Angkor Wat (located in Angkor Archaeological Park) is not only the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia but it’s also believed to be the largest religious monument on Earth.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site gives you a glimpse into the intriguing past of Cambodia with hundreds of temples spread across a deserted ancient city. In addition to the religious significance, the structures boast some of the most incredible architectural accomplishments of ancient times.
Located approximately five miles from the bustling and modern province of Siem Reap, Angkor Archeological Park was constructed between A.D. 1113 and 1150. The archeological site covers an area of 163 hectares and vividly tells a story of the thriving Khmer Empire that declined from power in 1430.
If you adore historical monuments, Angkor Wat is one of the unmissable sites in Cambodia that has withstood the test of time and makes a great stop for history buffs.
Read on for a comprehensive guide to visiting Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is the largest and one of the most perfectly preserved temples in the world. The temple complex was built by Suryavarman II, in the 12th century as the capital and state temple.
Initially, the Park was known as Vrah Vishnuloka but was later renamed Angkor Wat (Angkor in the Khmer language means “capital city” while “Wat” translates to “temple”).
What’s interesting about this temple is the fact that it has been shared by two religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. Originally, Angkor Wat was built to be a Hindu temple and was dedicated to Vishnu. However, it transitioned into a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th century.
Today, the temple’s religious and historical significance is still evident, so much that it has become the symbol of Cambodia, appearing on the national flag since the 19th century.
To access Angkor Wat you’ll need to purchase a pass to visit the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park, unless you’re Cambodian or related to a local resident.
There are three ticket options (USD):
If you’re short on time, the one-day pass is enough to cover the most popular and major temples in the complex (Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon).
However, if you want to venture further and explore every nook of the complex, a three-day pass will satisfy that need without being too overwhelming.
If you’re an absolute history fanatic that won’t leave until all the pebbles are unturned, the seven-day pass will allow you to take in all the fascinating history of the ruins at a leisurely pace.
The best time of the year to visit Angkor Wat is during the dry season when there is the least rainfall and the temperatures are mild. The dry season runs between December and March, but it’s important to note that the park is busiest around this time of the year. May to October is the rainy season and it’s much quieter.
As for the best time of the day to visit, earlier is always better. Since it’s almost impossible to dodge the crowds, you can try and reverse your itinerary so you’re in the less crowded area throughout your tour.
For instance, most people head straight to Angkor Wat temple immediately after experiencing the stunning sunrise. You can start with the lesser-known temples and ruins then tour Angkor Wat later in the day when the crowd thins out.
Keep your ticket – unless you’ve booked a single day pass, you should keep your ticket because it’ll be checked every time you re-enter the park.
It’s optional to have an Angkor Wat tourist guide – it’s possible to navigate Angkor Wat with help but you’ll undoubtedly miss some interesting stories and tales of the historic complexes. Hiring a registered guide generally only costs $20 USD, although tips are appreciated.
For a self-guided tour, it’s a good idea to invest in a guidebook and research widely to make sense of the ruins.
Arrive early – to stay ahead of the huge crowds that flock the park every day, make sure you arrive early. The park to Angkor Wat is open as early as 4:30 AM.
Bring your own food and water – you’ll find lots of vendors on the site, but it’s cheaper to buy your food from a grocery store.
Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll do a lot of strolling so make sure your shoes are light and easy on the feet.
Wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays — especially if you’re visiting during the dry season. Bring a hat and sunglasses to shade yourself from the sun.
Dress conservatively – you should cover your shoulders and knees, especially when entering the temples.
Although Angkor Wat remains unrivaled in popularity, you’ll find tons of other temples off the beaten track that you can add to your itinerary, especially when you want to avoid crowds.
Using this guide to Angkor Wat will help you uncover some unexploited gems as well as point out some interesting things to see.
Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat temple is one of the most spectacular things to see in the park. Although you’ll have to brave through eager crowds and passionate photographers to secure a great spot, the reward is absolutely worthwhile as the view will take your breath away.
If you’d rather take in the views in a relatively relaxed ambiance, you can choose to watch the sunset instead.
These ruins are pretty common in a typical Angkor tour and each is unique in its own way.
Marvel at Ta Prohm, an ancient temple that has been partially claimed by nature. Admire the trees that weave around, through and over the stones — they’re responsible for holding parts of the ruins together and causing some to collapse.
Preah Khan on the other hand is a largely unrestored temple with large hallways and a large moat surrounding the complex.
Bayon is one of the most beautiful structures in Angkor Archaeological Park, most recognized for its enormous stone-carved faces seemingly smiling down at passing tourists.
If you’re in the mood to wander off the path a little, Banteay Srei is one of the best places to explore. Though much smaller by Angkor’s standards, this enormous 10th-century sandstone structure is famed for its stunning decorative cravings.
Banteay Srei stands out from the rest in the area as it’s one of a kind — built from sandstone and unlike the rest of the complexes, this temple was commissioned by a royal adviser and not by a king.
If you have a couple of days to spend around the city of Angkor, consider touring the surrounding areas and experience an authentic taste of the local village life.
Private tours and tuk-tuks are by far the easiest and most popular way to get to Angkor Wat. If you want to do a solo tour, there will be a dozen of tuk-tuk drivers offering their services as soon as you land in Siem Reap.