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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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):