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Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive archaeological sites on Earth, with an array of temples and monuments scattered around what would have once been the largest pre-industrial city in the world. These buildings have remained intact (albeit in various states of disrepair) for over a millennium and travelers can now explore the temples and buildings to get a glimpse of what life would have been like for the Khmer civilization during this time.
While you could easily spend a week exploring the temples of Angkor in-depth, a two-day itinerary allows you to see some of the highlights of the Angkor complex while also enjoying the vibrant town of Siem Reap during the evenings. Read on to discover my top tips for exploring Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in two days, having just been lucky enough to discover it myself!
When Is The Best Time To Visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat?
The best time to visit Cambodia is in the dry season which falls between October and April. While you can visit during the rainy season, you’ll probably incur some downpours, especially if you travel during August and September – the wettest two months of the year.
Exploring Siem Reap and Angkor Wat is generally best between October and December when daily average temperatures sit around the mid-20s. This is warm enough to feel comfortable in lightweight trousers and t-shirts without being so hot that you don’t want to continue discovering the different temples around the site. Temperatures tend to rise in the lead up to the rainy season, with March-June reaching highs of mid-to-late 30s! This is great if you’re a sun-worshiper but it’s not ideal for spending a whole day walking around the temple complex.
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History Of The Angkor Archaeological Site
The Angkor Wat complex, as it is now known, refers to an area of around 1000 square miles north of Siem Reap which comprises of around 100 temple and monument ruins. Built in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II, as a Hindu temple, the Angkor complex was the heart of the Khmer Empire which, at the time, spanned Cambodia, Vietnam and into China. These buildings held much religious, historical and architectural significance and still teach us today about the Khmer civilization and their way of life.
After the king’s death, Angkor Wat was taken over by Khmer enemies Cham and King Jayavarman who abandoned the building, moving their capital to alternative temples Angkor Thom/Bayon instead.
During the latter half of the 12th Century, Angkor Wat gradually became a base for Buddhism instead of Hinduism and is still used as a place of worship today. While Angkor Wat was left in disrepair at various points throughout history, it seems there has always been some level of use whether by Japanese Buddhist pilgrims or simply Khmer locals.
French naturalist and explorer, Henri Mouhot, was the first Western visitor to ‘rediscover’ the temples in the mid-19th Century, writing travel notes to describe the complex which popularised the site in the West. Since then, Angkor Wat has seen considerable restoration to remove jungle growth and expose the majestic temples in all their glory once more.
2 days in Siem Reap: A comprehensive itinerary
2 days in Siem Reap: Day One
The best way to explore Angkor Wat is to have a guide or tuk-tuk driver take you around the site. Today will be a long day and as the site is so vast it can take quite some time to reach each of the different temples. Instead of walking in the Cambodian heat, strike a deal with a driver who will charge you a fixed price for the whole day.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat temple
On your first morning in Siem Reap you’ll want to get up early to see the beauty of Angkor Wat in the golden hours of sunrise. In general, the ticket office for Angkor Wat opens at 4.30 am so that you can purchase your tickets and find a good spot near the temple before the sun comes up. I wouldn’t suggest actually entering Angkor Wat at this time as it will be extremely busy with the sunrise crowds, so simply watch from afar and let your excitement for your Angkor exploration mount!
Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is truly magical and you’ll be able to capture some fantastic shots of the temple peaks reflecting in the waters below.
From Angkor Wat, you’ll want to move on to Bayon Temple, one of the real highlights of the complex! Bayon was the state temple built by King Jayavarman and features 216 smiling face carvings of Avalokiteshvara built into the sides of the 54 towers of the structure. Not only are the large faces here impressive but the rest of the temple is adorned with exquisite bas-reliefs which feature more than 11,000 figures carved with care.
Please note: the upper level of Bayon will be closed for restoration from December 2019 until 2022. While you can still see the grand statue structure the experience may be somewhat hampered by the restoration works.
Ta Prohm Temple
Next on your list for the Angkor Complex is Ta Prohm, the temple known for being the home of Lara Croft/Tomb Raider. This mysterious temple sees vast tree roots wind their way around the building, engulfing the roof and some of the windows with their snaking stems. It’s fascinating to see the living relationship between nature and man-made architecture!
In between roots, roofs and windows lie intricate designs and statues that are longing to be explored. Thanks to its Hollywood fame, Ta Prohm is one of the busiest temples on the site but it is well worth a visit nonetheless.
Prasat Kravan Temple
Another grand temple to be seen today is Prasat Kravan, a temple that comprises of five brick towers which were dedicated to Vishnu. This temple has been well preserved and the symmetry of the building, as well as its surrounding moat, make for a spectacular photo opportunity.
Prasat Kravan Temple is usually fairly quiet by the middle of the day as many people choose to visit it first or last when entering or leaving the park.
Neak Pean Temple
Neak Pean is more like a monument than an actual temple as it stands on an artificial island in the center of the Jayatataka baray. Neak Pean, or “the entwined snakes” as it’s sometimes called, is thought to be a Buddhist temple that was constructed in the latter half of the 12th Century.
As Neak Pean is thought to symbolize the mythical healing lake Anavatapta, many believe that it was built for medical purposes with the waters surrounding thought to cure diseases.
Sunset at Phnom Bakheng Temple
Your last stop for the day at Angkor Wat will be Phnom Bakheng Temple, one of the oldest temples on the site. This is a stunning place to watch the sunset as you are raised above the rest of the Angkor Archaeological Park on a 60m hillside. Phnom Bakheng is set over seven levels, representing the seven Hindu heavens, and as such boasts plenty of different locations from which to watch the sunset.
Ideally, you’ll aim to arrive around 4 pm to get a good spot on the south-east corner so that you can capture some incredible golden hour photographs.
Night Market in Siem Reap
By the time you’ve got back to the center of Siem Reap you’ll be ready to explore the night market in search of some street food snacks and drinks while doing a spot of souvenir shopping. The night market sells a whole host of different goods, from clothes and fabrics to handicrafts, ceramics, and handbags. You can spend as long as you like shopping, snacking and bartering for good prices; soaking up the vibrant atmosphere while you go.
Dinner at Pub Street
When you’re finally ready to wilt, you’ll want to head over to Pub Street for some dinner. This road is basically a strip of restaurants and bars all offering a range of Asian and Western food. You can’t miss it as it’s flanked by neon ‘Pub Street’ signs and it will be abuzz with people seeking out tasty meals and drinks before dancing the night away in some of the more lively bars!
As you’ll probably be pretty exhausted after an exciting day exploring Angkor Wat, you may want to opt for a traditional Khmer massage instead of a night out. This can be taken back at your hotel or at one of the many spas and massage parlors around the city. This is the perfect way to round off your first day in Siem Reap!
2 days in Siem Reap: Day Two
Angkor Wat Temple
As yesterday was a long day, you can decide what time you want to rise on your second day in Siem Reap before heading back out to Angkor Wat. Rather than visiting at sunrise again, you can take a more leisurely start and arrive once most of the sunrise tourists have departed for other temples.
You’ll now have the chance to explore the Angkor Wat temple itself, seeing the vast structure up-close-and-personal. You are able to walk, unrestricted, through the grounds of the Angkor Wat temple, seeing grand doorways, sweeping staircases and adorned platforms throughout.
Spend as long as you like soaking up the sights of Angkor Wat, remembering to take lots of photographs as well as saving time to pause and simply take in the atmosphere.
Tonle Sap Lake
When you’ve finished discovering the temple of Angkor, you’ll head out to explore Tonlé Sap Lake south of Siem Reap. This freshwater lake is home to a large number of the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia, who have lived and worked in this region for decades.
Many of these Vietnamese people are fishing captains who are the primary suppliers of fish to the country’s markets and restaurants. The Vietnamese and Cham communities who live around Tonlé Sap Lake live in floating villages, with many of the facilities such as churches and even basketball courts being located on the water!
Smile of Angkor Grand E-pic Show
To end your last day in Siem Reap you might want to visit the Smile of Angkor Grand Epic Show, a live celebration of the history and culture of Cambodia displayed through the use of dancers, lasers, lights, sounds, and songs!
The show informs the audience about the building of the temples of Angkor, the history and traditions of the Khmer community as well as Khmer, Hindu and Buddhist festivals while also including impressive martial art and acrobatic performances! This attraction employs local people to tell their stories and to show Cambodian culture to the world.
Where To Stay In Siem Reap
The Royal Angkor Resort is the perfect place to stay if you are visiting Siem Reap to explore the wonder that is the Angkor Wat Archaeological site. This luxury resort features 198 guest rooms which include suites and villas as well as deluxe, superior and sakura rooms. Royal Angkor is a locally-owned, five-star resort that displays high levels of Khmer hospitality as well as lush landscapes, grand architecture, and touches of tradition throughout. Each room features large, comfortable beds, spacious living areas, well-equipped bathrooms and bright balconies from which to enjoy the view. Elsewhere, the hotel boasts an expansive dining area, a garden café, a swimming pool and plenty of spaces where you can enjoy a traditional Khmer massage.
While you could easily spend much longer exploring both the temples of Angkor and Siem Reap itself, this two-day itinerary gives you a brief overview of the highlights and allows you to get a glimpse of Cambodian history and culture. This is a great option if you are partaking in a longer trip around Asia and only have a few days to spend in each city.
If you have longer, stay in Siem Reap to discover the Angkor National Museum, Khmer cookery classes, more temples of Angkor and, of course, the Siem Reap nightlife!
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