In this post I wanted to cover as much of Siem Reap’s temple as much as possible and have decided that writing everything in one blog may be overwhelming thus deciding to write this in 3 or 4 different sections.
The Chapters I will write about are (please click to read):
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Dates at the back hole punched to validate the days entered
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.
“Majestic and truly outstanding, a place that must not be missed”
Type : Historical, Religious, Cultural Best Date : Dec – Jan Expense: Medium Things to do : Visit Temples, Bike tours, ATV tours, Points of Interest: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, Preah Khan, Killing Fields, Night Market, Military Museum and many more The Good: Temples are outstanding, Cheap The Bad: Very busy and crowded at some temple locations
Siem Reap is a province north of Cambodia, the main hub for the world famous temple structures such as the Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm which was the set for the Tomb Raider movie. Siem Reap means “Siamese Defeated” which refers to the victory of the Khmer empire against the Thai Kingdom. Tourism is said to be the main form of income to the province and thus this is tightly controlled by the government.
I have been so excited to go to Siem Reap for a while now and with a consistency in top 5 must see places in various different websites and blogs and because of this I had high hopes for this place. Before this trip Machu Picchu was my top and favourite place to date and I wanted to see if this province and its attractions can knock it off my personal first place.
My stay in Siem Reap was a total of 5 days which was advised a little too long for a visit. They have told me that apart from temples which could be completed in 2-3 days, there is not much else to see and do in the province. Taking opinions into account I researched and read more blogs and websites which various sources do indeed recommend a 2-3 days stay which made me panic a bit as I already confirmed my plans and have had various bookings made. However I did decide to proceed with my plans and see and judge the place to myself.
My first day was kind of a surprise as it was the last day of the Cambodian new year. Hotels were packed and there was a lot of people many holding water guns (which got me quiet confused). We arrived early morning about 8am, me and my friend Russel (who was with me on this trip) decided to head to our hostel and see if they would let us check-in or to leave are bags. As the period was busy we weren’t able to check-in and we had to just leave are bags and explore the city. We didn’t have too much plans and we wanted to leave the temples for the next day for tactical reasons which I will explain further-on. So we decided to get a tuk-tuk driver to take us around the nearby points-of-interests which were the Wat Thmey Killing Fields and the Military Museum.
Wat Thmey Killing Fields
Wat Thmey Killing Fields
The Wat Thmey Killing Fields is the area mass killings took place during the 20th century by the ruling party the Khmer Rouge. This place is not one visits to enjoy themselves and take selfies but a place for respect, education and reflection. Today the area which is free of charge has a temple and a few educational features. There is also a pagoda which has placed all the remains of some of the victims of this awful tragedy. After our visit to the killing fields, it was rightful we learnt more about the conflict and headed to the Military Museum. This museum did have a small entrance fee but I’d say was worth it. The museum showcased many real vehicles and weapons of the wartime era and most educational for me was the landmine exhibition which was a big deal for Cambodia at the time.
Whilst on our way back to the hostel with our dedicated tuk-tuk driver we were suddenly squirted with water via a water gun by pedestrians which got me a little mad but our tuk-tuk driver was smiling and laughing and he explained it is the last day of new year and there will be a huge water fight around temple street at night. He explained that everyone is happy and no-one gets angry or mad at this water fight, locals and tourists are welcome. This was a huge bonus for my trip as I had no idea this was happening (what an experience). I set out to get a water gun and found that I was being charged much higher than the locals which I expected anyway, after a few hours of haggling I found my toy. That night was beautiful, it was truly a festival spectacle. Load music, firework displays, bright lights but the difference was everyone was wet. Throughout the road just by Temple street kids, adults, locals and tourists had water-guns and were playing without limits. The experience for me was brilliant it was unlike anything I have ever done.
The second day we were now joined by my cousin. I collected her from the airport at around 8am and after a short rest we decided to start with visiting the Temples. In Siem Reap there are many different temples to visit and the tours and tickets are closely managed by the government. We opted for a 3 day pass hence we didn’t visit temples on our first day to conserve our pass days. I will be explaining this in depth on another blog (Siem Reap and its temples), which will include the temples themselves and the different tours which all follow the same pattern. On our first temple day (day two of Siem Reap) we decided to roam the morning in the city and took the ‘Sunset Tour’ which was the outer Circuit also known as theGrand Circuit. Included in this are popular temples such as Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som and Pre Rup the popular location for views of the sunset. It was a four hour tour using a tuk-tuk however the weather was not in our favour for the end as it rained heavily as we were stopping to our last temple and the most important one to see the sunset. I had mixed feeling for the Grand tour as there were some very amazing structures and others were nothing special. A more in depth post about the Grand Circuit can be found here.
Day three we decided to do theSmall Circuit and a further temple called Bantaey Srei. The small circuit included temples such as Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang, the famous Ta Prohm temple which featured in the Tomb Raider film, the main temple of the country Angkor Wat and many more. Bantaey Srei was 40km away from the village so our tuk-tuk driver decided to take us there first and then return for the small circuit afterwards, the journey to this temple was long and about after halfway the excitement begins to die down. After visiting this we headed towards the small circuit which included all the more notable temples on offer in Siem Reap. Bayon was specifically my favourite ahead of Angkor Wat, it was enchanting and tested my view if Machu Picchu was better, however at the end Bayon still couldn’t knock the Peruvian mountain off my top spot. A more in depth post about the Small Circuit can be found here.
The next day and day four of Siem Reap my parent arrived for their visit and we moved from a hostel into a luxurious hotel. We used this day as a rest day as you could get bored with a temple overload, so we lounged at the pool and roamed the village further which there wasn’t much to it. In the evening we attended a traditional Khmer cultural show in Koulen Restaurant which was just behind our hotel. This show included quality buffet dinner which had so many choices. The performances were outstanding.
After the cultural show we decided to head to town and to Temple road to do our shopping for the trip. The road was very lively, it was a diverse mixture of people from locals and tourists, old and young. Walking around we also passed through Market street and the Arts market. These places are really nice to hang around but I was surprised that unlike other markets across Asia, the markets here close very early at around 9pm or 10pm.
Day five was a repeat of the Small circuit which me and my cousin have done but parents haven’t yet. The fact that I had a 3 day ticket meant I had 1 more day to use so we decided to redo the small circuit to learn more about the place rather than roam at our own account. However this time the tour was inclusive of a van rather than a tuk-tuk and an English speaking tour guide. I was able to distinguish the difference in having a luxurious tour and also doing things on a budget. I believe that using a nice air-conditioned van is much more comfortable, but it does take away the extra authentic feel of the places you are visiting. However the guide was a positive in that you gain more knowledge of the place, but as tours can be shared picture or roaming opportunities can be limited.
In conclusion Siem Reap has lived up to its reputation as a very enchanting place to visit, the people, its culture and history are just amazing apart from the terrible tragedy of its wartime era. Siem Reap was the majestic place I have imagined and all the positive travel reviews I have read were accurate. Furthermore I agree that Siem Reap is consistently a chart topping travel destination even with popular travel guide publishers ‘Lonely Planet‘. Sadly for me neither Angkor Wat or Bayon have beaten my favourite place in Machu Picchu, however they firmly take my second spot of places to visit.
Many people would advise you to visit for 2-3 days max as apart from the temples there is not much to do. However from my experience a 5 day stay is also practical as there is just so many temples to you may want to visit.
I thoroughly recommend a visit to Siem Reap and although travel to the province is somewhat difficult it is worth it.
Please read more in-depth blogs on my experience in Siem Reap (please click to read):