Visit the incredible temples of Angkor Wat
Lying in the northwest of Cambodia, close to the Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap is predominantly known as the gateway to the Temples of Angkor. Once a collection of villages built around pagodas and surrounded by rice paddies, the city has benefited from its proximity to the ancient sites. Modern Siem Reap has a delightful mixture of colonial and Cambodian styles plus a fantastic dining and arts scene as well as vibrant nightlife similar to a Thai beach resort. The city’s compelling Angkor National Museum highlights the fascinating history of the nearby Temples of Angkor.
- There is no doubt the major draw here are the incredible Temples of Angkor
- The mysterious and relatively secluded Beng Mealea temple is well worth a visit and a photographer’s dream as the ruins have been reclaimed by nature
- The city's excellent air links to Bangkok make it a popular and easy addition to many Thailand and Indochina itineraries
- Discover the beautiful ruins of Ta Prohm which are entiwined by vines and have been swallowed up by the jungle
- Siem Reap is emerging as a culinary hot spot in South East Asia with a wide range of good dining spots from hawker stalls to upscale venues
Siem Reap holiday highlights
Angkor Archaeological Park is a remarkable and mysterious complex of temples set deep in the forest that will take your breath away with its grand scale and intricacy. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Asia's most important archaeological sites and it contains remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire dating between the 9th and 15th centuries.
You can see the main temples of Angkor in a day but you may feel as though you're only scratching the surface of this spectacular site. A visit to the Temples of Angkor is without doubt the highlight of any trip to Cambodia so we recommend dedicating two full days to allow plenty of time to explore and enjoy viewing the temples at different times of the day.
It's worth visiting the Angkor temples either late afternoon or early morning to avoid the midday heat. Gondola rides at sunrise and sunset are popular times to visit as you can avoid the crowds and admire the awe-inspiring views as the changing sky provides a beautiful backdrop to the temples which are reflected in the surrounding moat. You can travel to Angkor independently, but it's well worth booking an informative guide.
Angkor Wat, a spectacular 12th-Century masterpiece and mausoleum-temple is the most famous of the temples. This magnificent ancient city is encircled by a 100 metre wide moat and was once dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. It is the largest religious complex on Earth and covers an area four times bigger than Vatican City. This incomparable landmark is now a peaceful Buddhist complex with imposing lotus towers, elegant courtyards and intricate carvings.
Discover the huge walled city of Angkor Thom which was built in the late 12th Century and served as the last capital city of the Khmer empire. The city's gates are guarded by 54 stone deities and 54 stone demons that represent 108 mythical protectors of the city and face all directions to keep a watchful eye over the city.
The popular South Gate leads directly to Angkor Wat and the quieter East Gate was famously used for scenes in the Tomb Raider film. The grand Bayon Temple stands at the centre of Angkor Thom and features massive stone faces that adorn the structure's multitude of towers. Other important monuments here include the Elephant Terrace, the Royal Enclosure and Phimeanakas.
Marvel at the peaceful, exquisitely decorated temple of Preah Khan and the remarkable ruined temple-monastery of Ta Phrom which has slowly been reclaimed by the jungle and is wrapped in vines with trees growing out of the ruins. Escape the crowds by visiting the more remote Banteay Srei temple, which is renowned for its impressive stone carvings and the small sandstone Banteay Samre temple which features pink tones and an interior moat.
Learn about the Golden Era of the Khmer Kingdom at the excellent Angkor National Museum which is just a 15-minute drive from the temples complex. If you're visitiing the Banteay Srei temple then it's well worth stopping off at the Cambodian Landmine Museum which was set up to raise awareness of land mines in Cambodia which caused such devastation during the country's three-decade long civil war.