Hello folks, I hope that you would have checked out my Solo traveller’s guide to Siem Reap which is filled with tips to make your solo travel to Siem Reap memorable. Most people go to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. But then, Angkor wat is just one complex. There are many more interesting Temple ruins to explore. Here is a list of Must see Temples in Siem Reap with extensive notes on what to see there.
Getting the most out of Angkor when you have difficult walking
I do realise that there are many such compilations available on the internet but mine has a unique perspective. If you follow me on instagram, (or read my last post), you would know that I hurt my leg just before my trip. I found it really difficult to walk during sightseeing. I managed it by sheer willpower. But you do not have to do it that way. So this guide is for people who find it difficult to walk long distances or climb due to injuries, disabilities or age. Just because you fall into any of these categories doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy Angkor. Also, this post is suitable for kids and anybody else who doesn’t want to be “Templed out”.
Before I get started here is something that you should know – Tours. Do you need a guided tour? If you have no idea about Hinduism and Buddhism in terms of philosophies, deities, and iconography, you would need a guide. Most cab drivers double up as a guide (for details refer to my Solo traveller post). Large bus tours are useless here as you would feel lost.
There are two kinds of temples tours – Small circuit and Grand Circuit.While the small circuit requires two days, the grand circuit requires three days. The Small Circuit (17 km) Begins at Angkor Wat and includes Bayon, Ta Phrohm, and Banteay Kdei, Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma, and Sras Srang. The Grand Circuit (26 km) in addition to the small circuit stops also includes Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean, Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, and Preah Rup.
Do I have to do it all?
This is a common question I came across in several forums in the process of my pre-trip research. No, you do not have to do it all. I chose to ignore these tours and saw just I wanted to. This, in my opinion is the biggest perk of solo travel – you can do exactly what you want to do/can do without compromising for others. I explored Angkor Wat, Ta Phrohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, and Prasat Kravan as much as possible. However, I only visited only Bayon in Angkor Thom. I asked my car driver to drive slowly through the churning of the ocean and the Leper king terrace. We also stopped for a 2-3 minutes each at the south gate, outside Pre Rup and the terrace of elephants and took pictures. I wanted to visit Neak Pean and Ta Som but my driver quietly dissuaded me saying that I should not overdo it (strain my leg) if I wanted to see places in the city as well. It is a decision that I do not regret. I only wish that I had limited myself more instead of trying to see all the Must see Temples in Siem Reap.
How to choose what to see?
This is a relative question and depends on what you like to see. If you are a Tomb raider fan or are travelling with kids then Ta Phrohm, Preah Khan, and Ta som where trees are entwined with the temples will be interesting. If you are deeply interested in arts, design, architecture, and sculpture, then spend time at Banteay Srei and then Preah Khan. Bayon is not just an engineering marvel but its fascinating to see how the restorers have put the temple back together. If you are an adventurer and like activities like rock climbing or hiking then climb Pre Rup before sunset and hike to Kbal Speen. Angkor Wat is a must see no matter what else you choose. For a handy guide of all temples, history, maps, and timings visit Canbypublications. It is a treasure trove of information and was really useful in planning my travel.
Must see Temples in Siem Reap
The history and descriptions for all these temples can be found in a of blogs, videos and tour sites online. Instead, I am going to give you first hand tips that will help you navigate these temples. If you ask for directions inside a temple people would say go east or go west which is very confusing. So ask with hand gestures wherever possible.
Though most books, sites and guides recommend that you see the temple the previous day before sunrise, I recommend that you do the opposite. The Sunrise is magical and makes you fall in love with the temple. There are three shrines – one Astabhujana vishnu (and Goddess Lakshmi next door), and two Buddha shrines located in three different levels. The third level is very steep climb and not meant for people with vertigo or leg problems. Plus you have to stand in a queue for atleast 30 minutes. With my injured leg I found it very difficult but if you are fit then it would be interesting for you. Apart from the Main shrine and the courtyard, there is nothing much to see in this level so if you have a walking disability, skip it and spend more time looking at the Bas relief corridors which are spectacular.
The corridors are filled with scenes from Hindu Mythology. Killing of Vali from Ramayana, Kurukshetra war from Mahabharata, Churning of the ocean and depiction of Hell and Heaven from the Puranas must not be missed. Then you have the story and victories of Jayavarman who is not regarded as a king but as God here. The Khmer people seem to have a fascination for Ravana and he is ever present in their depictions. The reliefs are like graphic novels with stunning detailing. Turn left to start your counterclockwise journey at first level instead of going straight to see the three corridors. But if you happen to walk straight like me, do see the “center of the universe” spot. You are sure to get photobombed here. Park entry closes at 5:30 PM and it takes a minimum of 3-5 hours to see the complex including Sunrise.
Angkor Wat Sunrise tips : Get to the park gate atleast 15- 20 mins before sunrise so that you can find a half decent spot. Stay atleast for an hour after sunrise in Winter and 30-40 minutes in summer. This is when you will get you best shots. Go to the farther side of the pond (from the bridge) if you do not find space in the center. Shoot videos, make a sketch, have your breakfast, and simply sit there and soak in the wonder. If you run with the crowd, you will miss it. There is no such thing as a Angkor Wat Sunset, the sun disappears behind the trees on the opposite side.
Angkor Thom – Bayon
This is architectural wonder not just for the way it was built but also for the way it has been restored. On the minus side it is very crowded and almost impossible to see the Bas Reliefs here . Built by Jayavarman VII for Avalokiteshwara, many say that the faces bear the likeliness of the King himself. The temple is like a 3D maze with its many staircases, frescos and reliefs of Nagas, apsaras and also includes scenes from everyday life. Visit to see the mesmerizing smiles on the 200+ faces. Time taken – 45 minutes to 1 hour
Made famous by Lara Croft -Tomb raider, this is the temple where the Jasmine plant flowers in the movie (not int reality) There are silver trees that spiral out of the ground through the temples into the sky. The temples are moss ridden but firmly bolted to the ground by ASI. This means no climbing on the trees or walking in the rooftops like Lara did. All picture opp places are barricaded till a distance so it tends to get crowded. Visit just an hour before sunset to see the glowing tree barks. Time taken – 60-90 minutes depending on how fast you can walk the path leading upto the temple.
Similar to Ta Phrom, here too you have monstrous trees jutting out of the temples. Though this is considered to be a Buddha Vihara, it is very ornamental like a Shiva temple with kirthimutkas adorning the doorway pediments. There are reliefs depicting sages who look more like Nayanmaar (Shivait saints) than Boddhisatavas to me. Do not miss the Garuda at the west end. If you just want to see trees without talking too much, start and finish in the west end. This holds true for both Ta Phrom and Preay Khan. Time taken – 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how fast you can walk the path leading upto the temple.
Commonly known as the citadel of woman, the name actually means the place of abundance. True to its name, there is no shortage of beautiful sandstone carvings that you can see here. Though many of the shrines have collapsed the Pediments with beautiful tendril carvings are a must see. Look for depictions of various Hindus Gods like Narasimha (seen above), Uma Maheshwara riding a bull, Indra riding Airavata, The killing of vali, and Krishna leela in the pediments and arches. You can see Lion-men and Monkey-men stand guard near the main shrine. There is a cute lotus pond behind the temple. Time Taken – minimum 1 hour as you have to walk a bit from the car park as with every other attraction here. As it is in a remote location be sure to incorporate it as a part of your car package deal. Do not forget to buy yummy palm sugar on your way back to the city.
This is a small brick temple with beautiful reliefs that does not test your strength to see it. There are 5 shrines of which 3 are empty. The Primary shrine shows the Tiruvikraman avatar (The full size of Vamana) of Vishnu on the left wall, the Shanta Vishwaroopam in the center and Vishnu on Garuda on the right. Though these are familiar images, the reliefs in the Lakshmi shrine are quite unique. It was fascinating to learn that reliefs can be done not just in stone but in bricks too. Time Taken – 15 minutes as its close to the main road
The time plan mentioned here is approximate. It is something that you could consider following if you want to visit all the places in Must see Temples in Siem Reap list. Since I have visited many Hindu and Buddhist temples before I was not fascinated by the towers or the pillar carvings and would go straight to the main point of interest. Also, I am a very fast looker and yes without my injury, I would have done it sooner. If this is your first visit to a temple ruin then you would need atleast 30 minutes extra at each location.
I had a hard time selecting pictures and editing text for this post as there is so much to see and do at Siem Reap. My suggestion, is to not hold yourself just to the Must see Temples in Siem Reap list. There are plenty of some ruins, bridges and temples like Prasat kravan which are hidden gems. Exploring them would truly make you feel like a traveller and not just a tourist.
Stop wishing and hoping or feeling sorry for yourself or feeling jealous of your friends who travel. Just get your leave sanctioned, hop on a plane and head to Siem Reap. Find the first part of Siem Reap travel tips in the Solo traveller in Siem Reap post here.
I hope you find it interesting