I remember the first time I visited Angkor Wat. It was in 2006 and I knew absolutely nothing about the site. Which temples to visit, how to get around, photography tips and the story….
I had no clue.
This time however, I read up on the story and tips. And now..
I’VE BEEN WOOED!
In total there are more than 1,000 temples spread out on an area of 400 square kilometres. As you can imagine, there are way too many to explore. That’s why I’ve made this post with the most popular temples. In my other post The Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat, you’ll get all the information you need on prices, dangers, how to get around and much more.
For now, here’s the top temples of Angkor Wat that can be seen in 2 days.
2 Day Itinerary
Sunrise at Angkor Wat (only if you’re visiting during high season), Bayon, Ta Prohm, Baphuon
Sunrise at Angkor Wat (only if you’re visiting during high season), Angkor Thom gate, Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Ta Som
Sunrise & sunset
You can watch the sunrise from Angkor Wat (most popular) or Srah Srang and the sunset from Phnom Bakheng (most popular), Angkor Wat or Pimeanakas
Trees growing from temple ruins
Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Ta Som
Bayon, Angkor Thom gates, Banteay Kdeo, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm
Bakong, Bayon, Terrace of the Leper King, Banteay Srey, Angkor Wat
Bayon should be the first stop on your tour. This temple group is known for the unique carvings of faces, which is classic Khmer art and architecture.
Bayon has 37 towers and almost every one of them has four carved faces. It is debated who the faces represent, but presumably it’s Buddha or the king who built them (Jayavarman VII).
The highlight of Bayon is the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls near the stone faces. Also note the unfinished carvings on other walls.
Bayon is surrounded by high jungle which can make it a bit dark for photography near sunrise and sunset.
Remember seeing this photo before?
You guys, it’s from Tomb Raider. Before starring in an Angelina Jolie movie, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple built for the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Today it has been largely left to the clutches of the living jungle.
So, here’s a thought:
If you see only two temples, it should be Bayon and…. Ta Prohm.
I know, I know. I’m supposed to say Angkor Wat, but… I can’t.
Angkor Wat is tremendous. Extraordinary even. And it’s not to be missed. But the truth is that while Angkor Wat was breathtaking, huge and crowded, I was simply just more impressed with Ta Prohm. It had that Indiana Jones vibe going on; buried in the jungle and all. Also, I’m really fascinated by trees growing into temples. Aren’t you?
ANGKOR THOM GATE
Only one kilometre east of Ta Prohm, you’ll find Angkor Thom (Big Angkor); a 3 kilometer walled city with five entrances. Each gate is crowned with four giant faces like you see on the photo below. Bayon is at the center of the city.
Inside the walls of Angkor Thom you’ll also find Baphuon temple, which is a temple mountain built as a state temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Note the unique animal carvings at the walkway entrance and the impressively large reclining Buddha on the west side.
Behold…. The mighty Angkor Wat.
This massive three-tiered pyramid is crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from the ground.
Also, this particular spot is where you’d be watching the sunrise with a gazillion other tourists (don’t say I didn’t warn you). I haven’t had the pleasure myself, but supposedly it’s only really good twice a year. If I were you and I visited during the high season (January – March), I’d still go for it though. Who knows, you might be lucky.
It’s supposed to be BREATHTAKING.
Then you can climb the towers and catch the view of the entire site. The steps are insanely steep, but the view is absolutely worth it. See proof below.
By now you’re probably pretty templed out. And if you can’t stand the thought of one more jungle temple, that’s alright. It’s probably really hot and humid, too.
I know the sticky feeling.
If you do visit Preah Khan, you should know that it’s full of carvings, passages and photo opportunities. Like architecturally similar Ta Prohm, this beautiful temple is also bound by massive roots of huge trees. And we like those.
Ta Som is the most distant temple in the Grand Circuit. It’s definitely worth a visit, but it takes a while to get there by tuktuk (30 minutes). At Ta Som you should look for the apsaras carvings, stone face carvings, the jungle temple atmosphere and the famous Ta Som gateway which is encircled by roots of an old banyan tree.
Photography tip: Ta Som is best photographed in the afternoon.