Even if you don’t know the name, most people will recognize the image: Angkor Wat, the “City of Temples.” The Angkor Wat Complex, located just 5km north of Siem Reap, is the largest temple complex in the world. It’s home to the architectural remains of different capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th Centuries and is quite a site to behold. The complex was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple but was transformed into a Buddhist Temple about a Century after completion and continues to be a powerful symbol of Cambodia today.
The Angkor Wat Complex is, without a doubt, Cambodia’s most well-known site and biggest attraction. In fact, there has been a massive spike in tourism in the last 25 years – going from 7,650 visitors in 1993 to about 1.8 million visitors in 2018! I’m curious if this spike has anything to do with the fact that the Angkor Wat Complex was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 because it “exemplified cultural, religious, and symbolic values, as well as contained high architectural, archeological, and artistic significance.” That aside, it’s pretty crazy to think that the entire city of Angkor used more stone than all of the Egyptian Pyramids combined!
Planning Your Visit To Angkor Wat
The complex is spread out over 400+ acres, so the best way to get around is via tuk-tuk. It costs about $15-$20 USD per day to have your own tuk-tuk driver take you from temple to temple. When I first heard of this I chuckled a bit and said I’d walk…that is, until I realized just how massive the Angkor Wat Complex truly is. It is well worth the money to have your own tuk-tuk and I highly recommend Noke Pheap. He was actually my Grab driver from the airport who offered his services to me the following day as I explored, and he was as nice as possible! He gave me permission to leave his email here for anyone visiting Angkor to arrange a tuk-tuk with him: [email protected]. Please do reach out to him if you’re visiting Angkor Wat, as I’d love to continue to help support his business.
It’s important to note that you MUST have an “Angkor Pass” in order to visit the temples and sites within the Angkor Wat Complex. They cannot be purchased at the entrance to the temple, nor can they be purchased at any time of day. You must go to the Angkor Ticket Office (Angkor Enterprise in Google Maps) to purchase your ticket between their operating hours of 5am and 5pm.
Noke, my tuk-tuk driver, met me at my hotel at 4:15am in order to drive me to pick up my admission pass prior to catching the infamous sunrise over Angkor Wat. I highly recommend showing up early and trying to be the first in the box office line, as otherwise you’ll be caught in a room full of hundreds of other tourists trying to snag their pass pre-sunrise. The pass costs $37 for a one-day ticket, $62 for a three-day ticket, and $72 for a seven-day ticket. You must be there to purchase the pass yourself, as they will take a photo of you to be printed on the pass at the time of purchase.
Once you have your pass in hand, it’s smooth sailing! Keep it on you at all times, as you will have to show it at the entrance of every temple. I purchased the three-day pass (which I used for two days) so that I had a better chance of catching some stunning sunrises and sunsets within the park. Plus, I didn’t want to feel like I was rushing.
Angkor Wat itself is obviously the most famous and best-preserved temple of the complex. It is the only temple to have remained a profound religious center since its creation. It’s admired for its symmetry, grandeur, and classical style of Khmer architecture. Whatever you do, plan your visit around catching sunrise at Angkor Wat. I actually visited twice and saw two spectacular sunrises!
What To See At The Angkor Wat Temple Complex
Before visiting, I always thought that the only site to see was Angkor Wat itself… but I was so wrong. There are numerous temples to see that aren’t as famous as Angkor Wat, yet are equally as fascinating.
Like Ta Prohm, a temple that has been overtaken by trees and jungle. It is, without a doubt, the most picturesque of temples within the complex. It also served as a location in the movie Tomb Raider.
Then there’s Ta Keo, which was built on a series of terraces and is said to have been the first temple to be built entirely by sandstone.
Neak Pean, meaning “the entwined serpents,” originally functioned as the site of a hospital. It is a collection of four small ponds symbolizing Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, and it was believed that those that went into the pools surrounding it would be cured.
And then there's Bayon, the temple of smiling stone faces, was one of my favorite stops. As you climb the temple higher and higher, you will see more stone faces jutting out from the towers, as if all 216 gigantic faces are staring at you. It’s simply mesmerizing.
Where to Sleep? Le Meridien Angkor
It’s no secret that I absolutely love Le Meridien hotels around the world, so when I saw that there was Le Meridien Angkor in Siem Reap, I simply had to experience it for myself.
The front desk staff was absolutely lovely as I checked in. Despite it being late (I had flown in from Hanoi), they provided me with all the information I needed to visit the Angkor Wat Complex for sunrise the following morning as well as a detailed map of the area that was far more useful than that from the ticket office.
The Deluxe Room itself was elegant, featuring traditional Khmer designs with dark timber floors, silks, and artwork. It was spacious with two beds, a couch and table, work desk, and flatscreen TV.
The property of Le Meridien Angkor is simply stunning – there’s nothing quite like a 5 Star Hotel on a lush property full of palm trees. There’s a lovely hammock area on the way to the absolutely beautiful Khmer-inspired pool. I could’ve lounged there for days!
The gym faces the pool so rather than being stuffy and enclosed, there’s a nice view to continue motivating you through your exercises. Of course, vacation is vacation, so if you don’t feel like exercising, there’s always the spa and sauna in which to unwind.
Le Meridien Angkor boasts the closest 5 Star Hotel to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex, which is extraordinarily convenient when you want to take breaks throughout your day of temple exploring as I did. One of the great things about having a tuk-tuk driver (remember Noke?) is that you can easily go to Angkor Wat for sunrise, go back to Le Meridien Angkor for breakfast, explore after breakfast, head back for lunch, and so on. Being so close to the complex definitely made this easier as I didn’t have to think about where I was going to eat. Each day, I had both breakfast and dinner on site at Le Meridien Angkor.
The buffet breakfast at Angkor Royal Café was the perfect way to satisfy my hunger each morning after getting up at 4am to witness sunrise over Angkor Wat. It definitely helped my grumbling stomach to know that I was headed to an all-you-can-eat breakfast and a much-needed cup of morning coffee after the sun was up.
I spent each evening at the Naga Bar, thinking about the places I explored during the day while munching on their delicious sweet plantain chips and sipping red wine, before heading over to L’Angelo for Italian food in their fine dining restaurant.
Everything I had to eat at Le Meridien Angkor was of the highest quality and quite tasty! I was certainly never hungry during my stay.
When choosing your hotel for Angkor Wat, remember that it will be your base throughout the day – so from comfort and convenience to avoiding becoming “hangry” – Le Meridien Angkor was as good as it gets!