There’s a lot you can do in Cambodia in 3 days. In fact, taking flights and layovers into consideration, technically I had only 1 day to explore the world’s largest religious monument. It’s not enough, surely. But should you ever find yourself having to visit Siem Reap with too little time, yet too many places to visit, don’t be discouraged.
Here’s a little guideline to help you plan your trip to Angkor (Siem Reap):
The Big Five of My Temple Adventure in Angkor
Before I embarked on the trip, I compiled a list of four temples that I couldn’t wait to visit in Angkor. I’m happy to report that all four of them still stand, because they are as amazing as I had expected.
1. Angkor Wat: The iconic one that you always see in pictures, Angkor Wat encapsulates rich Khmer history perfectly. Angkor Wat is also a good sunrise spot, but the real money shot is the “second sunrise phase” at around 7.00-7.30 am.
2. Ta Prohm: Huge among lovers of ruins, with massive trees overgrowth wrapped around the temple walls and fallen stones everywhere. Slightly over-touristed, though.
3. Bayon (Angkor Thom): Absorbing more Buddhist influences than the usual Hinduism, Bayon has 37 towers of smiling four-faced bodhisattvas.
4. Banteay Srei: Most beautiful, intricate, complex temple carvings I have ever seen.
5. Pre Rup wasn’t on my original list, but it’s an impressive almost-pyramid-like temple mountain. Out of all the temples that need extra effort scaling up, this is the most rewarding with views of Cambodian countryside and ruins lying below you.
If you are pressed for time, the above five temples would be sufficient for a start.
Other Places I Visited in Siem Reap
Other than Bayon, most of the temples and sites in Angkor Thom area (Baphuon, Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King) have their own point of interests and are worth considering a visit. Make sure you visit in the morning, though, as the afternoon sun is unforgiving.
Ta Keo is not bad, but it doesn’t offer anything that Pre Rup hasn’t done better. On the other hand, Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda are complete fillers; better use your precious time to visit other more interesting temples.
Siem Reap is also famous for the food, so make sure you visit the night market at Pub Street. Make sure you don’t leave without trying the fish amok, and if you’re feeling a little more adventurous: an exotic food assortment of fried snakes, spiders and frogs.
Places I Wish I Visited in Cambodia
If you’re not a temple connoisseur, everything starts to look the same after the big five. However, there are two temples that particularly intrigue me:
I’ve been obsessed with Beng Mealea ever since fellow blogger Backpacker Lee brought it to my attention. It’s everything that Ta Prohm could’ve been. Beng Mealea is a similar temple ruin overrun with vegetation, but its relative distance from other attractions make it the quietest temple in Siem Reap, thereby giving it a true and eerie ‘lost temple’ atmosphere that the overcrowded Ta Prohm obviously lacked. There’s an additional admission fee to enter Beng Mealea though.
Another one that Ta Prohm could’ve been, Preah Khan is a little closer to the main temples but is thankfully not over-touristed. It is a large temple complex that is so huge it’s easy to get lost sometimes—Indiana Jones thrill! Ongoing renovation effort has also helped Preah Khan to preserve its well-decorated walls and gallery pillars (in contrast to Beng Mealea which seems like pure ruins based on the pictures I’ve seen).
A popular attraction among tourists is a short visit to the rural areas of Tonle Sap Lake, which is an interesting place that I decided to skip due to ethical considerations.
On the flipside, I’m surprised to learn how decades of wars and political turmoils have caused great suffering to Cambodians in the past. Reading about Cambodian Landmine Museum in Siem Reap, Killing Fields and S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh breaks my heart, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to visit them, but it opens our hearts into a historical tragedy that hopefully humanity will never resort back in the future.
Canby Publications covers a complete list of all possible Angkorian temples that you can visit, including those beyond Siem Reap area. I find it to be very resourceful in helping me to decide which temples to go. It also provides details on proposed duration and best time to visit.
So do you fancy a trip to Angkor? You’re on to a great adventure, but make sure you read my entry on 5 things to know before visiting first. The truth may surprise you!
What’s the biggest impression that Cambodia has left on you? Is there any place that you wish you have visited?