Top Things to Do and See in Angkor Wat

Top Things to Do and See in Angkor Wat

By Wendy Updated Sep. 24, 2021

Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most celebrated relic of the country’s rich culture and history, and perhaps the most sought-after travel destination in the region. This enormous temple complex has stunning scenes of ancient stone architecture immersed inside lush tropical nature, and a mesmerizing system of canals and water reservoirs.

things to do in angkor wat

Originally built in the early 12th century by Emperor Suryavarman II as a Hindu temple, this complex has been used by many kings and leaders, for different political and religious purposes. Incredibly, the various temples have remained in great shape, despite destruction in some parts due to various conflicts over the years, most notably that of Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Today, it is still standing almost as strong, but just as majestic as it was in its glory days.

There are endless reasons to visit Angkor Wat, and just as many things to do there! Below you can get inspired by all the exciting features that the largest religious monument in the world has to offer!

5 Must-See Places

Angkor Wat as a whole is a must-see destination in Cambodia, and arguably in the entire Southeast Asian region. Within it, are several unique spots that are all highly-recommended to visit if you are already there. So, if you are going to Angkor Wat, the 5 spots below are absolute musts in order to get the full experience.

angkor wat attraction

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is both the name of the entire complex, as well as the name of the central and biggest temple of the location. It is the first thing you see as you enter the grounds of this holy world-wonder, and it will surely provide you with the most amazing pictures of your Cambodia trip.

Walk through the long pathway leading from the gates of the complex to the temple’s main gate, and absorb the unbelievable spiritual energy that radiates off this majestic structure.

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The Bayon

This pyramid-shaped temple is known as “the smiling faces”, as it is composed of huge stone statues and carvings of gods and deities’ faces typical to the Mahayana-Buddhism influence that was the driving force of its construction. These iconic faces that watch and keep guard of every direction of the temple, have come to be known as “the Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.”

Unlike the other temples, The Bayon is unique in that it is the only one built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist dedication to the Buddha.

Ta Prohm

Deep inside the walls of the complex, is the magnificent Ta Prohm section. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also the location where Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones were filmed, as it is a truly unique site. The temple seems as if it had been ‘swallowed’ by nature, as it has enormous tree roots growing through and around the stone walls and statues.

This temple, like much of the rest of the complex, was subject to destruction and neglect, leaving many parts of it in ruins. This is what partially allowed the dense jungle vegetation to seep through the stones to create the unique result we see today.

Through a lot of restoration efforts, the temple has been resurrected and allowed to be safely explored by tourists, while still keeping the now integral tree roots that serve as its foundation.

Banteay

As incredible as the previous stops in Angkor Wat are, this specific temple is a true gem of ancient Khmer art, and a sight that can’t be missed. It features incredibly complex designs carved all across the walls, ceilings, floors, and everything else in between. It is hard to imagine how such a feat could have been achieved, but the closest thing we can do, is to see this mind-boggling temple first-hand and up-close.

The elaborate carvings were made possible as the temple was constructed from red sandstone, a substance that can be carved in the same way as wood can. The precision and symmetry of the designs baffle experts to this day, and it has therefore been claimed by some to be of the highest architecturally out of the five temples of Angkor.

Ta Som

The Ta Som temple is often said to be a miniature version of Ta Prohm, as it too features a similar (but much smaller) temple, completely engulfed inside the gigantic roots of an old banyan (“sacred fig”) tree. It too has been subject to ruin, and has been mostly left unrestored, but stabilized for the safety of tourists.

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Top Things to Experience

1. Enjoy Sunrise / Sunset at Angkor Wat

The complex and its various structures are particularly beautiful during sunrise and sunset. The complex artificial water reservoirs surrounding the grounds reflect the breathtaking orange and purple sky, leaving a dark silhouette of the majestic temple. It is a sight that professional photographers from all corners of the world flock to see, to try to capture its magic.

Luckily, the opening and closing times of the temple complex allow tourists to witness both sunrise and sunset. At these times, the temple gets particularly crowded with tourists, so make sure to find a secluded spot in advance to capture some gorgeous scenes without swarms of people blocking the view.

2. Explore Angkor Wat by Bike or TukTuk

Arriving to Angkor Wat is usually done by air-conditioned coach buses, vans, or private cars. However, if you want a more authentic experience of exploring this site, then you should opt for the slightly harder, but definitely worthy alternative.

The size of the complex is much bigger than what is seems from outside, and walking through it, although allowing you to witness all the small details upfront, can get tiring, particularly on hot days. Especially if you plan on hitting all the major spots of the area, you have two unique options for traveling between the various temples, in a fun and relaxing way— hiring a bike or tuk tuk.

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3. Photography

Without a doubt, if you want to show off some amazing photos of your Cambodia trip, or keep incredible memories that will have you amazed for years to come, then Angkor Wat is the place to supply you with these.

Forget about pictures of cocktail glasses on sandy beaches, you can take those anywhere! Once you witness the view of Angkor Wat, you will not want to forget the beauty it holds, and will try to snap a photo from every angle, at every step of the way!

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