Visiting Angkor Wat Travel Guide: Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Few famous attractions around the world live up to the tourist hype behind them, but the magnificent Temples of Angkor – and specifically Angkor Wat – truly are an exception. When I first set foot on Angkor Wat back in 2008 my body was covered in goose bumps from the anticipation. Fast forward to 2013 and I’m visiting the temples again for the fourth time and I’m still just as blown away and in awe as I was back in 2008. This time around has been an even more of special experience because I’m enjoying them for the first time with Audrey Bergner.

As the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat looms large as the focal point of the many temples of Angkor. Commisioned in the early 12th century by Tamil King Suryavarman, the Hindu temple was dedicated to Vishnu. The moat and outer wall of this gigantic temple comprise an impressive 3.6 kilometers!

Incredible Angkor Wat Temple during sunset in Cambodia
Incredible Angkor Wat Temple during sunset in Cambodia

For those exploring Angkor Wat, Cambodia it’s best to wake-up early for sunrise although you won’t be sharing this experience alone. An alternative to the classic ‘pond shot’ is to approach the temple from behind where you’ll get shots of the temple facing the sun as opposed to waiting for the sun to appear.

Angkor Wat: Jewel Of Cambodia

Crowds of tourists flocking towards Angkor Wat through one of the many gates.

Crowds of tourists flocking towards Angkor Wat through one of the many gates.

This is a photo of a Cambodian buddhist monk from 2011.

This is a photo of a Cambodian buddhist monk from 2011.

This is a photo of me from when I visited Angkor Wat back in 2011.

This is a photo of me from when I visited Angkor Wat back in 2011.

Visiting the temples with my girlfriend has made it even more special this time around.

Visiting the temples with my girlfriend has made it even more special this time around.

Visiting the temples of Angkor is a family affair.

Visiting the temples of Angkor is a family affair.

Think you'll have Angkor Wat all to yourself? Think again! This is what it is like visiting in 2013 with the mass crowds.

Think you’ll have Angkor Wat all to yourself? Think again! This is what it is like visiting in 2013 with the mass crowds.

I'm in awe of the level of detail and intricate carvings found here.

I’m in awe of the level of detail and intricate carvings found here.

Horses and other animals wearing decorative masks are common place in Angkor Wat.

Horses and other animals wearing decorative masks are common place in Angkor Wat.

One can't truly appreciate the true scale and size of Angkor Wat until witnessing it in person.

One can’t truly appreciate the true scale and size of Angkor Wat until witnessing it in person.

The sheer size of the Angkor Wat will blow your mind away.

The sheer size of the Angkor Wat will blow your mind away.

When visiting Angkor wat it's a great idea to wander around the peripheral areas.

When visiting Angkor wat it’s a great idea to wander around the peripheral areas.

The bas-relief carvings a fascinating aspect of Angkor Wat and many of the other temples of Angkor.

The bas-relief carvings a fascinating aspect of Angkor Wat and many of the other temples of Angkor.

This stone cold smile reminds me of Bayon.

This stone cold smile reminds me of Bayon, Angkor Thom.

When visiting the temples you can use various vantage points and angles to capture some impressive photos.

When visiting the temples you can use various vantage points and angles to capture some impressive photos.

As a travel photography tip try and find a unique way of capturing the temples. In this picture I used tree to frame this shot.

As a travel photography tip try and find a unique way of capturing the temples. In this picture I used tree to frame this shot.

One of the many lion statues guarding the temples.

One of the many lion statues guarding the temples.

One of the many faces you'll see when visiting Angkor Wat.

One of the many faces you’ll see when visiting Angkor Wat.

Travel Video: Angkor Wat

[vsw id=”C-VEzMxt-Oc” source=”youtube” width=”950″ height=”650″ autoplay=”no”]

This is a recent video I took while exploring Angkor Wat.  It’ll give you an appreciation of just how crowded it is in the morning.

Angkor Wat: History For Travelers

Angkor Wat is a resplendent temple complex situated in the northwestern region of Cambodia. Constructed in the 12th century under the patronage of King Suryavarman II, it was initially erected as a Hindu temple that venerated the deity Vishnu. Later, during the reign of King Jayavarman VII in the 13th century, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple.

This sprawling complex occupies a massive expanse of over 400 acres, enclosed by a moat and a wall that stretches 3.6 kilometers in length. The central prasat, or temple tower, soars to a height of 213 feet above the ground and is encompassed by four smaller towers, each symbolizing the peaks of Mount Meru – the legendary abode of the Hindu gods.

Angkor Wat’s complex, intricate carvings and bas-reliefs are regarded as some of the most exemplary specimens of classical Khmer art and architecture. They depict scenes from both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, as well as everyday life during the Khmer Empire. The carvings are particularly noteworthy for their meticulous precision and attention to detail, adorning almost every facet of the temple’s walls, pillars, and ceilings.

In spite of its exquisite allure, Angkor Wat declined into decay and was abandoned for centuries after the fall of the Khmer Empire. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the temple was re-discovered by French explorer Henri Mouhot and introduced to the Western world.

Today, Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a primary tourist attraction in Cambodia, drawing visitors from every corner of the globe who are captivated by its beauty and intrigued by the history of the Khmer Empire.

In recent times, considerable efforts have been undertaken to preserve and restore the temple complex. Ongoing restoration work is being carried out to ensure that this magnificent edifice continues to inspire and enchant visitors for generations to come.

Unique Facts About Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, a monumental temple complex located in Cambodia, is renowned for its magnificent architecture and rich history. While the site is widely acknowledged for its awe-inspiring edifice and cultural significance, there are several lesser-known and intriguing facts that make Angkor Wat a unique destination. Here are a few:

  1. The celestial alignment of the temple: The temple’s layout was meticulously designed to align with astronomical events, including the sun and stars. During the vernal equinox, the sunrise casts a breathtaking spectacle where the central tower of the temple appears to rise out of the sun.
  2. No evidence of slavery in construction: Contrary to popular belief, there is no historical evidence that suggests the temple was built by slaves. The actual workers responsible for the construction of the temple were most likely skilled artisans, who were rewarded for their labor with land and other gifts.
  3. The temple’s origin: Originally, Angkor Wat was erected to honor the Hindu deity Vishnu during the 12th century. However, it underwent a religious transformation in the 13th century under King Jayavarman VII, becoming a revered Buddhist shrine.
  4. The moat: The temple is encompassed by a colossal moat, which served not only as an aesthetically pleasing water feature but also as a practical solution for regulating water during the rainy season. Additionally, it acted as a natural defense mechanism against potential invaders.
  5. The intricate carvings: The temple is embellished with a multitude of intricately detailed carvings that adorn almost every surface of the complex. The art depicts a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist mythology and offers a glimpse into everyday life during the Khmer Empire.

These lesser-known facts about Angkor Wat highlight the architectural ingenuity and creativity of the Khmer people. The temple’s exquisite beauty and cultural significance make it an exceptional destination that draws travelers from all over the world.

Why Is Angkor Wat The Most Popular Attraction in Cambodia?

Angkor Wat’s status as the most sought-after attraction in Cambodia can be attributed to several factors, including its imposing scale, breathtaking architecture, and rich cultural and historical value. As the largest religious monument in existence, Angkor Wat serves as a testament to the exceptional engineering and artistic skills of the Khmer people during their apex in the 12th century.

The temple’s intricate carvings, sculptural intricacies, and monumental proportions are emblematic of the exceptional artistic and creative acumen that was inherent in Khmer civilization. Its unique architecture was meticulously crafted with religious symbolism, with each edifice signifying a distinct level of the Hindu cosmos.

Furthermore, Angkor Wat underwent a significant religious transformation under the aegis of King Jayavarman VII in the 13th century. The temple was converted from a Hindu sanctuary to a Buddhist temple, a move that elevated its cultural and spiritual significance.

The temple’s celestial alignment, expansive moat, and other exceptional features add to its mystique, making it an alluring destination that draws travelers from across the globe. Its colossal size and cultural significance have earned it a coveted spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, an honor that only serves to amplify its cultural and historical value.

Angkor Wat’s grandeur, historical significance, and unique architectural features make it an irresistible destination for visitors to Cambodia. Its sheer splendor and cultural worth continue to inspire a sense of wonder and reverence among those who are fortunate enough to visit, cementing its status as the most popular attraction in the country.

How To Avoid The Crowds Visiting Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, a sublime destination in Cambodia, has captured the hearts of countless visitors with its awe-inspiring beauty. However, due to its popularity, the site can sometimes get inundated with throngs of tourists, dampening the experience for many. Here are some tips on how to evade the crowds and savor a serene visit to Angkor Wat:

  1. Opt for an off-season visit: The peak tourist season in Cambodia runs from November to February. To avoid the crowds, consider planning your visit during the shoulder season (March to May) or the low season (June to October), when the number of visitors is considerably lower.
  2. Arrive at the break of dawn: To have a head start and outpace the crowds, try arriving at Angkor Wat before the sun rises, when the temple doors first open. This will provide an excellent opportunity to revel in the temple’s splendor and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the early morning.
  3. Seek a knowledgeable guide: Hiring an experienced guide can aid in navigating the temple complex efficiently while avoiding the heavily trodden areas. Additionally, guides can furnish fascinating insights into the history and culture of Angkor Wat, enhancing the experience.
  4. Venture off the beaten path: Although Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the complex, there are plenty of other hidden gems worth exploring. Visiting less-visited temples, such as Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei, or Ta Prohm, can give visitors an opportunity to discover some of the lesser-known but equally stunning temples within the area.
  5. Take a breather: To make the most of your visit, do not attempt to see everything at once. Take a break between temple visits to rest, relax in the shade, and relish a refreshing drink or snack.
  6. Visit at sunset: Many visitors leave Angkor Wat before sunset. However, visiting the temple during this time can offer some of the most spectacular views, and the crowds are significantly smaller, making it a perfect time to experience the temple’s enchantment.

Hence, Angkor Wat is an extraordinary place that demands to be explored. With a little bit of planning, it is feasible to avoid the crowds and experience the temple’s allure in peace. By choosing an off-season visit, arriving early, hiring a guide, exploring lesser-known temples, taking breaks, and visiting at sunset, you can make your visit to Angkor Wat a memorable and tranquil one.

Best Time Of Year To Visit Angkor Wat

The best time of year to embark on a sojourn to Angkor Wat in Cambodia is during the dry season, which transpires between November and February. This period proffers the most propitious weather conditions, with clear and sunny skies, moderated humidity, and temperate temperatures, providing an idyllic and comfortable milieu for delving into the captivating antiquity of the temple complex. The arid climate during this time obviates the perils of inclement weather and permits unencumbered sightseeing and photography, further augmenting the charm of the temples.

On the other hand, the rainy season in Cambodia that spans from June to October, with September and October being the wettest months, is not an opportune time to visit Angkor Wat. During this phase, the weather is capricious, and there are frequent and substantial downpours that can impede exploration of the temples. The precipitation can also engender flooding, muddy paths, and slippery conditions, which can render the temples inaccessible or challenging to navigate.

The shoulder season from March to May can also be a felicitous time to traverse Angkor Wat. During this epoch, the crowds are typically smaller than the peak season, and the temperatures are warm but not as scorching as the hottest months of April and May. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the temperatures can still reach formidable levels, and the humidity can be oppressive, posing discomfort for some tourists.

All things considered, the best time to explore the splendor of Angkor Wat is during the dry season, between November and February, when the conditions are optimal for exploring the temples, and the crowds are generally tractable.

Transportation and Guides: Angkor Wat

When planning a visit to the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, it is important to consider the best mode of transportation and the benefits of having a knowledgeable guide to provide context and insights into the complex history of the temples.

For optimal comfort and convenience, hiring a private car or tuk-tuk is a popular choice for navigating the area. These modes of transportation can be easily arranged through various channels, such as hotels, travel agencies, or online platforms, and they offer a more comfortable and efficient way to move around the extensive temple complex. Although bicycles and motorbikes are also available for rent, the hot and humid climate may make this option less attractive.

Equally crucial to a fulfilling Angkor Wat experience is the availability of a licensed guide to show visitors around the temples and provide detailed historical and cultural explanations. Guides can be hired through hotels, travel agencies, or on-site at the temple entrance. The investment in a guide can be well worth it, as they provide essential knowledge and expertise that can enhance the overall experience of visiting the temples.

It is worth noting, however, that not all visitors may feel the need for a guide or transportation services. Some may prefer to explore the temples on their own and at their own pace, which is a valid and personal choice. Nevertheless, hiring a guide and transportation services can save valuable time and energy, while also providing a more in-depth understanding of the temple complex’s rich history and significance.

In the end, the decision to opt for transportation and a guide largely depends on personal preferences, budget, and time constraints.

Where Should I Stay To Visit Angkor Wat?

When making plans for a visit to the illustrious Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a thoughtful consideration must be given to the ideal location for one’s stay in order to fully immerse oneself in the experience.

The city of Siem Reap, teeming with life and catering to a diverse array of travelers, ranging from those on a tight budget to those seeking extravagant luxury, offers the most convenient option. It boasts a wealth of accommodation options, ranging from grand hotels and chic hostels to quaint guesthouses, each tailored to suit varying needs and budgets.

For the traveler who yearns for a more profound immersion, staying in the town of Angkor itself would be an excellent choice. This town is nestled right beside the temple complex, allowing for effortless access to the temples and providing an opportunity to experience the local culture and lifestyle. A few restaurants, shops, and a handful of small hotels and guesthouses populate the area.

Furthermore, for those who seek an indulgent and serene stay, several high-end resorts located a little distance away from Siem Reap offer a sumptuous retreat from the city’s commotion. These resorts are well-appointed with a range of amenities, including swimming pools, spas, and gourmet dining.

Ultimately, the decision of where to stay hinges on personal preferences, budget, and travel style. Irrespective of the preference, staying in Siem Reap or nearby locales will ensure seamless access to the grand Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples, enabling an unforgettable and enriching experience.

Angkor Wat: Final Thoughts

Angkor Wat, with its grandiose architecture and rich cultural significance, has stood the test of time and remains a site of unparalleled historical and spiritual importance. As one of the largest religious monuments globally, it symbolizes the brilliance of Khmer civilization’s artistic and engineering prowess.

A journey to Angkor Wat is an experience of a lifetime, one that transports visitors to a bygone era and immerses them in the awe-inspiring beauty of this ancient temple. The intricate carvings and bas-reliefs that embellish the walls, the impressive scale of the structure, and the palpable sense of history and spirituality make it a destination like no other.

While the temple draws a significant number of tourists, it is also a revered place of worship, and it is essential to observe decorum and dress appropriately while visiting. It is also advisable to engage the services of a knowledgeable guide or tour group to appreciate fully the temple’s historical and cultural significance.

Planning a visit during the dry season, avoiding peak tourist hours, and timing the visit for early morning or late afternoon can help mitigate crowds and optimize the experience. With thoughtful consideration and meticulous planning, a pilgrimage to Angkor Wat is sure to be a transformative and unforgettable expedition.

Amidst the lush Cambodian land, Stands a wonder grand and grand, A temple of beauty and might, Whose grandeur shines so bright.

Angkor Wat, the jewel of the land, With walls that speak of a history so grand, The carvings and art, a testament to skill, And the towering spires, so majestic and still.

A symbol of a kingdom long gone, A relic of a time that shone, Its intricate details, a work of art, A masterpiece that warms the heart.

The morning sun bathes the temple in gold, Its magnificence a sight to behold, And as the day wears on, The temple’s beauty only grows strong.

In Angkor Wat, time seems to stand still, Its magic and allure, a powerful thrill, A temple that captivates and enchants, A destination that one cannot just glance.

So come and behold this wonder of old, And let its beauty and grace unfold, For in Angkor Wat, there is no doubt, A majestic temple that one must devout.

Join the Conversation


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. says: Dave

    Ultimate collection of pictures!
    Especially I love your sunset and tourists flocking towards Angkor Wat pictures. I like this temple great architect, design & stone carving statues.

  2. says: Devendra

    Great Click of magnificent Angkor Wat temple!

    Angkor Wat temple is really an evidence of great Indian civilization and architecture. The temple always me attract to visit this great civilized place Angkor wat. I will go there once in my lifetime

    Thanks Samuel sharing these great pictures……

  3. Amazing photos Samuel! We had planned on finally getting to Cambodia late this year but as it goes for a traveler, our plans have changed. But we have promised ourselves to get there next year! It looks truly amazing… especially in that sunset photo – wow!

  4. says: apol @ Wanderful Together

    whoa!! that sunset photo blew me away. I wanna see the sunrise and sunset when I and my husband go back here..
    when we went to see the sunrise, we rode the bike and just imagine how i pedaled so hard and prayed for the sun not to rise fully yet… gahhh our sunrise experience wasn’t so spectacular!!

    Angkor Wat is massive, drained my energy here, seriously. And guess what, we went during the Khmer New Year.
    Can you imagine the thousands of people walking in and out?

    As usual, I love the photos!!

  5. says: Nicole @ Green Global Travel

    Great photos Samuel! Angkor Wat has been on my ‘must see’ list for a every long time and finally I will be there later this year!

  6. says: Chris

    some great shots in the Sam – I loved wandering around there, it’s a great place to photograph.

    Totally agree that you need to visit the many random temples around it though!

  7. Excellent photo essay, Sam! I especially love the sunset photo and the one of the Buddhist monk. It’s a shame that the scaffolding obscured an otherwise perfect view of the temple; it seems to happen everywhere I go, too! Hope you and Audrey are having a blast livin’ it up in Cambodia. Cheers from snowy (and still cold) Canada!

    1. says: Samuel

      Thanks Ryan! I hope the cold weather you’re experiencing is soon over. I’ve heard it’s been a brutal spring in many parts of Canada this year.

  8. says: Iain Mallory

    Stunning images ….. except the one of you :p An awesome place to visit which is difficult to get some different images of so well done again. That sunset image is fantastic must have required some patience to wait until all of the tourists had toddled off back to their hotels. I have a feeling this won’t be your last visit.

    1. says: Samuel

      LOL, I should keep my ugly mug out of the photo essays. It definitely required some patience for the sunrise and I also had good luck with that weather that morning 🙂

  9. And just think some of us have never seen the Temples once. Totally awesome photos sir and thank you for joining me on Twitter! I hope to get there in two years and experience them at Sunrise like you recommend! Safe Travels mi amigo!!!

    1. says: Samuel

      Thanks Mike! It’s great to be following you on twitter as well and I’m wishing you the best of luck getting to the temples of Angkor sooner rather than later 🙂

  10. says: Marisol

    Hi Samuel, I visited Angkor Wat by myself in 2005 and I revisited it last November with husband and yes it was also special for me the second time around:) Although there was that green scaffolding, the temple is still majestic. Beautful photos and really good photography tips.

  11. I was there in 2009 and it was disappointing to see that front side of Angkor Wat temple had that green construction tent… and now four years later it is still there. Do they really work on it?

    1. says: Samuel

      Hahaha…I know what you mean! It seems to always be ‘under construction’ as are many other temples. I kind of miss the good ‘ole days when I nearly had everything to myself and there wasn’t any construction going on.

  12. says: Nat

    It does look like a wonderful place to visit. Unfortunately I have confined my travels to one country and don’t think I will ever see it. You must really love it to go back a second time

  13. Angkor Wat is one of those photogenic places I never get tired of looking at.. you did a great job getting some angles and perspectives in these that I hadn’t seen before.. Awesome photos Sam!