Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap Province, northern Cambodia, is the largest religious site in the world and one of Southeast Asia’s foremost tourist attractions.
The Khmer temple cities in this UNESCO World Heritage site are several hundred years old (between the 9th and 15th centuries) and lie happily entwined amid the foliage of the park, where many structures are clearly enveloped by massive twisting tree roots and branches. More than 1,000 structures lie scattered around the huge park.
The main sight at Angkor is the southernmost temple complex known as the aptly named Angkor Wat. It is in itself Cambodia’s biggest draw and the envy of neighboring Thailand. Angkor Wat was built by the Khmers around 900 years ago as Mount Meru, the Hindu home of the gods, and even though it has been neglected over the years, it is still as fantastic as ever.
Angkor Wat’s dimensions are huge, being more akin to one of the Titan’s residences of Jason and the Argonauts, with a huge rectangular moat enclosing gigantic domed turrets. On an even larger scale is Angkor Thom with its stunning Bayon Temple, just to the north of Angkor Wat. It is one of numerous stone faces and has amazing detail.
It is worth planning what you want to see before getting to Angkor as there is much to tempt and sidetrack you. The whole complex is in one general region, yet the region covers many square miles in area, with some of the temples up to 12 miles away from Angkor Wat. The temples can be categorized into four groups and most people choose which group or groups to see based on their time frame.
The highlight is of course Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The Little Circuit lies to the east of Angkor Thom while the Big Circuit lies to the north and east. The Roluos Group is another highlight along National Highway 6 around 15kms east of Siem Reap. If you don’t have a plan in mind and just want to sit back and enjoy the sights, let your driver decide.
Hiring a Khmer-English speaking guide is a must to get the most out of Angkor. You must also buy a pass to get into Angkor Archaeological Park and there are one-day, three-day and one-week passes available. Although a week in Angkor may seem like a long time, there is easily enough here to keep you occupied if you are into temples.
The main tourist hub for people visiting Angkor is Siem Reap as Angkor itself has no hotels or facilities. The journey from Siem Reap, where there is an international airport serving regional flights, takes about 20 minutes by car or motorbike. Most people hire cars, motorbikes or tuk-tuk with drivers for the trip to the park but touring by bicycle, horse carriage and even elephant is possible.
The peak season from November to February offers the best weather for touring Angkor but if you want to escape the inevitable crowds, consider coming in the shoulder seasons. Be warned of the ferocious heat experienced from March to May and the heavy rains from June to October.
Buses and taxis run to and fro between Siem Reap and Angkor throughout the day although many tourists either hire a scooter or bicycle for the four-mile journey. Angkor International Airport lies juts outside Siem Reap and receives flights from all over Asia, including Thailand, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia, as well as the Cambodian cities of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.