Tracing the Architectural Evolution of Angkor: Part Two

Last Updated on: 5th December 2019, 09:43 am

In Part One, we covered the evolution of Angkorian architecture from the 9th century Roluos temples up to the refined gem of Banteay Srei. Here, we’ll cover the remainder of Khmer architectural styles, which includes masterpieces like Angkor Wat and the Bayon style temples of Jayavarman VII.

If you’re looking for info on a particular style, here are some shortcuts to help you navigate:

Khleang Style (968 - 1010)

Coinciding with the Banteay Srei style of architecture is what experts refer to as Khleang style. The Khleangs, located within the walled city of Angkor Thom, on either side of the road to the Royal Palace, remain an enigma. While the word khleang translates to ‘storehouse,’ nobody is really sure what purpose these structures once served. Most likely, they were reception halls for dignitaries.

In any case, the North and South Khleangs have had their own style named after them, probably because the main mountain temple of this period was left unfinished.

NortH Khleang

North Khleang

The North Khleang was originally a wooden structure built by King Rajendravarman II, who ruled from 944 to 968. His son Jayavarman V then had it rebuilt in stone.

It’s pretty much a long hall with a prasat tower in the middle. However, it also had its own courtyard with an additional cruciform sanctuary in the back.

Interestingly, you can still see wooden beams beneath the door lintels. While some of the wood was added for support just recently, a few pieces have actually been in place since the 10th century.

The North Khleang was mostly built of laterite with an outer sandstone layer. There’s not a whole lot to see at this small structure, but a few things to look out for are some neat carvings, miniature temple antefixes and even an ancient (but highly eroded) map on the southern doorway!

South Khleang

South Khleang

The South Khleang was probably built years later by Suryavarman I, who reigned from 1002-1040. It generally follows the same layout as its predecessor, but the South Khleang is slightly more narrow.

Strangely, the South Khleang was left unfinished and its largely undecorated. This is likely due to the turmoil of the civil war that was going on in the early stages of Suryavarman I’s reign. 

In contrast to the North Khleang, the South Khleang was made entirely of sandstone. For some reason, though, it lacks the central prasat of it’s northern counterpart.

BALUSTER WINDOWS: While not the very first use of baluster windows, the Khleangs are some of the notable early examples of this style. These windows featuring a series of carved columns (partially broken above) would become the standard style for windows decorating the long halls and galleries of temples like Ta Keo and Angkor Wat.

Ta Keo

Ta Keo was supposed to be the state mountain temple of Jayavarman V, although it never ended up being used. According to legend, lightning struck the top of the central prasat, which was perceived as a very bad omen. As a result, the project was abandoned, despite having been mostly completed.

Ta Keo

At first glance, Ta Keo appears to be a higher, steeper version of Pre Rup. The steep stairways are meant to give visitors the feeling they are ascending up to heaven. 

Thanks to its unfinished state, Ta Keo has taught archaeologists a lot about how Angkor temples were built. For example, by observing the blank walls of the temple, researchers learned that the carvings were always made after the blocks were set up. Ta Keo, then, provides a rare opportunity to see temple structures in their naked, raw state.

Additionally, as we’ll cover below, Ta Keo was also the first temple to experiment with a number of architectural elements that would become commonplace and future temples.

THE FIRST CONCENTRIC GALLERIES: Ta Keo provides one of the first examples of concentric galleries around the temple, replacing the simple walls surrounding older Angkorian temples. It’s also an update to the ‘long halls’ of Pre Rup, which took on a similar shape but weren’t all connected. 

The galleries here are small and purely decorative. However, they foreshadow the elaborate bas-relief galleries of future temples like Angkor Wat.

Ta Keo Gallery
Ta Keo Library
One of Ta Keo's two libraries

As mentioned above, carvings and decoration are entirely missing from some of Ta Keo’s structures. Considering how the temple was built shortly after Banteay Srei, one would think that some of the same artists were asked to contribute to Jayavarman V’s mountain temple. Clearly, though, the work never began.

Ta Keo
Ta Keo Hole
The hole left by the lightning strike can still be seen in the central and tallest prasat

CRUCIFORM SANCTUARIES: Ta Keo is also the first example of cruciform sanctuaries, or prasats with openings on all sides. With a few rare exceptions, such as Phnom Bakheng, all prasats in Angkor up to that point had one door facing east with three false doors on the other sides. The style of prasat introduced by Ta Keo would go on to become the new standard at Angkor.


Phimeanakas is a rather mysterious temple for a number of reasons. First of all, we’re still not exactly sure when it was first built. Some scholars argue that it may even be one of the oldest temples in all of Angkor, while others date it to the mid-10th century. Whatever the case may be, it was renovated and added to by Suryavarman I at the beginning of the 11th century. That’s why it’s often categorized as Khleang style architecture.

Though the small three-tiered pyramid cannot be climbed, you’ll notice a small gallery around the top. Along with Ta Keo, this is the first example of a concentric gallery at Angkor, but nobody’s really sure which was first. The lone prasat at the top is also a cruciform sanctuary, the style introduced by Ta Keo. Again, it may have actually been introduced here first, but nobody’s certain.

Phimeanakas was located right by the wooden Royal Palace, nothing of which still remains. This pyramid temple, then, may have been strictly limited to royal use. According to Zhou Daguan, the Chinese envoy who visited Angkor in the 13th century, the king would climb Phimeanakas nightly. There, he’d have to make love with a naga (serpent) spirit who’d take on the form of a beautiful woman. According to local belief, if the king failed to do so, disaster was bound to strike the kingdom.

BAPHUON STYLE (1010 - 1080)

The Baphuon style is named after the Baphuon itself, which is one of Angkor’s most unique mountain temples. One other temple that fits into this category is the ruined island temple of West Mebon. Experts noticed the similarities in style of both temples’ carvings. West Mebon, however, is mostly in ruins, and it’s hard to get a clear picture of its structure.

The Baphuon (c. 1060)

The Baphuon was commissioned around the year 1060 by King Udayadityavarman II as his state temple. At the time, it was one of Angkor’s most ambitious ever projects. And even over 200 years later, this was the temple that Chinese envoy Zhou Daguan was most impressed with during his visit to Angkor. Sadly, though, much of the temple had collapsed by the 20th century, and it needed to be almost entirely rebuilt. The temple only opened up for visitors as recently as 2011.

A departure from the typical quincunx ‘mountain temple’ layout that had become the standard by this point, the Baphuon features only one large sanctuary on top of a massive pyramidal base.

The core of the temple was actually a large earth mound, and the architects back then were probably reluctant to build four more towers at the top level. There are, however, four prasats at each corner of the middle level.

Baphuon Causeway
Baphuon Gate

Entering the temple, you’ll walk along an elevated walkway that stretches out to about 225 meters. You’ll then arrive at a large and elaborate entrance gate. Both are a foreshadowing of things to come at Angkor Wat.

Supposedly, there had originally been galleries on the ground level, but they were dismantled in the 15th century to build a large reclining Buddha. Regrettably, that Buddha was never even finished, though you can see a vague outline when the lighting is right.

The Baphuon is highly regarded for its art. The various carvings are mainly scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. Walking around the complex, carvings can be seen just about everywhere you look.

The concentric gallery lacks the baluster windows of later temples, and is a design unique to the Baphuon
The tall sanctuary at the pyramid's highest level once featured an even taller tower at the top which has not survived. Zhou Daguan described the Baphuon as a "tower of bronze."

Angkor Wat Style (1080 - 1175)

The Angkor Wat style is considered by many experts to be the peak of Khmer architecture. The style is named, of course, after one of the world’s most famous temples, Angkor Wat. But there are also a few other smaller temples built in this style that are worth visiting.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, the state temple of Suryavarman II, is the world’s largest religious monument and one of the finest engineering feats of the ancient world. The entire temples complex takes up around two square kilometers, and it likely even functioned as its own city for much of the 12th century.

Angkor Wat

Many aspects of the temple have already been seen before at previous state ‘mountain temples.’ The main prasat towers are arranged in a quincunx pattern of temples like Pre Rup and Ta Keo. There are a number of concentric galleries, such as those at Ta Keo and the Baphuon. And just like many other state temples going back to the 9th century Bakong, the temple is accessed by walking across a moat on a causeway, lined with naga balustrades on either side.

But Angkor Wat takes many ideas of previous temples and recreates them on not only a much larger scale, but in a more refined manner. Architects who’ve studied the Angkor temples have also noticed the special care taken in the placement of the sandstone blocks, even compared to the later temples of Jayavarman VII.

Angkor Wat Western Gate

A WEST-FACING TEMPLE: One major aspect of Angkor Wat which sets it apart from nearly all other temples at Angkor, is the fact that it faces west and not east. The likely reason for this is that Suryavarman II was a devotee of Vishnu, who is sometimes associated with the direction of west.

All other mountain temples up to that point, in contrast, were dedicated to Shiva, hence their east-facing direction.

Another potential reason is that the Suryavarman II intended for the temple to be his tomb, and the setting sun in the west is also a symbol of death.

Regardless of the reason, Angkor Wat has the best lighting in the late afternoon, as opposed to most other Angkor temples which look best in the mornings.

THE WESTERN GATE: Past the causeway is Angkor Wat’s massive entrance gate. The gate itself features its own galleries, inside of which you can find intricate lintel carvings. One of the gate’s pavilions is home to the eight-armed Vishnu statue pictured below.

While this gate was clearly influenced by that of the Baphuon, it was recreated here on a much grander and more imposing scale. If the goal was to make temple visitors feel tiny, it certainly does its job!

Angkor Wat Vishnu
Angkor Wat Architecture
Angkor Wat

Walking through the Western Gate, the main temple will finally come into view. But you’ll still need to walk across another elevated walkway to get there. Once at the entrance, you’ll have two choices of where to go next: either walk around the long bas-relief galleries along the perimeter of the temple, or head straight into the cruciform gallery.

Angkor Wat Bas Relief Galleries

BAS-RELIEF GALLERIES: As we’ve already gone over, concentric galleries were already tried out at a couple of prior temples. They were mostly simplistic in design and undecorated. But at Angkor Wat, we’re introduced for the first time to bas-relief galleries.

The galleries are incredibly long, surrounding the entire main portion of the temple. The intricate carvings are largely dedicated to battle scenes, such as the battle at Lanka, which takes place at the end of the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata’s grueling 18-day battle of Kurukshetra.

Other relief carvings depict battles led by Suryavarman II himself, while another shows the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a famous mythological scene in which Vishnu plays a starring role.

There are also two corner pavilions which contain additional carvings. With so much to see, you may want to visit Angkor Wat more than once, as it’s a lot to take in during a single visit.

Angkor Wat Cruciform Galleries
Angkor Wat Cruciform Galleries
Angkor Wat Cruciform Galleries

CRUCIFORM GALLERY: Back at the front of the lower level is a series of galleries in the shape of a cruciform. Here you’ll be able to find all sorts of carvings, as well as a section with a number of Buddha statues. Like many temples at Angkor, Angkor Wat was later converted into a Theravada Buddhist temple well after the Khmer Empire’s decline.

Angkor Wat Devatas

APSARAS: Apsaras are a type of female divinity, or devata, which appear in many Hindu myths. Carvings of these celestial dancers are common throughout all Angkorian temples, but they’re nowhere near as prevalent as at Angkor Wat. In fact, the temple boasts over 1800 of them in total!

Second Level

Angkor Wat Second Level

Angkor Wat’s second floor is home to another series fo galleries, as well as some beautiful apsara carvings. It’s also the perfect place to walk around for a clear view of the five prasat towers up above. 

A total of twelve staircases lead to the third and highest level of the temple, but the only one in use today is situated in the northeast corner. Be sure to have your knees and shoulders covered if you want to be allowed up.

Third Level

Angkor Wat’s central sanctuary stands at 55 meters high. And it was here where the temple’s original Vishnu statue once stood. Interestingly, there’s also a pit beneath the prasat that descends all the way down to the ground. This was likely constructed as a symbolic representation of Mt. Meru and the ‘three worlds’ of Hindu cosmology.

Walking around, enjoy the excellent views from the galleries. You can also see some more lintel carvings of mythological scenes, as well as exquisite apsaras and devatas. One unfortunate apsara even had most of her face removed long ago by looters searching for hidden treasures!

Angkor Wat Siem Reap Cambodia


Outside the walls of Angkor Thom are two temples which are also considered to have been built in the Angkor Wat style, though nobody knows for sure exactly when they were constructed.

Thommanon consists of a simple layout of a central cruciform sanctuary (as introduced at Ta Keo) with a gopura attached to the main entrance (as introduced at Banteay Srei). It was the similarities of the apsara carvings with those of Angkor Wat, however, that helped archaeologists date this temple.


Chau Say Tevoda

Just across the road from Thommanon is Chau Say Tevoda, the larger and more impressive of the two temples. The temple was recently restored, and you can easily tell what’s new by looking at the colors of the stones.

Chau Say Tevoda follows the same basic layout of Thommanon, but with an additional four entrance gates on all sides. Furthermore, a long causeway leads to the eastern entrance. The likeness of the prasat towers with those of Angkor Wat is another reason why this temple is categorized as ‘Angkor Wat’ style.

Chau Say Tevoda
Chau Say Tevoda

Banteay Samre

Another temple to be considered part of the Angkor Wat style is Banteay Samre, arguably one of Angkor’s most underrated temples. The center point of the temple is a single prasat with a gopura attached to the entrance. That, along with two libraries, are surrounded by a concentric gallery enclosure with entrances on all sides. And all that is then surrounded by yet another walled enclosure.

The temple was either constructed during the reign of Suryavarman II, or his successor Dharanindravarman II. The latter, who also happens to be the father of Jayavarman VII (see below), was also likely responsible for a magnificent temple known as Beng Mealea. (While also considered to be part of the Angkor Wat style, Beng Mealea is outside of town and not accessible with your basic Archaeological Park pass.)

Bayon Style (1180 - 1230)

Finally, we arrive at the final style of Angkorian architecture. The Bayon style, as its known, is synonymous with King Jayavarman VII, also nicknamed the “great builder king.” This fervent Mahayana Buddhist ruler had an unprecedented number of structures built throughout his empire, which stretched throughout modern-day Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

In addition to the large quantity of new temples built during this period of Khmer history, the Empire’s shift from Hinduism to Buddhism also signaled a change in architectural symbolism. While there’s no way to cover all of Jayavarman VII’s temples in a single article, let’s go over the most famous ones, including the stunning mountain temple after which the style is named. But first, let’s cover what are known as the ‘triad temples.’

Ta Prohm (1186)

Ta Prohm was Jayavarman VII’s first major temple, which was an ancestral temple dedicated to his mother. It also functioned as a university.

While the temple is impressive on its own, it’s become one of Angkor’s most iconic temples due to the large trees growing on top of some of the structures. This provides a fascinating insight into how many of the Angkor temples must’ve looked when first rediscovered.

HALL OF DANCERS: One new feature that most Bayon style temples share in common is the Hall of Dancers. Structurally, they were probably inspired by the cruciform galleries at the entrance of Angkor Wat. However, in terms of decoration, they’re entirely dedicated to dancing apsaras.

Ta Prohm’s Hall of Dancers is normally inaccessible, but you can visit the halls of the following two temples.

Ta Prohm
At the temple entrance we have our first glimpse of the enigmatic face towers that have come to symbolize Jayavarman VII's reign

Preah Khan (1191)

Preah Khan is the largest of Jayavarman VII’s ‘triad temples.’ It was dedicated to both his father as well as the Bodhisattva called Avalokiteshvara. 

This was likely the temporary base of Jayavarman VII’s kingdom while they were still reconstructing the walls of Angkor Thom, which had been sacked by the Chams a couple decades prior.

Preah Khan

1+8+4 LAYOUT: Preah Khan introduces an interesting new temple layout that also gets used at the Bayon. The central prasat (with a gopura attached to the front) is then surrounded by 8 other sanctuaries. This entire group is then surrounded by another group of four prasats.

However, only the one at the front of the temple is a standalone prasat. The other outer three are actually part of their own small satellite temples, complete with concentric gallery enclosures. In front of the whole thing sits the Hall of Dancers at the temple entrance.

Preah Kahn contains this unique structure, which happens to be the only use of round columns at Angkor

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei is the smallest of the triad temples, but follows the same basic layout. This temple was dedicated to the Buddha, and quite possibly to Jayavarman VII himself.

Banteay Kdei

FILLING IN THE SPACE: Another aspect of Jayavarman VII’s temples is how cluttered they can often feel. During previous eras, there was ample space in between the main sanctuary and the walls or galleries which enclosed the temple. Perhaps there were a few libraries in between.

The Bayon style temples, in contrast, fill in this empty space with a near countless amount of shrines to various deities. Jayavarman VII introduced the worship of many new Buddhist Bodhisattvas to his kingdom, but he also continued to revere the gods of Hinduism. It’s estimated that the number of deities worshipped at some of these temples even numbered in the hundreds.

Banteay Kdei
Old and new: A traditional naga balustrade leads to a Hall of Dancers


Since its inception at Phnom Bakheng around the year 907, the Bayon style temples are the first to depart from the classical quincunx tower layout. While there is still one central temple in the middle, the surrounding prasats are now located at the four cardinal points around it.

This is hard to see when visiting, as most of Jayavarman VII’s temples are flat. However, the Bayon, his only ‘mountain temple,’ also uses this layout, combined with the 1+8+4 setup introduced at Preah Kahn.

Formerly, all the prasats of the quincunx mountain temples faced east (or west in Angkor Wat’s case). At Preah Kahn, all faced east except the western sanctuary, which opened to the west in honor of Vishnu. At the Bayon, on the other hand, the sanctuaries all face the cardinal directions in which they’re situated. This is also demonstrated in Jayavarman VII’s mysterious face towers.

Bayon (late 12th - early 13th century)

Jayavarman VII’s state mountain temple is one of the most unique structures in all of Angkor. The structure is so elaborate and complex that it can difficult to wrap your head around, even after multiple visits. But that’s also what makes the temple, which originally once glistened with gold, such a treat to visit. 

As mentioned above, Jayavarman VII abandoned the classical quincunx layout in favor of placing four smaller towers at the cardinal points, though there are many additional towers beyond those. He also utilized the 1+8+4 style he implemented at Preah Khan.

Bayon Angkor Thom

You will notice that the temple has no elaborate entrance gate like at Angkor Wat, and no larger outer wall or gallery enclosing the complex. But when you consider the fact that the Bayon sits at the very center of the walled city of Angkor Thom, we can start to understand the reasons why.

It’s likely that Jayavarman VII intended for the walls of the city itself to act as the outer temple walls, and for the city gates to double as the temple gates. Angkor Thom, of course, encompasses many other temples within its territory (such as Phimeanakas and the Baphuon, to name a few). But perhaps Jayavarman VII also wanted inhabitants to think of the entire capital city as a part of his state temple.

Bayon Angkor Thom
Bayon Angkor Thom

Clearly inspired by Angkor Wat, the Bayon features not one but two bas-relief galleries. One set can be found outside, encircling the temple, while further inside you’ll find more reliefs under a roof. The scenes depict mythological stories from both Hinduism and Buddhism, while others show Jayavarman VII’s military efforts against the Champa Kingdom.

Bayon Angkor Thom
Bayon Angkor Thom

The Bayon is often likened to a labyrinth. There are innumerable halls, galleries and chambers to explore. And every time you look up, you’re bound to see a tower of some sort. It’s said that the temple once consisted of 49 towers, but today there are only 37 still standing.

Bayon Angkor Thom

THE FACES: One of, if not the most, defining characteristic of the Bayon are all the smiling faces. In fact, there are over 200 of them! Originally, the towers were thought to represent Brahma, the four-faced Hindu creator god. But once it became clear that the Bayon was a Buddhist temple, experts were left scratching their heads.

The truth is, nobody knows for sure who the faces are supposed to represent. The popular theories, though, are that they’re either Avalokiteshvara, or perhaps they’re Jayavarman VII himself.

The fact that the faces are spreading out in all directions might also symbolize the king’s intention to spread Buddhism throughout the kingdom.

The Bayon’s central tower is in a circular shape – the only one of its kind at Angkor. And that tower actually consists of eight sanctuaries within it. Inside the central sanctuary was a Buddha statue which can now be seen at a nearby shrine called Vihear Prampil Loveng.

Banteay Thom

Jayavarman VII’s ‘triad temples’ and the Bayon do not paint the whole picture of just how many different kinds of structures were built during his reign. In fact, with all the alterations and innovations brought forth by the Bayon style, it’s rather surprising to learn that Jayavarman VII also reintroduced an old favorite: the trimurti.

That’s right, the layout we were first introduced to with Preah Ko, built in 897, and then used sporadically throughout the 900’s, made a comeback at the end of the 12th century. Considering how the Khmer stopped building temples after Jayavarman VII’s reign, it’s interesting to see Angkorian architecture come full circle like this.

The simple layout of these temples also made them a popular design choice in distant Khmer outposts. These temples, such as Banteay Thom, are usually not dedicated to the Hindu trinity. Instead, the three towers represent Lokeshvara, Prajnaparamita, and the Buddha himself.

Banteay Thom

Post-Bayon Style?

One of the most mysterious aspects of Khmer history is the fact that they pretty much stopped building stone temples after the death of Jayavarman VII. This is the same society that had been constantly building new temples for hundreds of years, so why did they just stop?

Nobody is certain. One theory is that the walls of Angkor Thom provided safety and stability. And with the Bayon already at its center, no future kings were able to build a new state temple within the confines of the walled capital.

Other factors involved include the transition from Mahayana to Theravada Buddhism, though we know that the Theravada Buddhists over in Siam were quite fond of their construction projects. And Angkor still continued to thrive for awhile after Jayavarman VII’s death, as evidenced by the account of Chinese envoy Zhou Daguan, who visited in 1297.

There were at least a few new modest temples constructed, however. The last structure with a clear given date is called Prasat Top East. It’s a small single sanctuary temple dated 1295, near the end of Jayavarman VIII’s reign.

Another candidate for a post-Jayavarman VII structure is Preah Palilay, which can be found within Angkor Thom. It’s a very tall and narrow sanctuary, unlike any other temples before it. Many experts consider it to be one of the kingdom’s final temples. However, similar temples exist near the former outpost city of Banteay Chmar, and locals there attribute them to the reign of Jayavarman VII. 

As archaeological work continues to take place, perhaps we’ll one day gain some clearer insight. 

Preah Palilay
Preah Palilay

Additional Info

People exploring the Angkor temples will need to base themselves in the city of Siem Reap. The city is easy to get to, being served by a wide variety of Asian airlines. You can fly direct from cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Of course, you can also fly domestically via Phnom Penh.

Generally, you want to avoid coming by bus from Thailand. Many of the vendors of these tickets are in on some kind of scam. There are no true direct buses, as you will always have to go through immigration at the border. I did the trip the opposite way, from Cambodia to Thailand, without any problems, but there are certainly a lot of seedy characters in the area.

Siem Reap is reachable by bus from many other parts of Cambodia. However, I wouldn’t ever want to ride a night bus, as many of the roads in the country are absolutely horrible. You want to make sure your driver has full view of all the potholes on the roads.

The best way to get around the Angkor Archaeological Park is to hire a tuk tuk. Unlike the tuk tuks in Thailand, these are basically special wooden carriages attached to a motorbike. The ride is bumpy, but definitely more comfortable than riding on the back of someone’s bike.

The standard price is generally $15 per day. Air conditioned cars can be hired for a higher price, usually around $40 per day.

Foreigners aren’t allowed to rent motorbikes in Cambodia but you can rent a bicycle from your hotel. It’s possibly to bike to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom by bicycle, though I wouldn’t recommend it for anything more distant than that.

The perfect amount of time to see the major temples in order is 5 days. This requires purchasing a seven-day pass. At $72, it’s only $10 more than the three-day pass, so it’s still a good deal even if you don’t use all the days.

There is no need to join an organized tour to visit the temples in order. What you do need to do is find a reliable tuk-tuk driver (they can also be arranged through your hotel) who understands exactly what you want to do. As most tourists only want to see the most famous temples over the course of one or two days, the driver might be a little confused at first by what you’re suggesting. 

It doesn’t make the most sense logistically, but after having done it myself, I couldn’t picture exploring the temples any other way. Just give yourself enough time in Angkor and the plan below is perfectly feasible. 

The following plan is largely based off the suggestion given by Michel Petrotchenko in his excellent book Focusing on The Angkor Temples: The Guidebook. Now after having done it myself, I’ve added a few small additions and minor alterations.

Pre-first day: Buy your entry pass to the ruins the day before in order to avoid having to wait in a long line the next morning. It’s only possible to do so from 5pm the previous evening. Most lines can get very long, but luckily, the booth for the seven-day passes will have almost no one waiting in them! You can kill time before 5pm hanging around Siem Reap and visiting the Angkor Museum.

Note: The standard price for a day around the ruins via tuk-tuk is around $15. However, you will be asked to pay a little bit extra for going to out-of-the-way places like the Roluos group and Banteay Srei. You will also be expected to pay a little more to include a sunrise or sunset in your schedule.

First day: Head straight to the Roluos group (Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei).

Back in the main Archaeological Park, walk up the hill to see Phnom Bakheng around lunchtime.

Nearby are a few unique temples called Baksei Chamkrong and Prasat Kravan that both date from the early 10th century.

Second day:

Start the day off at East Mebon, and then Pre Rup. Then head north to Banteay Srei.

(Note: A visit to Banteay Srei can also be combined with a trip to the river carvings of Kbal Spean. Therefore, you may choose to deviate from the chronological order slightly by visiting Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and then continuing on to East Mebon).

After lunch, make a visit to Ta Keo before heading inside the walls of Angkor Thom. Make a brief stop at the North and South Khleangs (one should be enough if you’re short on time).

Still inside Angkor Thom, visit what’s left of the Royal Palace and then Phimeanakas and the Baphuon. You’ll pass by it, but resist the temptation to visit the Bayon just yet.

Third day:

It’s now finally time to visit Angkor Wat. This is one of the few temples to be open for sunrise. However, the temple gets extremely crowded each morning, so you may want to come slightly after the sun has risen to avoid the crowds.

After taking your time at Angkor Wat, head over to Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda (right across the street from one another). Then, head east to Banteady Samre.

Fourth day:

This will be your first introduction to the temples of Jayavarman VII. Start the day off as early as possible at Ta Prohm. (As an alternative to sunrise and Angkor Wat, check out the sunrise from Srah Srang which is right by Ta Prohm).

Then move on to Preah Kahn. Afterward, check out the smaller temples of Neak Pean, Krol Koh and Ta Som. Finally, end the day at Banteay Kdei.

Fifth day: Head to Angkor Thom and admire the statues of the devas and asuras outside of the South Gate. Inside the walled city, it’s now time to visit the Bayon.

Afterwards, go see the Royal Terraces (the Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King).

You can also go see Preah Palilay and the Preah Pitus complex, which are believed to be among the final temples in Angkor.

You should still have some time left over in the late afternoon. Consider revisiting the Bayon to see it in a different light, or head back again to Angkor Wat, as the temple faces west and looks best in the evening.

Beyond: If you’re like me and want to make the most of your seven-day pass, here a couple suggestions: You can try visiting some of the smaller, obscure temples (such as Banteay Thom) built by Jayavarman VII which are north of Preah Khan.

On another day, consider heading over to one of the smaller hilltop temples like Phnom Krom or Phnom Bok. Or, just return to the temples you liked best.

Remember, there are still a whole lot of amazing temples outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park, such as Preah Vihear, Koh Ker, Banteay Chmar and more. These will all be covered in their own articles, along with tips on how to visit them all on a three day road trip around the country.

If your main goal is to see the ruins, the closer you are to them the better. There’s not a whole lot to see or do in central Siem Reap other than the Angkor National Museum and maybe some arts and crafts shops. (Of course, there’s Pub Street, if that’s your thing, but it might be a little hard to appreciate the ruins while hungover.)

Understand that you need to purchase your pass before approaching the archaeological site. The ticket vending area is located on Apsara Rd., east of the main road which takes you from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat temple.

There are staff just about everywhere checking for passes, both at the archaeological zone entrances and at all the individual temples, so make sure not to forget it at your hotel. Later in my trip, I practically cycled through a jungle to get to one of the most obscure little temples in the middle of nowhere. And sure enough, there was a staff person there asking to see my pass, before asking how I ever managed to find the place!

As Cambodia can get very hot, be sure to apply sunscreen and wear a hat. Fortunately, there are vendors all throughout the archaeological zone selling water and fresh coconuts. There are also ample places to sit down for lunch.

You want to get started each morning as early as possible. One reason for this is that a large majority of the temples face east, meaning they look best in the morning light. Another reason is that due to Angkor’s massive popularity, the major temples get absolutely flooded with tourists from around 8 or 8:30am. The temples (with the exception of Angkor Wat) open at 7:30, so try to get there right around then.

Things get much quieter in the mid-afternoon when it’s hottest. If you’re able to bear the heat, this is a good time to visit some of the more popular temples, though it won’t be ideal photography wise.

Tracing the Architectural Evolution of Angkor: Part Two

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