Where Is Angkor Wat?

Location, Visa, Entrance Fees, and Essential Information

Angkor Wat

TripSavvy / Paula Galindo Valle

Located just 3.7 miles outside the bustling Cambodian city of Siem Reap, the Khmer temple complex at Angkor Wat is one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, if not the world. Each year, more than two million tourists visit Angkor Archaeological Park, which dates back to the 12th century and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. In 2007, a team of archaeologists realized that Angkor, spread over 402 acres, was once the largest pre-industrial city in the world.

The main Angkor Wat site, the easiest to access, is a bit of a tourist wonderland, while scores of smaller temples and crumbling, unrestored ruins await in the surrounding jungle. From essential information about visas, park entry, and the best times of year to visit to which temples you should see, what to wear, and how to capture the perfect sunrise photos, here's how to make the most of your trip to this unforgettable place.

Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

What is Angkor Wat?

Built during the early 12th century under the direction of Khmer King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is considered to be the world’s largest religious monument, a place so important it even makes an appearance at the center of the Cambodian flag. Specifically, it was built to be Earth’s version of Mount Meru, the holy home of Hinduism’s most important deities. Despite sustaining damage during regional conflicts, the site, which consists of more than 72 temples and structures, has survived for centuries and continues to be a major destination for tourists visiting Cambodia.

People come from all over the world to admire the detailed carvings and intricate artistic designs adorning the many temples. Sandstone was quarried and brought down the river on rafts from a sacred mountain 31 miles away, while the temples were built by 300,000 workers with the help of more than 6,000 elephants. The complex spans more than 400 square kilometers and was the capital of the Khmer Empire for several centuries; its name translates to “temple city” in the local Khmer language. Today, you’ll find a number of exquisite Buddhist temples, as well as ancient examples of Khmer architecture and art, and several hydraulic structures including canals, reservoirs, basins, and a moat.

Plan Your Trip

All visitors to Cambodia need a tourist visa, which you can get online ahead of time or upon arrival at the airport. You can also get one as you cross the overland border. Be sure to pay the $30 fee in exact amounts in U.S. dollars, as corrupt officials will ask for more money via fake exchange rates if you try to pay with Thai baht or euros. Note that U.S. dollars are heavily scrutinized by immigration officials and only crisp, new banknotes will be accepted (any with tears or defects may be rejected). You'll also need to provide one or two passport-sized photos for the visa application.

As for entry to Angkor Archaeological Park, you can purchase a one-day pass for $37, a three-day pass for $62, or a seven-day pass for $72; buy them in cash (ATMs are available and U.S. dollars are accepted, though change is provided in Cambodian riel) or with any major credit card except American Express. With so many remote temples and ruins away from the main Angkor Wat tourist site, you'll want at least a three-day pass to fully appreciate the monument without rushing around too much.

To better understand what you're looking at, consider hiring a guide or joining a tour. Ideally, you’ll want to have enough time there to hire an independent guide for one day, then return to your favorite spots to enjoy them without someone rushing you along. Guides are supposed to be officially licensed and can be hired for about $20 per day, though there are plenty of rogue guides around just waiting to intercept business. To be safe, hire someone recommended by your hotel or through a travel agency.

If you prefer to go alone, grab one of the maps or booklets that explain each site. The book "Ancient Angkor," available for sale near Angkor Wat (the airport sells overpriced copies) is well worth the small cost, as its history and insights will enhance your experience. If you hire a driver who doesn’t serve as a guide, confirm where to meet them once you exit a temple—with hundreds of guides waiting outside in tuk-tuks, finding the one you hired can be tricky.

How to Get to Angkor Wat

Flying into Siem Reap from Southeast Asian hubs like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur can be pricey but cuts out all manner of scams you'll likely encounter on the road, including dishonest bus companies, taxi rip-offs, and the potential to be overcharged for your visa by corrupt immigration officials. If you must, the bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet on the Thai side of the border takes around five hours, depending on traffic. Clearing immigration can take a while and you’ll want to avoid being stuck in the area when the border closes at 10 p.m. (guesthouses are available but are pretty worse for wear). After crossing into Poipet on the Cambodian side, you'll need to take a bus or taxi 2.5 hours to reach Siem Reap.

A popular tourist town in its own right, Siem Reap makes a perfect base for visiting Angkor Wat, which is only about 20 minutes away. While the main site is close enough to reach by bicycle, those less excited about cycling in Cambodia's sticky heat can catch a tuk-tuk, hire a driver for the day, or rent a motorbike to get between temple sites—this option offers the most flexibility, but you'll need to drive with some tenacity.

The Best Time to Visit

The best months to visit Angkor Wat are from November to March. After that, heat and humidity build until the rainy season begins sometime in May. You can still travel during the monsoon season, although slogging around in the rain to see outdoor temples isn't as enjoyable. The busiest months are usually December, January, and February, while March and April are unbearably hot and humid, drawing fewer crowds. The weather in Cambodia follows the usual climate in Southeast Asia, hot and dry or hot and wet, and with a side of humidity, so plan to sweat and rehydrate often.

Angkor Wat’s Must-See Temples

Although choosing from the thousands of Angkor temples dotted throughout Cambodia isn't easy, some are considered more spectacular than others. By far, the most popular temples at Angkor Archaeological Park are Angkor Wat (the main site), Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, Bayon, Bakong, and Ta Prohm, which was featured in the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" movie. 

There are two main circuits used by tourists and guides to view the temples. The Small Circuit is a 10-mile loop that takes a full day to explore, starting at Angkor Wat before taking you to Angkor Thom and its South Gate, Bayon, Preah Ngok, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Sra Srei, the Terrace of Elephants, Victory Gate, Thommanom, Chau Say Thevoda, Hospital Chapel, Ta Keo, Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and Srah Srang. The Large Circuit, which also takes a full day (or several days to explore if you want to take your time), brings you on a 16-mile journey from Phnom Bakheng (near Angkor Wat) to Baksei Chamkrong, Prasat Bei, the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the Terrace of the Leper King, Preah Palilay, Tep Pranam, Preah Pithu, the North Gate of Angkor Thom, Banteay Prei, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Kroi Ko, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rep, and Prasat Kravan. Which ever circuit you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Check out our article about visiting Angkor Wat’s must-see temples for more tips to enhance your trip.

What to Wear to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, so remember to be respectful in the temples and dress conservatively, keeping your shoulders and knees covered throughout your visit. Avoid wearing skimpy clothing or shirts featuring Hindu or Buddhist religious themes (e.g., Ganesh, Buddha, etc). You’ll be glad you dressed modestly once you see how many monks are roaming the temples. Although flip-flops are the footwear of choice in Southeast Asia, the stairs to the upper levels of temples are steep and dangerous and trails can be slippery, so wear hiking boots if you'll be doing any scrambling. A hat will come in handy for keeping the sun off, however, it should be removed to show respect in some areas. Tattooed individuals need not worry about revealing too much ink, especially if keeping your shoulders and knees covered like everyone else.

Scams to Avoid

Unfortunately, Angkor Wat, like many major tourist magnets around the world, is rife with scams. Be wary of anyone approaching you inside the temples, especially if there aren’t many visitors nearby. Off-duty police officers in uniform sometimes approach tourists, offering information about a particular temple or simply asking for a bribe. Do your best to avoid interactions with them altogether. 

Some scams bank on the fact that tourists don’t know how things work here. Official tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi drivers are required to wear colored vests, so avoid getting transportation from any not wearing an official vest. Once you purchase an entrance pass, you won't need to pay additional entrance costs, so don’t believe anyone asking you for more money at temple entrances or to climb the stairs to the upper levels. Other scams prey on tourists’ desire to help the locals. Don’t allow monks or anyone else to hand you an incense stick, bracelet, or gift, as they will ask for a donation after your interaction. Although purchasing books, postcards, and bracelets from the persistent children hawking them seems like a way to help, doing so perpetuates a nefarious industry (they are forced to sell by people who profit) and isn’t sustainable.

Otherwise, border crossings between Thailand and Cambodia are rife with petty scams targeting new arrivals, with many centered around the visa process and which currency you use to pay. Most overland bus rides offered to backpackers from Khao San Road in Bangkok are plagued with scams; some buses have even been known to conveniently "break down" so you’ll be forced to spend a night in an expensive guesthouse until the border reopens the next morning. Other bus companies stop before the actual border at an office or restaurant and force travelers to pay for a visa application (which is free at the actual border). If you find yourself in this situation, firmly state that you will wait until the border to do the visa application yourself.

Photography Tips

Because it’s such a popular destination, you’re likely going to have other people in your shot and will have to wait in long lines for photos by certain popular spots (for instance, at a tree that was featured in the "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" movie). Pack a monopod or tripod to capture the perfect photo of Angkor Wat at sunrise, and don't be afraid to play with photographic elements like lighting, shadows, or different points of view to make your travel pics more interesting. Remember to bring extra batteries (or a portable charger for your phone) just in case.

While the main Angkor Wat complex is usually a circus of activity, you may end up having smaller, difficult-to-reach temples like Ta Keo, Neak Pean, Thommanon, Banteay Semre, East Mebon, and Srah Srang practically to yourself. You’ll have much better photo opportunities there with fewer tourists (and signs telling them what not to do) in the background. Keep in mind that unless you're proficient enough with a scooter rental and map, you'll need to hire a guide or driver to reach some of the secondary temple sites.

Seeing Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Viewing Angkor Wat’s magnificent temples at sunrise is an extremely popular activity among visitors, mostly due to the beautiful lighting this time of day offers as well as the fact that the sun is very strong in the afternoon. Buy your tickets the day before to avoid pre-dawn ticket lines. Expect large crowds well into the hundreds or even thousands to gather alongside you, especially at the main Angkor Wat temple, as it’s the most popular viewing point. For an alternate, less crowded spot, head to the nearby Pre Roup, Phnom Bakheng, or Srah Srang temples, which also open at 5 a.m. The rest of the temples don’t actually open until 7:30 a.m., so consider buying some breakfast or coffee from a local vendor and enjoying the moment while you wait.

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