, hallways, intricate walls, ceilings and rooftops amongst so much more. The views from the top (after a bit of a climb) will have you swooning.
It literally feels like an out of the world experience and goes over the top with each and every dramatic corner you turn. I can’t rave enough about it and feel so lucky to have been able to be fit enough to have walked and climbed through this gem of a wonder. You can easily spend the entire day here.
We did the sunrise walk through and were so fortunate to be able to catch a perfectly orange sky above the arches. Then later in the day, we came back after visiting the rest of the temples listed and were able to catch a slight bit of the sunset although weren’t facing it. My recommendation would be to highly do the sunrise tour. Get up early, stand in line and get your tickets and GO! It’s an absolute must.
This is one of the first temples we visited. I thought the entrance and face of the temple is the most interesting part of it all. Not that walking around wasn’t enlightening, but the tall, large buddha faces etched with the most detailed expressions will hold your stares and you just can’t help but looking back (and up!) as you still continue to walk forward.
Stunning and thought provoking, Bayon is a must see. The insides of the temples have many little walkways and ruins and are also interesting in their own. I didn’t think Bayon was very big. We ended up walking through it in about an hour or so. Having said that, obviously you can spend longer.
You can also balloon over these majestic temples as well.
This is a beautiful 140 acre temple located in the middle Angkor archeological forest. The surroundings are lush. Against the green is rough cut sandstone block; the contrast is nothing but gorgeous.
That combined with the ‘hall of dancers’ —walls dedicated to the apsaras. Wow! What a visual delight this temple was. The central enclosure is quite a walk away from the main entrance so be prepared for a bit of a trek.
Ever watch Tomb Raider? If not, while prepping for your trip to Siem Reap, watch it! The film (and Angelina Jolie’s character Lara Croft of course) made Ta Phrom truly more famous and sought out. THE TREE…yes, the one with more roots than stars in the sky, is simply unreal and in the movie is picturised with such utmost drama that you just can’t forget it while gazing.
Ta Phrom is actually known to some as the Tomb Raider temple and many of the restaurants around town actually make cocktails named after the flick, so give them a try after a hot day exploring the temple. It’s got Cointreau, Lime and Soda as it is supposedly Jolie’s poison of choice.
Make sure when you hire a driver to take you to the temples, you ask if they will drive you to Bantaey Sri included in the price of your tour. I say this because it is located up to an hour away from the other Siem Reap temples and in traffic, can take you a bit longer. Also, try going earlier on in the day if you’d like to come back to Siem Reap right after and do some more exploring.
This temple was one of our favorites because of the red sand and very familiar Hindu stories which are etched on the interiors of the temple. I also felt that the etchings and carvings were the most fine ones I’d seen amongst all the temples.
The detailing is impeccable and the most amazing part nonetheless is that, even though there is so much of it, it’s clean and done so neatly. You notice every since line and arch very easily with a naked eye.
So there it is…the five temples we were able to visit while in Siem Reap. We can’t say that our day of temple excursions wasn’t tiring. We definitely were lucky with a good driver who was just as determined to get the sites covered within one day. We were also well prepared with suitable clothing and footwear. We don’t regret a single temple but do wish that we had another day to maybe see a couple more!