Angkor Temples Tour 2. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Virtually all visitors to Siem Reap, Cambodia, visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. That’s the priority (and for good reason). But many people stop there, considering Tour 2, “The other temples,” to be an additional itinerary to be done only if time permits. I beg to differ. If you’re going as far as Siem Reap, don’t miss out on Tour 2. It’s amazing.
What is Tour 2?
Tour 2 is a circular route that takes you to a number of smaller, lesser known temples located to the NE of Angkor Wat. The temples are all located in the Angkor Archeological Park, so you can use the same admission pass you use for Angkor Wat. I had a 3-day pass that cost me $40. And contrary to what I was told, you do not need to have a photo ready to give them. They take one there electronically and have your pass ready for you in about 30 seconds. No fuss, no muss! In fact, here it is:
Taxi, Tuk tuk, or bicycle? Decisions, decisions!
Like the main tour of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Tour 2 is easy to do as a day trip. It lies just 20 minutes by taxi outside from downtown Siem Reap; 30 minutes if you go by tuk tuk.
You can also rent bikes, but if you do, pay to rent a decent road bike. After a few hours in the sweltering heat crawling around fallen stones, you won’t enjoy having to slog back to the city on a crap bike. I used a distance app to check the round-trip distance from Pub Street downtown, around the Tour 2 route, and back to town. It’s a 47Km trip.
47Km. Dayam! If you’re not in decent shape, take a tuk tuk. And even if you are in good shape, get a decent set of wheels for the trip. Note that Jan – April are the best weather months for being outdoors in that region.
Prices of taxis and tuk tuks depend a lot on how you book and how tenacious a negotiator you are. We paid $30 (everything is done in US$ there), booking via my hotel’s tourist desk. Our driver was awesome. We asked how much of that $30 he was given by the hotel. $20. So we just asked him to pick us up directly the next day and gave him the $30 plus a tip directly.
The final day we rented a tuk tuk as I wanted to get a birthday pic at Angkor. We got that trip plus two separate trips out to the airport for a total of $28. So tuk tuks are definitely cheaper…and on a warm afternoon, they are the way to head out to the temples.
Tour 2 Route and Temples
Unlike Angkor Wat, which can take hours to really absorb, the ruins on Tour 2 are relatively small, so you tend to move around more. We stopped at the temples I’ve circled on the map below, but there are more to see if you have time. We started up north of Angkor Thom at Preah Khan and moved clockwise to our last stop and Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raiders temple.)
For the record, I waited far too long to finally make this trip. It’s already fairly swamped with annoying package tourists, and that’s not likely to decrease. Now, at least in the mornings you can see things in relative peace. But that will likely change as more and more super annoying package tourists fly in from other Asian countries. So if you’ve been thinking of going, book a ticket and get there while the gettin’s good!
And if you are thinking of joining a package tour, don’t! Take a leap of faith in your ability to survive without having your hand held for a week and just do it on your own. As a package tourist, you’ll be stuck with 30 loud, boisterous, clueless people, many of whom are sporting idiotic sun hats and seem to consider spitting and littering A-OK. On your own, you can hire a guide if you want to ask some questions, but otherwise, see things at your own pace and enjoy things in silence, which makes all the difference in a place like Angkor.
1. Preah Khan
The first temple we visited was Preah Khan.We arrived at the West Gate side after driving up from the city past Angkor Wat and through Angkor Thom. The driver parked, and he pointed us in the right direction.
**I pause just a sec for a bit of stunned silence when I think about this place**
We walked across a long bridge lined with carved naga serpents and these carved stone statues. If that was all I had seen, it would still have been an exceptionally cool day…but we continued on.
Built in 1191, Preah Khan was fashioned to serve a number of gods of a number of religions — par for the course in Cambodia. But Preah Khan actually appears to have served as a large Buddhist university, and there are buildings thought to be libraries right in the complex.
Inside, you find that these ruins really are, well, in ruins. Many areas are caved in and you have to be a little careful where you step. And the closer you get to the center of the central enclosure, the more details, doors, and mysterious rooms you encounter. I’ve been to some pretty ancient ruins in Europe and Asia, but there’s something uniquely exhilarating about all of the temples at Angkor. I’m glad Preah Khan was my first: it’s freaking amazing.
“Can I tell you about this room, Sir?” a guide asks us. Ah, sure. And with that, we had our own private tour guide for the next 20 minutes. At first, I wasn’t into being led around and having the silence broken by this guy talking non stop, but after a few very cool bits of information, I decided it was a rather lucky turn of events. He explained, for example, why all of the doors became increasingly smaller walking toward the center temple: It forces visitors to bow in respect when they are facing that direction. “Ok, that’s pretty cool!”
I didn’t have more than a few dollars on me at the time, but he was cool with what I gave him as a tip. Next trip, I’ll probably arrange to have a guide at a few of the bigger temples for maybe just the first 30 minutes of the visit. It’s worth it. Just remember that guides are best when you tell them to shut up until you ask them something. Otherwise you get a non-stop drone of monotone facts.
2. Neak Pean
Basically a monument, Neak Pean is a cruciform arrangement of ponds situated around a sanctuary tower set on an island. It was originally built as a royal Hindu site, but later was imbued with Buddhist symbolism during a period of rebuilding. At this time, the lake was said to represent the sacred Himalayan lake of Anavatapta, which was famous for its miraculous healing properties.
As cool as all of this sounds, you can’t get very close to the action, as you can see from the photo below, which was the closest we got. So expect to be done with this place quick, fast, and in a hurry.
3. Ta Som
We hit Ta Som at about 5 PM. The afternoon sleepiness must have been kicking in because I didn’t take too many pics, in spite of it being a very cool, small-scale version of Ta Prohm (Tomb Raiders look-and-feel), complete with cool tree overgrowth and an ancient-ruins-falling-apart-in-the-jungle feel.
4. East Mebon
East Mebon, built a long time ago in 953, is styled as a mountain temple. That is, it is built as a three-tiered temple to give the impression of a mountain. Surrounded originally by an enormous Baray (reservoir), it doesn’t have the traditional moats or outer enclosures. So whereas Ta Som felt quite cluttered and mysterious, East Mebon just rises out of the surroundings right in front of you. It’s quite expansive and just feels like the kind of place you could sit back and chill at for hours. I loved it there.
5. Pre Rup
Pre Rup looks awesome…from the road. I can’t say more as we were running short on daylight, and I wanted to get my Tomb Raider on at Ta Prohm. I’ll be visiting there again in December, so I’ll add something then. On that note…
6. Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm was a temple I had really wanted to see as Tomb Raiders scenes like the one below had made me believe I would be able to channel my inner Indiana Jones if I visited.
It turns out that when you are actually there, there are no smoke machines or sound effects people adding monkey sounds. There are also groups of package tourists spending 30 minutes at each place repeatedly taking the same photo 30X each. Only the countdown changed (Ichi, ni, san! Cheezu!…Ye, i, r, smile!…Hana, dul, set, kimchi!, etc). Nevertheless, Ta Prohm was AMAZING. It’s mysterious and largely unrestored, it has tons of trees that have grown throughout the temple over the centuries, and it is maze-like, which adds to the sense of mystery.
Most people enter Ta Prohm via the East Gate. The shot below is as you are about to enter via what used to be the Hall of Dancers.
Feel free to comment if you have any questions or have anything to say about this incredibly cool part of the planet. Thanks for reading.