Siem Reap Temples in the Small Circuit

The Small Circuit is a collection of temples in the inner road of Angkor’s archaeological park. It has the most famed temples to visit including Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom which was the set for the movie Tomb Raider. I visited the Small circuit on my third and fifth days in Siem Reap (leaving a day of rest in between) which was the second and third day of my three day temple pass.

On the first visit around the small circuit (third day in Siem Reap) we customised a tour which included the small circuit and a outer temple Banteay Srei (on a separate post) which was 40km outside the Angkor region. This tour was again carried out using a Tuk-tuk which I still feel is the best way to roam the province. Our tuk-tuk driver decided to take us 40km out to Banteay Srei first and then return to Angkor to complete the small tour in which we only visited the three main temples.

On the second visit around the small circuit, our fifth day in Siem Reap I revisited the three main temples again however this time with an English speaking guide using a more comfortable airconditioned Van. The difference was there to experience and I do have the pros and cons of the two touring methods in Siem Reap.

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Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom is the first temple we visited in the small circuit after our short detour to Banteay Srei which was 40km further. Ta Phrom originally called Rajavihara meaning the ‘monastery of the kings’ was another built by King Jayavarman VII. It was said to be built to honour his family and was thought to be a place for religious education.

Ta Phrom is one of the big three temple that is highly advised to visit in Angkor’s archaeology park with Bayon and Angkor Wat being the other two. Ta Phrom is particularly famous for being the setting for the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which was released in 2001 staring Angelina Jolie. Furthermore this place is especially popular not only for its architecture but also its setting with tall trees growing effortlessly on the buildings which make for enchanting and majestic scenery, perfect for photo opportunities. Its artwork and carvings are also a pleasure, there are portrayal of a number of dancers, animals, religious figures and many more, my personal favourite is the face peeking through a tree trunk smiling (shown on picture below). However quiet mysteriously there is said to be a carving of a stegosaurus which is fascinating and also baffling many experts.

Ta Phrom’s impressive structure and its encounter with nature is just one of the reasons you must go to this temple. For me the experience became stale after already seeing plenty of similar temples the day before. I was starting to get the temple overload feeling. The only addition for me here was the trees growing on the buildings, apart from that it was just another temple but with the added reputation of being in a Hollywood movie. Nonetheless this temple is a real beauty and very picturesque but because of this the crowd levels are very high and it is very difficult to capture the best photos without unwanted people appearing. This was probably the most congestion temple I visited.

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Angkor Thom (Bayon)

Bayon which is situated inside Angkor Thom was the second temple I visited inside the small circuit. A later Buddhist temple built by King Jayavarman VII dedicated to Buddha. This was said to be the centrepiece of all the kings building programs. However after the king passed the temple was changed into a Hindu temple and then later reverted back.

I have to be honest that at this point of my travels after two full days of temple visits, I was starting to get all templed-out somewhat bored of seeing temple after temple. However seeing Bayon from a far distance I knew I was in for something totally different, something very special. The architecture of this temple was unique, it is famous for being the monument with over two hundred faces smiling from thirty seven different towers. There are three different levels and all could be visited, nearly every step inside the complex is a goose-bump moment and every angle is majestic and charming, a photographers haven. There were not as many people here than I thought there would be which added to the positive experience I had here.

All in all Bayon or Angkor Thom is one of the most mind-blowing incredible thing I have seen in my travels. I came to Siem Reap anticipating if I could find the place that could take my current favourite (Machu Picchu) off my top spot. In my opinion Bayon is unbelievable even after you’ve seen it, truly a spectacle to see in any angle. Bayon definitely came knocking for my personal top spot, but unfortunately I still believe Machu Picchu still edged better and Bayon fell short. Nonetheless Bayon was magnificent and I would advise any traveller to go to Siem Reap and visit this special temple.

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Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was the very last temple I visited on both my small circuit touring days (days 3 and 5). Somewhat the finale of my Siem Reap and Angkor visit. This temple is the most famous temple of them all, so important for the country that it is even featured on the Cambodian flag. It is a Hindu temple built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. This Hindu temple converted to Buddism and reverted back a few times along the ages due to war and handover of Kings. This temple is still an active religious place and pilgrimages do happen here.

My first observation of Angkor Wat was its enormity and the beautiful setting the temple was built on. Before entering the temple walls there is a scenic lake you would need to cross. A temporary float bridge was placed when I was visiting as the bridge was under refurbishment, however this didn’t affect the experience in anyway. After getting inside the temple walls you will walk (5-10minutes) an incredible path heading to the central five tower building, along the way you will see beautiful two beautiful lake/ pond on each side and small buildings which are known to be libraries. It is said that this walkway was only used for the king himself and nobody else was allowed to walk here. Once inside the temple you will see many monks, artwork, stairs and headless statues (as thieves would steel the heads to sell on the black market). There was a line to go up the central monument however due to the heat I opted to miss this out on both my visits. There are many brilliantly preserved carvings on the walls which portray many of both the Hindu and Buddhism beliefs.

Overall Angkor Wat was special and I see the reason why this is the most popular out of all the temples. Like many of the temples it is picturesque and has huge historic significance. Although spectacular, Bayon was still my favourite temple overall due to the architectural style. Angkor Wat is huge and maybe an hour to three hours would be needed depending on the detail you want to visit. This temple in my opinion has the most visitors but due to the huge space and different passages it is not as congested as Ta Phrom. In my opinion Angkor Wat is the cover attraction of Cambodia, so missing this out on a Siem Reap visit would be a disaster.

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Others

The temples below are temples within the small circuit but I didn’t visit these due to the tours we did. However here is a little insight to the collection of these temples.

Thommanon- This temple is a small Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva. Its Architectural style is the same as that of Angkor Wat and this temple has excellent conditioned artwork.

Banteay Kdei– A Bayon styled temple said to be one of the most peaceful within the small circuit. Although very near two highly visited temples in Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom it seems this is missed out by tourists. Built by King Jayavarman II dedicated to Avalokitesvara, this temple has complex structures and its peaceful scenery may be a reason for you to visit.

Banteay Kdei (photo from justsiemreap.com)

Srah Srang – Srah Srang is the Royal Bath. This reservoir or pond was built in the 10th century and then modified by King Jayavarman II. Setting in-between the small and grand circuit this location is a very popular location to watch the sunset.

Srah Srang Guide
Srah Srang (photo from justsiemreap.com)

Prasat Kravan- Another place in between the small and grand circuit. This is a temple not built by a king but high ranking hindu priests. Special features of this temple is its five brick towers, it is said the best time to visit this is in the morning.

Prasat Kravan (photo from justsiemreap.com)

Conclusion

All in all the Angkor small circuit is definitely the main collection of temples to visit. Especially if you have limited time, as they include the big three temples Ta Phrom, Bayon and Angkor Wat. However if you have loads of time to visit both the Small and Grand circuits I advise you to start with the grand circuit as visiting the small circuit first may give the grand circuit an anti-climax feeling.

I visited the small circuit using two different methods, one a cheaper un-guided tour using a tuk-tuk and the other a more expensive guided tour using an airconditioned luxury van. In my opinion no matter how much money you have I would always try and use the cheaper method using a tuk-tuk. Although unguided you can roam these temples at your own pace and leisure. Albeit the guide on any tour would be more informative if you want to learn more about the place but having a travel book or internet in-hand would just be as good (in my opinion). However probably the biggest reason for the cheaper option is that the tuk-tuk is a unique experience and no matter how hot, dusty or wet it is you wont gain this feeling back home, an airconditioned van takes all the character out of the tour.

My overall experience with this collection of temples were positive, they were impressive and extraordinary to say the least. Something that you thought you would only see on movies. The experience of these temples especially the big three are dampened with the sheer congestion of crowds (much more than the grand circuit), not only for the perfect picture opportunities but also with the noisy lively atmosphere. Nonetheless all temples in the circuit are unique and comfortably sit in my top 2 of my favourite places I have visited with Machu Picchu still the best I have experienced.

Thanks or reading, please follow and share if you enjoyed it…

Please read my further experience:

  1. Tickets, Entry to the Temples
  2. Small Circuit
  3. Grand Circuit
  4. Further Temples

and also read my full experience in

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Reference:

https://justsiemreap.com/temple-guide

Siem Reap Temples in the Grand Circuit

The Grand Circuit also known as the Grand tour is a collection of temples on the outer road of the Angkor archaeological park. All tuk-tuk, taxi and tour drivers would know which collection of temples to take you. I did the Grand tour on my second day in Siem Reap but it was my first day visiting the temples itself. We booked a Sunset evening tour which followed the Grand circuit route and spanned around 4 hours. This tour was carried out using a Tuk-tuk which in my opinion is the best way to experience the Archaeological sights.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan which means ‘Royal Sword’ is a temple complex built around 1191, it was a gift by King Jayavarman VII to his father. The temple was built upon victory of a battle against the Chams.

This is the very first temple we visited on our visit to Siem Reap. Hearing all the great things about all the temples in Angkor, I was particularly excited to see for myself and witness what all the fuss was about. Our first impressions of our first temple Preah Khan was amazing, enchanting and very much perfect and picturesque. We didn’t even enter the temple walls and we already spent half an hour taking photographs. The entrance had a nice old bridge crossing a beautiful calm stream, it was a perfect sight but somewhat ruined by some scaffolding as some structures were still being refurbished or repaired. The place was very quiet which was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. The temple complex was huge and you can easily spend an hour or even more here. There are still a lot of rubble in different areas which is awaiting to be rebuilt or repaired.

A great start to my temple experience and knowing it can only get better made me eager to see the rest. Best part for me here was the entrance where the bridge is situated with the calm relaxing stream.

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Neak Pean  

This was our next stop after Preah Khan, this was a much simpler temple. Firstly from the drop off point you would have to walk around 10-15 minutes on a very beautifully scenic elevated platform towards the temple. The walk is a pleasure however when arriving to the actual temple it is (in my opinion) not bad but somewhat of an anti-climax compared to our first temple. However the complex is beautiful and has huge significance to the area at its time.

Neak Pean was also built by King Jayavaraman VII on the second half of the 12th century, he dedicating this to the Buddhists. the complex is small and consists of an island temple surrounded by four smaller ponds representing wind, fire, water and earth. It is said that this was built to be a place of healing whereas bathing on the ponds would heal disease or wounds.  

My impressions for this temple was ok. If you are a photography type tourist it wouldn’t be much of a loss to miss this place, however if you like learning about the place then there is much information to be had here. Best part for me here is the walk to get to this complex.

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Ta Som Temple

Ta Som is one of the Smaller temples in the Archaeological area. This temple is another built by King Jayavaraman VII but its purpose is still a mystery, some say it was built dedicated to his father whilst others say it was for his teacher.

This temple is one of the most completely restored and you can visit almost everywhere possible. Like a few other temples in Angkor there are trees growing on this temple which make for good photo opportunities. The ancient artwork is also well preserved in this temple. Best part for me on this complex was its surroundings of tall trees, it was magical and enchanting to say the least.

We somewhat rushed through this as it was similar to the first temple we visited (Preah Khan). You start to get the impression that all temples are similar and visits to others would be boring unless the architecture or styles change drastically.

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East Mebon

East Mebon was one of the earlier temples in the Angkor Archaeological park built in the 10th century. King Rajendravarman II built this mountain temple complex dedicating to the Hindu god Shiva.

Visiting East Mebon was a pleasure, it had different architectural style than that of the other temples. The complex consisted of step terraces shaping as a pyramid. It had huge sculptures of elephants on each corner. This place was clean and I didn’t see any loose stones awaiting to be repaired.

For me, East Mebon was interesting for the difference it had to the other temples we visited. The complex was not too big and you could spend 30 minutes to roam. This temple did however have steep narrow steps so a bit of care is required when visiting this place. It was very picturesque but was ruined by dark clouds which brought rain as we were leaving this complex.

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Pre Rup

Pre Rup is another temple built by King Rajendravarman II around the year 961, said to be the state Hindu temple of the King. It is also thought that this was popular in burial ceremonies and some say the complex is one huge crematorium. It has similar architectural style as that of East Mebon as a mountain temple complex with a pyramid step styled terraces. 

This was suppose to be the grand finale of our tour (Sunset tour), as it is meant to be a spectacular sunset. However the experience was ruined by the showering monsoon style rain. We didn’t have any jackets or umbrellas and even if we did the rain would’ve been too strong. We stayed in our tuk-tuk waiting for a possible stop, but this unfortunately didn’t happen and we ended up going back to the hostel, seeing the sunset on our journey back.

However reading about this specific temple it was not one to miss out on even though this is the quiet compared to other notable temples in the Angkor region.

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Pre Rup      (Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/3238877325)

Overall Conclusion

The temples in the Grand Circuit are astonishing to say the least, I saw two different styles of ancient architecture and saw lots of unique art. The difference in architecture style did make the tour more fascinating and boredom didn’t occur on this circuit. I was surprised that there weren’t huge crowds in any of these temples, I don’t know if we were lucky or we just chose a good time. My experience was somewhat ruined by the rain, but then that’s no fault of this fantastic place, actually apart from the heavy shower on the last temple (Pre Rup) the light droplets on other temples did give the place character and cooled the place for us as it was the peak of summer.

In my overall opinion the Grand Circuit which could be completed in a single day is perfect to start off with. The reason being is that because the more notable temples are on the small circuit it would be a better progress the experience rather than to have an anti-climax. As in my opinion although the collection of temples in this circuit are astonishing the temples in the small circuit are a little better.

Thanks or reading, please follow and share if you enjoyed it

Please read my further experience:

  1. Tickets, Entry to the Temples
  2. Small Circuit
  3. Grand Circuit
  4. Further Temples 

and also read my full experience in

 

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Reference:

https://www.wmf.org/project/preah-khan-temple
https://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/neak-pean.htm
Ta Som
https://www.renown-travel.com/cambodia/angkor/pre-rup.html https://justsiemreap.com/temple-guide/pre-rup/

 

Siem Reap and its Temples (Tickets)

All the temples in Siem Reap require a ticket, the temples in both the Grand Circuit and Small Circuit only require a single all inclusive ticket for all . However some of the temples a bit further out of the centre have got their own independent ticket.

As the tourism industry is so important for the province and country the control of tickets is tightly managed. So controlled that you can only obtain tickets from the only official ticket office that exists. I believe the tight management in ticket sales are in order to deter any counterfeit tickets and maybe as the income is so great to also minimise the chances of corruption. Be aware that tickets are not sold elsewhere so purchases made from hotels, online and other 3rd party vendors will not be valid.

The tickets are varied in different categories. There is a 1 day, 3 days and 7 days tickets, whereas for the multi day tickets you wouldn’t need to use the tickets all in consecutive days and could spread these out for a total of 10 days for the 3 day pass and 1 month for the 7 day pass.

1 day pass = USD $37
3 day pass = USD $62
7 day pass = USD $72
(as of April 19)
I believe it is cheaper for Cambodian nationals.
The prices do contribute a little to a local children hospital fund.

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Official Ticket Centre

To get the tickets you would need to go to the only ticket outlet available, usually your tour operator or tuk-tuk driver would ask you if you already have a ticket or would need to go and purchase one. The ticket office is a nice new huge traditional building complete with shops, an ATM and many other amenities. There are different lines and booths for the different categories. At the time I visited there weren’t many people there and no lines at all.

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Ticket booths in the official centre

I decided to buy a 3 day pass as it was most convenient for my trip. You can pay your ticket by cash and even card and the tickets will require a photograph which is taken on the spot (I believe to prevent sharing of tickets or theft of ticket). In minutes you will receive your nice looking paper ticket which in my opinion looks really nice worthy of keeping as a souvenir. 

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Official ticket

The tickets (if multiday)  are validated upon entry at the entry points bordering the temple areas, at the beginning of each day the attendant would hole punch the current day as to know you have used up one of the day if you have obtained a multi day pass. Your ticket will be checked again at the entrance of each temple and the picture of your ticket will be closely monitored in order to make sure the owner is correct.

For other further temples such as Beng Melea, Koh Ker and even the Phnom Khulen National Park a separate ticket is purchased (im not to sure of the reasons for this). On my 5 day stay at Siem Reap I decided not to go to these long distant temples so Im not too sure about the tickets and the system of purchase.

Thanks for reading…

Please read my further experience:

  1. Tickets, Entry to the Temples
  2. Small Circuit
  3. Grand Circuit
  4. Further Temples

and also read my full experience in

 

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