Visiting the City of Angkor Thom
Rated as the number one tourist attraction, the City of Angkor Thom is visited by millions of tourists each year. The most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire is a 400 square kilometer stretch of magnificent remains including the World famous Angkor Wat temple and Bayon temple among others. In 1992, the Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Angkor Wat temple is also featured on the Cambodian national flag.
Tips prior visiting the park.
The Angkor Archaeological Park is located 6KM away from the city of Siem Reap. Since the park is 400 square kilometers large, it is highly recommended that you book a tuk-tuk driver, to make the most of your day. Walking or cycling can be an option but keep in mind that probably it will be very hot and you won’t be able to see as much. Ideally you meet a tuk-tuk driver one or two days before and explain to him what you have in mind about the park and make up a plan. There are hundreds of tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap alone and all of them will try to get you to use their services. Initially it is confusing because all of them seem to be nice people but in fact only a few of them are willing or able to take you on a legit day tour around the park.
We highly recommend San Kha who is an honest and excellent tuk-tuk driver and guide. San Kha can be found on TripAdvisor and can be contacted on his Facebook page. A full day package is possible and here is how you can plan it.
Beating the crowds at the City of Angkor Thom
An early start for sunrise is highly recommended. Arrange with your tuk-tuk driver to pick you up at least an hour before sunrise. The park is located 6KM away from Siem Reap and you have to purchase entrance tickets on your way. An hour’s time should be enough.
Sunrise at Pnohm Bakheng Temple
An ideal place to watch sunrise is from Pnohm Bakheng temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is located on a hill overlooking the City of Angkor Thom. Most tourists make their first stop at Angkor Wat temple for sunrise and therefore you will hardly find any tourists at Pnohm Bakheng Temple. The driver will stop you at the feet of the hill where you will have a gentle 15 minute walk uphill.
After sunrise, you can go near Angkor Wat temple. By this time, tourists who went to Angkor Wat for sunrise will be getting ready to go to a different temple. You can utilize this time to have some breakfast while Angkor Wat Temple clears up. There is a place called Angkor Cafe just on the right hand site before entering Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat Temple
After finishing breakfast you can make your way to the world famous Angkor Wat Temple. Some believe that the construction of the temple during the 12th century was completed overnight by a divine architect. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu. Later the temple was converted to a Hindu center of worship of Buddhism and is still in use until present day. Visiting Angkor Wat Temple will easily take between an hour and a half to two hours.
Bayon Temple & Baphuon Temple
Your next stop should be the spectacular Bayon Temple. What makes Bayon Temple unique is the 51 small towers each including four faces of its own. Although Bayon Temple is smaller compared to Angkor Wat, it surely has its own charm. This temple was built in the late 12th century and completed in the early 13th century.
A short walk northwest from Bayon Temple stands Baphuon Temple, a three tiered temple mountain dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Baphuon Temple was built in the mid-11th century.
Around this area, one can also admire the Terrace of the Elephants, which is located at the entrance of Baphuon Temple, as well as several Pagodas surrounding the area.
Victory Gate and the Chau Say Tevoda Temple
Victory Gate is considered to be the most interesting gate out of 5 gates surrounding the ancient City of Angkor Thom. The gate is located on the way to Chau Say Tevoda Temple and can be reached at the end of the Royal Road. There are several Gods and Demons faces carved in the gate which can be compared to the faces found at Bayon Temple.
A few meters away from Victory Gate is Chau Say Tevoda Temple. Chau Say Tevoda Temple, located east of Angkor Wat, was built in the mid-12th century and is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Gods Shiva and Vishnu. Not a lot of tourist buses stop at this temple, but it is worth a short stop before heading to lunch.
There are not many restaurants around the City of Angkor Thom and most of the times, tuk-tuk drivers will head towards a place called Ta Prohm Khmer Food. You do not really have any other options unless you want to head back to Siem Reap. The prices are higher than the usual prices around Siem Reap and food quality is nothing special. Tuk-tuk drivers seem to have some kind of commission from this place hence the reason why they take you there.
Ta Prohm Temple
After lunch the ideal stop would be the famous Ta Prohm temple. Most of the times, tourists head here right after visiting Angkor Wat in the morning. Therefore, in the afternoon, Ta Prohm temple is less crowded.
Ta Prohm, built in the late 12th century and beginning of the 13th century, was originally called Rajavihara. Trees rise from the ruins of this iconic 12th-century Buddhist temple surrounded by jungle. The temple is extensively damaged by tree roots and other natural causes. Ta Prohm is famous among westerners for the filming location of Indiana Jones Temple of Doom (1984) by Harrison Ford and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) by Angelina Jolie.
Sunset at Pre Rup temple
By the time you finish visiting Ta Prohm, you have to make your way for sunset. The ideal place for sunset is the Hindu Pre Rup Temple. Funeral rituals were conducted at this temple. Pre Rup means ‘turn the body‘ and this reflects the common belief to ritually rotate the body ashes in different directions as the funeral service progressed.
Please bear in mind that the City of Angkor Thom is a sacred and religious site and you should wear appropriate clothing. Officials have the right to stop you from entering Angkor Archaeological Park if you are not dressed accordingly.
More pictures from our trip to Cambodia can be found here.