Travel Guide: Exploring Angkor Wat and the Neighboring Ruins

Angkor Wat is the most important and popular temple located on the outskirts of Siem Reap. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and as such draws a vast portion of the country’s tourism.

While Angkor Wat is the most important, it’s certainly not the only temple in the area. In fact, there are thousands of tumbledown ruins, desecrated tombs, and temples in this area.

Some of them are vast and majestic like Angkor Wat, and some are small. While some of them are carefully maintained, others are no more than piles of rocks — their primary purpose to serve as home to moss and lichen, tumbledown testaments to the incessant decay of time.

Angkor used to be an ancient city in Cambodia which once served as the center of the Khmer Empire. They ruled over most of Southeast Asia and were known for their propensity to build grand forts, monuments, and temples. The civilization eventually went extinct, however, they left these immortal monuments to remember them by.

Exploring Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins is one of the most important things to do in Siem Reap.

In this article, I’ll take you through a brief overview of how to explore Angkor Wat. I’ll tell you all about the costs involved, the transportation, and the main temples to explore.

You can use booking.com to find some reasonable hotels in Siem Reap to use as a base for your temple run. I personally stayed at a luxury gay-friendly hotel called DOM Siem Reap, and I highly recommend it. You can also read my Review of DOM Siem Reap  to find out more about it.

Read: A Comprehensive Cambodia Travel Guide for First Timers

The Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap.

Entry Pass for Angkor Wat

You can get one of three different passes to explore Angkor Wat:

One Day Pass: Available for $37

Three Days Pass: Available for $62

Five Days Pass: Available for $72

You’ll get the pass from the ticket office. You can either go there at around 4 or 5 in the evening, or early in the morning.

I personally got the one-day pass. However, I sorely regretted it later.

Exploring Angkor Wat and the neighboring ruins is not at all like exploring the temples all around Southeast Asia. It’s an altogether unique experience.

There are thousands of temples and ruins so you can’t possibly explore all of them. However, you should aim to explore more than just the prime attractions.

As such, I recommend getting a 3-days pass. Trust me, it won’t go to waste. You’ll be drawn to explore Angkor Wat more and more. Either for the aesthetic, the photography opportunities, or simply for love of adventure.

5AM sunrise view of Angkor Wat.

Tourist Packages

When you’re exploring Angkor Wat though a pre-set tourist route, you get two options — the Small Route, or the Big Route.

Both of these routes take you around the primary temples — Angkor Wat, The Bayon, and Ta Prohm. However, the small route takes you to 4 additional spots, whereas the big route takes you to 10 additional spots.

Transportation to Angkor Wat

There are several different options in terms of transportation when it comes to exploring Angkor Wat.

Tuk-Tuk

Getting a tuk-tuk for an entire day will cost you between $18 to $30. It depends on how much of Angkor Wat you want to explore.

This can be quite expensive. However, it offers you some great opportunities to interact with your tuk-tuk driver.

Furthermore, if you’re staying at a hostel, you can pool along with other travelers and split the cost. A single tuk-tuk can accommodate as many as 5-6 people, so you can bring the cost down to $6 as well.

I personally preferred to get a private tuk-tuk as I wanted to explore Angkor Wat in solitude. Well, relative solitude, considering the area is always thronging with tourists.

Tourist Mini Buses

If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to sweat it out in the heat, this is the option for you. It will take you from one tourist spot to the next. You can take photographs and then hop back into your air conditioned haven.

Bike or Bicycle

If you want to be completely independent, this is your only option. You can rent a bike or a bicycle for a few dollars and start exploring Angkor Wat and the ruins on your own.

If you don’t ride yourself, you can do what I do — befriend someone with a bike! Embarrassing as it may be to admit, I’m quite familiar with the art of piggy-backing with other riders.

The Important Temples and Ruins

There are a lot of great temples and ruins in the area. However, three of them are universally considered to be tourist essentials.

Angkor Wat

This is one of the most important historical sites in the world. It’s definitely the primary tourist attraction in Cambodia. The rest of the temples are mere side pieces to this main attraction.

Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman and is largely considered to be an Asian Pyramid. It’s over 200 feet high, and the walls of the temple are marked with important scenes from Buddhist lore.

angkor wat siem reap
A Buddhist Statue inside Angkor Wat.

The Bayon

This is located in the center of Angkor Thom and it was built by Jayavarman VII.

It’s often referred to as the Temple of the Faces as it features 54 towers with the 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara.

the bayon angkor wat siem reap
The Bayon, aka, “Temple of the Faces” | Image Source: Study Chinese Khmer 24h, YouTube

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is perhaps the least well maintained of all the primary temples. It’s covered with dense vegetation deep inside a jungle.

Furthermore, the temple is in a state of decay and disrepair and half of it seems collapsed. Also, it doesn’t have a lot of religious or architectural importance like the previous temples.

So why is it considered an important temple, you might ask?

Well it’s one of the primary temples for one reason only — Angelina Jolie.

The first Tomb Raider movie, featuring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, was shot in Ta Prohm. In fact, that movie played a large part in bringing Angkor Wat and Cambodia to the world’s attention, thus significantly boosting tourism in the country.

The temple has locally been dubbed the Tomb Raider Temple. In fact, my tuk-tuk driver seemed positively smitten with Angie.

ta prohm angkor wat siem reap
Ta Prohm is one of the primary tourist spots despite its state of disrepair thanks to the AngieJolie touch.

Tips for Exploring Angkor Wat

  1. Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins are monuments of religious importance in Cambodia. As such, you should dress appropriately. Wear clothes that conceal your knees and shoulders. Angie Jolie may get away with showing skin, but you oughta’ follow the rules. Don’t be an obnoxious tourist.
  2. You should get the tickets at 4.30 PM. As such, you’ll be able to still make it in time for the sunset shot of Angkor Wat. Furthermore, you’ll also be able to explore Angkor Wat and the ruins the next day.
  3. Wake up and leave for the ticket office at around 4 AM if you haven’t already got the tickets.
  4. You can get the best photographs when the sun is right behind the highest peak of Angkor Wat. It looks kind of like a halo and casts a golden glow on the lake.
  5. You might end up spending $10 to $15 in food and water over the course of the day.
tomb raider cambodia
Miss Jolie flouting them clothing rules in Ta Prohm. Dick move Angie! | Image Source: NomadHead

Personal Suggestion

When exploring Angkor Wat, I highly recommend setting off on your own and trekking deeper into the woods.

Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, etc, are some of the most important landmarks, and as such they bring hordes of tourists. However, if you start walking deeper into the woods, the tourists start thinning away.

This is when you can truly be alone. I mean completely alone, with nothing but the tumbledown monuments, collapsed roofs, moss-ridden structures, and desecrated tombs to keep you company.

I cherished those solitary moments amongst emblems of natural decay a lot more than photographing Angkor Wat at sunrise. However, that’s just a personal opinion.

I came across this moss-encrusted monument after trekking deep into the woods.

Photo Gallery: Angkor Wat and the Neighboring Ruins

That’s all I have to say (and show) on the subject of exploring Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins. Angkor Wat is best explored intuitively. So it’s cool even if you completely ignore this travel guide. Or at least that’s how it was for me.

If you want to add anything I missed, feel free to let me know about it down in the comments!

angkor wat siem reap