Rising from the jungle as the star of the UNESCO-listed Angkor Archaeological Park, the Angkor Wat temple complex is a 12th-century engineering marvel that tops many adventure travelers’ bucket lists and justifies a trip to Southeast Asia all on its own. Every surface is covered in intricate carvings and details that don’t disappoint—nymphs dance on columns in shadowy hallways, serpent-topped balustrades line the moat, and huge, chiseled bas-reliefs wrap the outer walls, depicting Khmer Empire battles. The site’s colossal size reflects its ambition, intended as a microcosm of the universe. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to get lost here, with the complex arranged on three tiers.
Angkor Wat tours typically run from Siem Reap, with a number of options available. Both small-group and private tours take visitors around the complex—choose a full-day tour to travel with a knowledgeable Angkor Wat tour guide; an epic helicopter tour to see the ruins from above; or a bike tour to make your way to the site from Siem Reap on two wheels. Tours that visit at sunrise or sunset are especially popular for the photo opportunities, while a stop at the nearby Angkor National Museum allows visitors to better appreciate the significance of the structure and its symbolic decorations.
All visitors to Angkor Wat enter through the west-facing main entrance and onto a raised cruciform sandstone terrace. Once inside, the instantly recognizable five inner and four outer towers of the raised central temple serve as orientation points for exploration of the various hallways, chambers, and crumbling inner layers. If not visiting as part of a tour, 1-, 3-, and 7-day passes for the archaeological park are sold at the entrance.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most popular attraction, which makes for large crowds. Book your tour in advance to save time.
- Angkor Wat is a sacred site for Khmer people, and visitors should dress modestly. To visit the top tier, you must have your upper arms and thighs covered.
- At any given time, a limited number of visitors are allowed to ascend to the top tier for views of the surrounding landscape.
- A lawn in the outer ring has two free-standing roofless libraries that serve as peaceful places to escape the inevitable crowds.
How to Get There
Angkor Wat is located four miles (six kilometers) north of Siem Reap in the Siem Reap Province. Travelers can arrive by tuk-tuk or choose a guided Angkor tour with roundtrip transportation from the city.
When to Get There
Peak season at Angkor Wat is between November and February, when cool, dry weather makes for a pleasant visit. Huge crowds gather in the early morning to capture photos of the sun rising over the temple and its reflection in the site’s long pools. To beat the crowds, visit other temples first and save Angkor Wat for midday or try sunset instead. The site is typically open from 5:30am to 6pm.
Exploring the Angkor Temples
The ancient temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park can take days to explore, but day tour highlights include the masterpiece Angkor Wat; Ta Prohm, where banyan tree roots encroach on crumbling structures; the South Gate of Angkor Thom; the Bayon Temple, where ancient smiling stone faces sit atop high towers; and the high wall at the Terrace of the Leper King. Visitors with more time can also see further-away sites like the pink stone temple of Banteay Srei, dating to the 10th century, or take a boat ride on Tonle Sap lake.