What comes to mind when you think of Angkor Wat? Are you in complete amazement at the abilities of people from such a long time ago to build these temples? Maybe you immediately think of trees overtaking ancient buildings. Or, maybe the first thing that pops into your head is that Angelina Jolie movie from 2001, Tomb Raider. That movie is almost 20 years old and it’s hard to believe that that is how most people first learned of Angkor Wat. Just 20 years ago! Today, over 2 million tourists visit this magnificent destination every year, and for good reason. Here is my list of the top 9 temples to see in Angkor Wat
About Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located in the Northwest area of the country of Cambodia right outside of the town of Siem Reap in Southeast Asia. It’s the largest religious structure in the world and Angkor Wat means “Temple City”. Angkor Archaeological Park is the official name of the entire complex of temples. And there are a LOT of temples. About 72 of them, so if you want to see them all then plan to get up early!
Angkor Wat is actually the name of the main and largest temple in the complex but almost everyone just refers to the entire place as Angkor Wat. The town near the complex where everyone stays (there are no hotels within the complex), is Siem Reap located about 4 miles away. There is an airport in Siem Reap and a ton of restaurants.
If this is your first time to Asia then you might be interested in reading this article about what you can expect to experience while in Southeast Asia: 9 Things you might not expect when visiting Southeast Asia. This might save you from having a big culture shock.
Angkor Wat History
Construction of the temples at Angkor Wat started in the 9th century during the Khmer Empire up until the 15th century. Angkor was the center of the Khmer Empire and was once home to close to a million people. It took over 28 years to build the main temple of Angkor Wat and it was originally built as a Hindu temple under King Suryavarman II. About 27 years after his death, Angkor was attacked and a new king, Jayavarman VII, established a new empire and converted the site into a Buddhist temple. Buddhism is still the main form of worship in Cambodia today.
By the 13th century Angkor Wat fell into ruin, although it was never completely abandoned. War, earthquakes, and the jungle have contributed to the site’s damage. In 1992 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, restoration is taking place on many of the temples in the complex to preserve what is still left.
Angkor Wat Circuits
The Angkor Archaeological Park is broken down into two parts: the Small Circuit (the purple route) and the Grand Circuit (the yellow route). The circuits do intersect with each other so you don’t have to worry about going to two separate places. Many people break their days into doing one circuit one day and the other circuit on a different day. Of course, there are so many temples to see that it will be impossible to see everything in just two days. If you want to see more, plan on staying longer. I recommend no less than 5-7 days.
If you want a complete guide to visiting Angkor Wat, click over to my Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat. It tells you all about the area, other things to do besides temples, and gives you some possible Angkor Wat itineraries for 1, 3, or 5 days.
Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat
I’ve broken this list into my top 9 temples to see in Angkor Wat starting with number nine and working to my number one temple. Of course they are all pretty spectaular, otherwise they wouldn’t have even made this list! The order you choose to visit them is up to you! I will say that the top 3 are absolute-don’t-miss-or-you-will-regret-it temples. If you are short on time or if it’s the rainy season and you’re seeing temples in between downpours then prioritize the top 3.
East Mebon Temple
Number nine on my Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat is East Mebon Temple. This temple is fairly large but easy to explore. The temple was built around 953 so compared to some of the other temples it’s not as elaborate. You can definitely see it’s age here. There are three levels at East Mebon so prepare to climb some stairs. There are stone elephants that sit in each of the four corners of this temple. Plan to spend 30 minutes here.
Number eight on my top 9 temples to see in Angkor Wat is the Phnom Bakheng temple was constructed in the late 9th and early 10th century which makes it one of the oldest on this list. This temple sits on a hill, the highest point in the Angkor Wat Complex. From the top of the temple you will have a view of Angkor Wat in the distance (see first photo below). Sunset is the most popular time to visit this temple but if you decide to come at that time, arrive early. Only 400 people can enter to climb to the top to watch the sunset. Plan to spend 1-2 hours here if you decide to come for sunset.
Thommanon is number seven on my top 9 temples to see in Angkor Wat. Although it’s small it’s in very good condition making it a must see. Construction started in the 11th century and the temple is affiliated with Hinduism. Right across the street is Chau Say Tevoda which is very similar in style. To me it seemed like Thommanon was sort of like a prequel/trial build to Chau Say Tevoda. Spend around 15-20 minutes at Thommanon.
Chau Say Tevoda
Number six on my list of Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat is Chau Say Tevoda. Chau Say Tevoda is a Hindu Temple dating back to the 12th century and is located on the Small Circuit. It has a lot of nice decorate carvings. This temple is fairly small so plan on spending around 30 minutes here. It has been through restoration and is in good condition so it’s definitely worth visiting.
Pre Rup Temple
Pre Rup Temple is one of the older temples in the complex, constructed in the late 10th century. It’s number five on my list of Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat. I really loved this temple, although the climb on the stairs was pretty steep. There are a lot of great carvings and the doors (they don’t open) are beautiful. People also come to Pre Rup to view the sunset because it sits higher than most temples. You won’t have views of Angkor Wat here but you will still have a good view of the area. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes here.
Banteay Kdei is number four on my list. This temple dates back to the late 12th century and is affiliated with Buddhism. It’s fairly large in size and similar to Ta Prohm with trees and roots taking over the complex. Banteay Kdei has not been restored (as of 2023) so wear comfortable shoes because you will have to climb up and over toppled stones. This temple is different from many of the others. This temple is long in length and is not like many of the temples that are square or rectangle in shape. Plan to spend around 30-45 minutes here.
Down to the top three temples on my list of Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat with Bayon Temple being number three. Construction of the Bayon Temple started in the late 12th century. You might not know this temple by name but if I said “it’s the temple with all the faces”, you might realize then which one it is. Bayon has 216 stone carved faces. Imagine having to cut and carve these large stones 216 times. It’s truly a great piece of architecture that you can’t miss.
There are three seperate levels to this temple with 54 towers and four faces on each tower. As of late 2022 there is restoration happening and the third level (and the best) was off limits. It was disappointing for sure but it is what it is. Thankfully I had already been there in 2017. Plan to spend 1-1.5 hours at Bayon.
Number two on my top 9 temples to see in Angkor Wat is Angkor Wat. I know what you must be thinking…why isn’t this number one!?! Don’t get me wrong, Angkor Wat is absolutely beautiful and a must-see temple. You can’t go to Angkor Wat without seeing Angkor Wat! I have nothing bad to say about this temple, I just love the next temple more.
Anyways, you can probably spend 4 hours or more exploring Angkor Wat. You definitely need to pick a morning and show up at sunrise. Sunrise at Angkor Wat will not disappoint. Unless it rains. Then that would suck and I’d say try again another day.
After the sunrise, walk through Angkor Wat exploring every corner of this massive temple. Do this now because it will be extremely hot and humid later in the day and the crowds will probably be 10x worse. There’s so much to see so bring lots of water and maybe some granola bars and take your time. Plan to spend 4 hours here, including the time for the sunrise.
Last but not least, my number one temple on my Top 9 Temples to see in Angkor Wat is Ta Prohm. AKA, the Tomb Raider Temple. I LOVE this temple! With the overgrown trees growing through the walls and out the tops of the buildings, it just makes it even more beautiful. Everywhere you turn there’s something even more interesting to look at than the last thing you just saw. It’s also much larger than it looks on a map.
You’ll want to spend at least 2 hours here. And I’m warning you right now about the vendors across the street. When you park or get out of the tuk-tuk or taxi, you might be swamped with vendors trying to sell you scarves, shirts, and water. Vendors have to stay off temple grounds so just walk away if you do not want to purchase anything.
Top 9 Temples to See at Angkor Wat: Final Thoughts
Angkor Wat is one of the most fascinating, historical, and beautiful places to visit. What’s amazing to me is that we are acutally allowed to walk through these places and touch them. That’s not allowed in many ancient sites around the world. If you want more information about what to do and see at Angkor Wat, read my Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat. It’s full of all the information you need to plan a memorable trip to this amazing bucket list destination!