Angkor Wat is the main reason most visitors come to Siem Reap, boasting five lotus-like towers that stand 65 metres tall, 12th century Khmer architecture, and about 2,000 stone carvings of Apsaras (celestial dancers). Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat was constructed to worship the Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity) and, according to scholars, served as a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II. The temple ruins are located within the Angkor Archaeological Park. Visitors are required to purchase an Angkor Pass, which is priced at US$20 for a one-day pass, US$40 for a three-day pass, and US$60 for a seven-day pass.
Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple is a tranquil monastery built during the mid-12th century by King Jayavarman VII in commemoration of his mother. It was believed that this 600-room monastery and its surrounding area had a population of over 70,000 people, most of them being high priests, monks, assistants, dancers, and labourers. Hosting a maze of courtyards and galleries, the walls and doorways of the ancient structure are also gripped by huge trees and hanging vines, which give visitors the feeling of discovering a temple lost in the jungle. Due to its breathtaking appearance, Ta Prohm Temple was also featured in both the movie and game Tomb Raider.
Ba Yon Temple
Ba Yon Temple houses approximately 50 towers with four massive stone faces of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara on most of them. It was built in the late 12th century to serve as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. Set in the middle of Angkor Thom, these carvings are easily the most recognisable structures of the ancient Khmer Kingdom. Featuring a serene expression, each of the four faces are four metres in height and oriented toward the four points of the compass. Ba Yon Temple is flanked by two long walls with intricate bas-relief scenes of daily life, including battlefields, markets, religious rituals, cockfighting, and childbirth.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Angkor Archaeological Park is where you can find Siem Reap’s iconic Angkor Wat as well as 50 Hindi and Buddhist temple sites constructed between the 9th and 12th centuries. Representing the pinnacle of ancient Khmer architecture, art and civilization, this park was once the largest pre-industrial city in the world and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. Another prominent sight here is the Terrace of the Elephants, a striking 300 metre—long wall decorated with fine sculptures of elephants, garudas, a five-headed horse, Khmer dancers and warriors. Visitors looking to explore the entirety of Angkor Archaeological Park are encouraged to purchase the multi-day passes as there are so many sightseeing opportunities here.
Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, making it an important natural resource for the local population in terms of fishing and wetlands. There are over 300 species of freshwater fishes, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, and otters as well as 100 varieties of water birds such as storks and pelicans. The best time to visit is during the wet season (between June and November), where you can spot and photograph traditional floating villages around the expansive lake. Another must-visit while you’re at Tonle Sap Lake is Prek Toal Biosphere Reserve, where you can enjoy a guided boat tour through the marshes and lake for US$129.
Phnom Kulen National Park
Phnom Kulen National Park, located 45km north of Siem Reap, is believed to be the nation’s most sacred mountain. The top of Kulem Mountain has over 55 ancient temple ruins while the summit houses a 16th century Buddhist pagoda and an eight-metre-long sandstone statue of a reclining Buddha. The admission fee is US$20 and, while it’s a steep price compared to Angkor Archaeological Park, visitors can access the two impressive waterfalls that form the focal point of Phnom Kulen. Featuring multi-tiered rocks and cascading waters, the waterfalls are great for swimming, picnicking, and memorable photo opportunities.
Wat Damnak Pagoda
Wat Damnak Pagoda, set along Wat Bo Road, was originally a royal palace during the reign of King Sisowath. Today, it houses a school, two charities, and a sewing academy for young local women within its grounds. The establishment is most popular for housing the Centre for Khmer Studies, an extensive library filled with over 11,000 books, journals, encyclopaedias, directories, maps, guidebooks and daily national newspapers in English, French and Khmer languages. Offering a tranquil retreat from the bustling town centre, you can enjoy some reading or stroll along the verdant garden courtyard at Wat Damnak Pagoda.
Prasat Banteay Srei
Prasat Banteay Srei stands out from Siem Reap’s numerous temples thanks to its pink-coloured stone edifices and three-dimensional carvings of Hindu deities. An hour’s drive from Siem Reap, this Hindu temple was built during the 10th century and dedicated to Lord Shiva. Unlike most temples in Siem Reap, Prasat Banteay Srei is less crowded with tourists due to its distance from the town centre. However, the temple’s incredibly detailed carvings of scenes from the Ramayana epic, as well as female deities (devatas) in traditional attire carrying lotus flowers on each hand, makes it a must-visit for first-time travellers to Siem Reap.
Angkor National Museum
Angkor National Museum, opened in 2007, houses 1,000 artefacts from the ancient Khmer empire. Located along Charles de Gaulle Boulevard, the expansive museum is divided into eight galleries that are themed by era, religion and royalty. Displays include relics from the pre-Angkorian periods of the great Khmer kings Funan and Chenla, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, stone pallets with ancient Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions, as well as traditional costumes of former kings, queens, warriors, and Apsara dancers. Visitors are advised to visit the Angkor National Museum prior to the temple site as there are numerous touch-screen videos and informational commentary on the Khmer civilisation and the majesty of Angkor.
Cambodia Cultural Village
Cambodia Cultural Village is an expansive theme park in Siem Reap, showcasing the nation’s traditional lifestyle, beliefs, and customs, as well as practices of its various ethnic groups. Spanning over 210,000 square metres, it houses a historical museum with wax statues of prominent kings, queens, ambassadors, monks, ethnic minorities, movie stars, and Apsara dancers. There are also 13 villages that are modelled according to the culture and characteristic of 19 Cambodian races. Visitors can also enjoy a wide range of live performances such as acrobatics, traditional Khmer wedding ceremonies, Apsara dances, and fishing performances.