Locals passing by Pre Rup Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god of Shiva and built as the state temple of Khmer king Rajendravarman in 10th century.
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Angkor, the ruins of the ancient capital of the Khmer Kingdom is one of the greatest treasures and most important archaeological sites in the world. The 'Home of gods and kings' is today known more prosaically as the Angkor Archeological Park, 400 square kms (250 sq miles) encompassing over one thousand temples ranging from a piles of rubble to the magnificently preserved and restored Angkor Wat.
is a 'UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger' due to a declining water table, frequent looting/theft of artifacts and overwhelming tourism.
There's no accommodation in the park so most visitors stay in the nearby town of Siem Reap, 6km south of the park.
The must sees are: the best temple of all, Angkor Wat; the Bayon Temple with famously enigmatic faces at Angkor Thom; Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, atmospheric temples which both have trees growing-out of the buildings; and Banteay Srei, a small Hindu temple complex that is a little jewel.
The massive stone faces on towers of the Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom.
Photo by Dudva
Angkor Viewing Strategy
To avoid large tour groups, start your day before dawn and head for the temples when they open (normally 5 a.m.) with snacks, stay until 9:00 am when many tourists go back to their hotels for breakfast.
Then have brunch while mooing herds graze the sites, then
head for more temples around mid-day when coach folk are having lunch.
The smaller, less visited temple are better in the afternoon. To avoid getting 'templed out', do your homework, pick temples that attract you for whatever reason and plan your itinerary thoroughly. Pace yourself and take plenty of rest.
Ensure you have your Angkor Pass before setting off!
Best times for photography
Most temples face east so the best lighting conditions are in the morning, except for Angkor Wat where the best light is in the afternoon because it faces west. Temples embedded in jungle such as Ta Prohm and Preah Khan look good when the sun is directly overhead and shining through the foliage.
There are routes known by tour operators as the 17 kilometre Small/Little Circuit and the 26 kilometre Grand/Large Circuit. Angkor Area Map
This starts at Angkor Wat and continues for seventeen kilometres, visiting Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm, and Banteay Kdei, and some of the minor but interesting temples such as the Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma and Sras Srang before returning to Angkor Wat.
This tour starts the same way as the Small Circuit but adds Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean along with the various monuments of Ta Som and Pre Rup.
Bas-reliefs of 'The military procession of King Suryavarman II' cover the exterior wall of the first level, Angkor Wat.
The bas-reliefs are a total length of 600 m and travel counterclockwise. The highlights of the reliefs are the mythical Battle of Kurukshetra in the South wing, the west Gallery, the historic parade of the army of King Suryavarman II, 'Heaven and Hell' in the East wing of the South Gallery and the famous 'Churning of the Ocean Milk' in the East Gallery.
Tha Prohm being consumed by the jungle is not to be missed even if you aren't a fan of Tomb Raider.
Photo by Mark Alexander100
Preah Khan is a peaceful, unspoilt temple with the same jungle shrouded 'lost city' feel that makes Ta Prohm so special.
A few useful words in Cambodian or Khmer.
Prasat means palace or temple.
Preah means sacred. Vihear means shrine.
Wat Ta Som, a classic Bayon style temple of 12th century with another tranquil and remote setting.
Photo by David Wilmot
Angkor area map | Cambodia
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Tourists have to buy an 'Angkor Pass' to visit the sites in Angkor Archaeological Park. These can be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat or one-day tickets can be acquired on the airport road near Angkor Wat and at Banteay Srey.
Passes are sold for one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days.
Visiting hours generally are 5:00AM - 6:00PM, but Banteay Srey closes at 5:00PM and Kbal Spean at 3:00PM.
Always carry your ticket. It will be checked on each park entry and at major temples. There is a separate entrance fee of to visit Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker and Beng Melea.
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