Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is heave for temple seekers and history buffs. Angkor Wat itself is the symbol on the Cambodian flag which shows it’s importance — it is, of course, the largest religious monument in the world. yet the lucky ones have more than just one rushed day on the small circuit of Angkor Wat and opt to do the Angkor Wat Grand Circuit. There are over 1000 temples dotted around the Angkor area in total!
If you want to truly explore the temples of Siem Reap, you will probably take a second day for the grand circuit and a further third day to explore the outlier temples such as Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei and Roluos Group. This Angkor Wat Grand circuit guide outlines the best temples on the outer loop of Angkor, including Preah Khan, Neak Pean, East Mebon and Pre Rup.
Angkor Wat Grand Circuit Temples
If you do the small loop you will see Angkor Wat itself and Bayon on the small loop day (or even a separate day if you love plenty of time to explore!) Therefore, the Angkor Wat Grand Circuit usually focuses on these five.
If you do want to include Angkor Wat and/or Bayon on this day you can, but prepare to be quite exhausted! Book your tuk-tuk driver for a day and set out early (arrive for 7.30am if possible). It’s not possible to cycle the large loop (unless you’re a professional cyclist!) — the temples are too great a distance apart. You need to save your energy for exploring the temples themselves!
Preah Khan is one of my favourite Siem Reap temples! You can easily spend an hour wondering around the corridors of the first temple on the big loop.
Preah Khan is a 12th Century temple that was built by King Jayavarman VII to honor his father. Make sure that you go all the way to the left hand side to find the big Bayan tree that has grown on top of the temple. Preah Khan was run by 100,000 servants and officials at it’s peak.
After being initially built as a Hindu temple, it was then used by Buddhists and was even once used as a Buddhist University. You will see many Buddhist stupas and Buddhas on pedestals, but these were not part of the original temple structure.
Neak Pean is a grand circuit Siem Reap temple surrounded by water was known as the temple of the Dragon King — the used to pray in the dry season for the water to come! It’s a small 12th Century but it’s one of the most beautiful temples in Angkor Archaeological Park.
You will need to walk along a long narrow pier across the water to get to Neak Pean and might want to stop for photographs of the water lilies. But be careful, don’t fall in! Also there are a fair few cheeky and even aggressive monkeys around the grounds of Neak Pean, so avoid getting food or drink out of your bag which will attract them. If they get too close, local kids will come and keep them in order with sticks! It’s important not to encourage or touch the monkeys as they may carry rabies.
Frequently referred to as Tomb Raider II or the brother of tomb raider, Ta Som has similar eerie qualities to Ta Prohm (small circuit). The Bayan tree growing on the back get is certainly synonymous with Lara Croft!
Ta Som was built in the 12th Century in Bayan style. It was left derelict for centuries until they started to support the structures from 1998 to 2008 to make it safe for visitors.
One of the earlier temples on the Angkor Wat grand circuit — East Mebon was built in 10th Century during the reign of King Rajendravarman. It was dedicated to the Hindu God of death and destruction — Shiva.
The temple has a beautiful structure based on a square platform with an Elephant statue in each corner. It has a similar style to Pre-Rup (pyramid style) and requires a lot of climbing. There are beautiful views from the top of East Mebon.
There’s no doubt about it — Pre Rup is quite a climb! It’s a mountain/pyramid style temple that was built in 961 AD. The building materials are a combination of sandstone, brick and laterite. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and the name means ‘turning of the body’ which suggests that the temple was used for funerals. The turning of the the body was something that happened before cremation. There is a fantastic view from the top of Pre-Rup and many wait there to see the sunset.
Angkor Wat Grand Circuit Temple Tips
Get to the large temples either very early (sunrise or 7.30am) or alternatively later on in the afternoon to miss the heat of the day. Another good tip is to do the temple loops in reverse as everyone starts at Angkor Wat, so why not end up there? My other top tips include…
- Book a good tuk-tuk driver for the day who will wait for you outside the temples.
- Take water
- Cover your shoulders and wear long pants
- Wear comfortable walking boots
Where to stay in Siem Reap for the Angkor Wat Grand Circuit
There are some gorgeous hotels and hostels in Siem Reap which is the nearest city to Angkor Wat. Good value options if you like Boutique style hotels include Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel (very eco-friendly) and Angkor Aurora. For something with a Spa, I recommend the Ocambo Resort and Spa and the Secondfold Residence. If you are looking for a luxurious 5 star experience in Cambodia, stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap. All of these have WIFI, a swimming pool and breakfast included — these are non-negotiables for me when staying in Southeast Asia!
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot — this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.
Originally published at https://www.templeseeker.com on February 12, 2020.