Angkor Wat is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
Top Things to See and Do in Angkor Wat Archeological Park
- Angkor Wat Tours – This temple was built by Suryavarman and is considered the biggest Asian pyramid. It is over 200 feet high and divided in several layers. The central part has four towers in the shape of a lotus flower. This temple is the largest in the whole complex and is where the historic site gets its name. The central temple complex has 2,600 feet of bas-reliefs, including famous battles and Buddhist scenes like the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Army of Suryavarman II, Heaven and Hell, Churning of the Ocean of Milk, Elephant Gate, Vishnu Conquers the Demons, Khrisna and the demon King, Battle of the Gods and the Demons, and the Battle of Lanka.
- The Bayon – Built by Jayavarman VII, the temple stands in the center of Angkor Thom. With its 54 towers and 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara, this temple looks best in the morning just after sunrise or at the end of the afternoon when the sun shines on the faces. The temple was built on 3 levels: the first 2 are rectangular, while the 3rd is circular. This was my favorite—I really got a kick out of exploring all the little halls, rooms, and photographing the many faces.
- Ta Prohm – Still covered by the jungle, this place is exactly as they found it. Ta Prohm makes it easy to imagine how the whole complex looked when it was re-discovered in 19th century.
- Elephant Terrace – A 1000 foot terrace of elephants. It was used as a giant viewing stand during public ceremonies, royal ceremonies, and so on. Many lions decorate this enormous path as well. Now it’s surrounded by camera-wielding tourists, and I found it to be one of the busiest sites here. I suggest visiting late or early to avoid the crowds, which get overwhelming.
- Banteay Srei – This temple is located about 12 miles north of Angkor. The name means “Citadel of the Women” and refers to the size and delicacy of the decoration in the complex. Unlike the major sites at Angkor, this was not a royal temple. There are exquisite decorative carvings in pink sandstone and the miniature proportions are a major highlight of Banteay Srei.
- East Mebon – A huge baray surrounded this temple complex during its prime. Because it was encircled by water and was like an island, there was no need for enclosures or moats that became customary for temples in Angkor. East Mebon has five towers- make sure to climb the central platform to the towers, and check out the intricate stonework.
- Preah Khan – Preah Khan is one of the largest sites in the Angkor temple complex. Not only was this site an important temple, but it also appears to have been a large Buddhist university with over one thousand teachers at one time. It has remained largely unrestored, as evidenced by the many trees growing around the ruins and mossy stones left laying everywhere. The site was a previous palace of Yasovarman II and Tribhuvanadityavarman, and historians believe a famous battle was fought on this site.
- Pre Rup – About 2000 feet south of the East Baray lies Pre Rup, built by Rajendravarman as his capital after re-establishing Angkor once he took over as king. Pre Rup was at the center of a city that has long since vanished. You can climb the steep steps up to the three tiers of the pyramid.
- Preah Ko (Sacred Bull) – This was the first temple to be built in the ancient city of Hariharalaya. It lies about 10 miles southeast of the main temples at Angkor. Today, there are six small brick towers that sit atop a sandstone base.
- Srah Srang – Commonly known as ‘The Royal Baths’, this spot was once a major bathing spot for every living thing, elephants aside, in the area. Today it is the most popular place for local children to swim.
- Ta Som – This temple has the same style, structure, and founder as Ta Phrom. It is almost like its little brother. The major feature that sets it apart is a huge tree that grows atop the eastern Gopura. It is slowly destroying the building, but it makes for amazing photo opportunities. It’s the temple normally featured in movies and photos.
- Baksei Chamkrong — On the road between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, you can find a single tower that was built by Harshavarman I (910-922). It’s one of the few ruins accredited to him, and he had it built to honor his father who was responsible for the construction of Phnom Bakheng.
- Terrace of the Leper King — This seven-layer terrace was built in the 13th century and was named after the god of the underworld, whose naked statue perches on top. Keep an eye out for the secret passageway that runs from the southwest to northwest side of the structure.
Notes from publishers:
Most visitors to Siem Reap (town only 8 km from Angkor Wat Temple) go on standard tours for over2 or 3 days. Every tour covers visits to Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple (part of Angkor Thom).
We lived in Siem Reap between 2011 and 2016 as owners/managers of a small guesthouse. It was a good opportunity to see more than average tourists do. From our experience, backpackers stay 3-4 days in the town and rush through temples. More relaxed visitors usually book 5-7 days – enough time to see a bit more than usual tourists do, to enjoy town (Pub Street is a must). We use this opportunity to thank all our queer guests.
We will cover some of the above-mentioned sites in more detail in future postings.