As with most people, when I first started doing research for this trip, I didn't realize just how many temples there actually were in the area surrounding Siem Reap. I only knew of Angkor Wat, of course, and a couple of other famous sites like Ta Prohm and Bayon, and thought that was pretty much all there was to see. Boy was I wrong. There are literally hundreds of ruins within an area stretching out hundreds of miles from Angkor Wat, all in varying stages of decay or restoration.
Because I was traveling solo, I was a little more wary of exploring the entire Angkor Archaeological Park on my own, so I decided to hire a personal guide for the three full days that I would be there. Luckily, my housemate had been to Cambodia years earlier and recommended his guide, Nicky (or Yem in Khmer). Email correspondence setting up the itinerary was quick and easy, and I thought the $185 rate (excluding entrance fees) he charged was reasonable enough. He also seemed fairly proficient in English, which was very important since I tend to ask a lot of questions.
Typically, almost all visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park will do the Little Circuit, which includes the most famous sites like Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and of course, Angkor Wat. For those with more time, the Big Circuit encompasses temples that are a little more obscure and farther away. However, some of these temples are definitely worth a visit, especially because they don't attract the massive crowds seen on the Little Circuit. And for those who are a bit more adventurous, the outlying temples 20-50 miles beyond the immediate Angkor area boasts some of the most unique and stunning ruins, in my opinion.
I'll go ahead and list the temples/sites I visited on each of the three days, and then describe in detail some of the more interesting events along the way.
Day 1: Angkor Thom + Big Circuit + Banteay Srey
- Angkor Thom (Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King)
- Preah Khan
- Ta Som
- Banteay Srey (outlying temple 23 miles north of Angkor area)
- East Mebon
- Pre Rup
Day 2: Beng Mealea + Kompong Phluk
- Beng Mealea (outlying temple 45 miles east of Siem Reap)
- Kompong Phluk (floating village)
Day 3: Angkor Wat + Little Circuit
- Angkor Wat (sunrise and afternoon)
- Ta Prohm
- Ta Nei
- Ta Keo
- Banteay Kdei
The first day actually turned out to be the longest and most strenuous, which, in hindsight, was probably a good plan. By the third day, I was pretty worn out by all the walking in the intense heat. The best advice I can give is to start the day as early as you can. Not only will you avoid some of the harshest daytime sunlight, but arriving at 6:00 or 7:00 am also affords you the opportunity to bypass the massive crowds of tourists that descend on the ruins later in the morning. Unfortunately, we arrived a little late at Angkor Thom on the first day, and Bayon was absolutely packed to the brim. It was even difficult to walk along the pathways at times because of the congestion. Still, it was quite amazing to see the famous stone faces that adorn just about every facet of the temple.