Angkor is a massive archaeological site with numerous temples and monuments to explore. As I mentioned in my last post (click here to read), there are two main routes that you can follow. These are commonly referred to as the small and grand circuits. You can of course create your own itinerary and pick and choose which temples you want to see but this will most likely require some forward planning if you’re seeing temples that are on both the small and grand circuit in the same day.
Top tip: try doing the grand and small circuits in reverse. Angkor Wat is usually the first on the circuit but can get extremely busy. Why not beat the system and head to Ta Prohm first?
The Small Circuit
The small circuit includes some of the most popular temples that most visitors go to, including Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon. There are a few smaller temples and monuments en route as well e.g. Ta Keo. Just visiting these three temples took us up to noon and we could have easily spent a lot longer in Angkor Wat as it was huge (although you may not want to as it gets pretty hot!).
This temple needs no introduction as it’s an iconic monument in Cambodia and across the world. Walking towards the temple for the first time was an amazing experience, with the sun rising behind and creating a magical hue over the buildings.Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world. Surrounded by a moat, this temple has been in continuous use since it was built, unlike many of the other Angkor temples, and is therefore in pretty good shape.I would recommend coming here for sunrise if you can (the tuktuk drive to get there in the pitch-black is an adventure in itself lol). To actually be able to see the sun rise behind the temple, you’ll need to be on the left side of the field facing the temple.
Ta Prohm was probably one of the most, if not the most, atmospheric temples that I visited. With its crumbling towers, encased with overgrown shrubs, surrounded by a forest, broken walls and pavements with gigantic tree roots creeping through the cracks, it was amazing to be able to walk around and explore this other-worldly temple. You’ll get a sense of being an archaeological explorer (think Indian Jones!) walking through the ruins, also made famous by the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies.Bayon
Bayon was part of Angkor Thom (also a city with a population of 1 million at its height!). It is famous for its 54 gothic towers which are decorated with 216 smiling faces.You should also visit the Terrace of Elephants in Angkor Thom, a 350m-long platform used for public ceremonies and decorated with carvings of parading elephants.The Grand Circuit
The Grand Circuit covers a wider area and many more temples/monuments, including some that are a little further out.
I’d recommend going here first thing, particularly because of the amazing effect of the dappled sunlight over stone of a pinkish/red hue. This is a small temple but is still well worth visiting because of the intricate and very well-preserved carvings. It’s also quite different to a lot of the other temples you’ll see. The temple is a 40-minute drive from the Siem Reap/Angkor area.Preah Khan
This temple is one of the largest complexes at Angkor – it includes numerous interlinking corridors and rooms with the walls covered in fine carvings. Try to enter from the east gate so the complex unfolds before you as intended by the temple architects.Neak Pean
This temple had a different entrance to most other temples as it’s located on an island with a long bridge crossing over marshy water, taking you to the temple. You’ll also spot lots of buffalo in the vicinity.Ta Som
This temple was a lot like Ta Prohm but even more ruined. It’s popular for photos with a gigantic tree that is encasing one of the gates to the temple.Pre Rup
We ended our Grand Circuit with a visit to Pre Rup. A visit here requires a lot of step climbing as the temple is built very high, so wear comfortable shoes.
There were still lots of other temples to see so you could easily spend another day exploring although some of them do look quite similar so probably not necessary to cover every single one.General Siem Reap
Because I was only in Siem Reap for 3 days, I didn’t really get a chance to explore much of the city. There is however a museum (Angkor’s National Museum) which I’m told is good and will give some background to the history of Angkor, putting everything into context.
For shopping, Siem Reap also has a night market that is very close to ‘pub street’, the main tourist hub with lots of eateries and hotels in the area.For food, check out Chanrey Tree – the ambience and food were excellent though pricey by South East Asian standards. Khmer Grill was also great and extremely affordable.