Surrounded by the gorgeous Cambodian countryside in the province of Siem Reap, lies the historic Angkor complex of awe-inspiring temple ruins of the Khmer Era. Angkor and its stunning temples are the very essence and pride of the country. It's the 'must see' place to visit while traveling in Cambodia.
For a complete experience, purchase a three-day ticket ($40) to have enough time for the major temples as well as the many fantastic smaller sites. The ticket can be used over three non-consecutive days within a week so it gives you plenty of time to explore as many temples as is physically possible.
Standing proudly at the exact center of the massive Angkor Thom complex since 1190 AD is the magnificent Bayon temple. This was one of the last temples to be built at Angkor and is famous for 216 huge smiling stone faces watching over the site from above.
Wherever you go in the temple you can't escape the watchful faces staring serenely into the distance in all directions. If you stop to study them for a while it's hard to know if they show a welcoming smile or a menacing one, it can be a little unnerving.
The temple is also home to some well-preserved bas-reliefs which are thought to depict scenes of everyday life of the ancient Khmer people. It's not known what exactly is being represented but the detailed carvings feature everything from armies to acrobats.
Banteay Srei (The citadel of woman) is small in size, compared to some of the other temples, but should not be overlooked during a visit to Angkor. It's a well restored and maintained temple site with modern facilities which has benefitted greatly from continued investment.
Built of distinctive hard red bricks that can be carved like wood, this incredibly detailed 10th-century temple is easy to fall in love with. Arrive here just before sunset to catch the last rays of sun glowing on the temple facade.
The temple is located around 32 km northeast of Siem Reap so may cost you an extra $10 or so to get there in a Tuk tuk, but it's fully worth the extra time and money. There are other temples and rivers plus the Cambodian Landmine Museum nearby so it's possible to spend a half or full day exploring the area.
This might not be the most spectacular temple you will see in terms of buildings, but it is historically significant. Built between late ninth and early tenth centuries, it is one of the oldest temples here. The hill-style temple construction represents Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods.
After receiving the grant from the U.S. State Department, the temple is currently being restored and seeing work in progress alone is worth the climb up. From the top you can enjoy the panoramic view across to Angkor Wat which also makes it a fabulous spot to watch a sunset.
Unique amongst the Angkor temples for being left much like it was found, Ta Prohm is another for the must see list.
It's one of the most visited temples due to the eerie quality it exudes with tree roots growing over the top and into the buildings. It's a great example of how many of the temples would have looked when first rediscovered after being abandoned in the 15th century.
It has since gained fame as the atmospheric setting for the 2001 action film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie as video game star Lara Croft.
The most famous of the temples, Angkor Wat, is the prime example of classical Khmer design. It's a source of huge national pride and even the national flag of Cambodia carries an image of the 3 iconic towers which top off this famous temple.
Built in the early 1100's, it is thought to be the world's largest religious site with the moat around the perimeter running to around a mile on each side. It is the best preserved of all the Angkor temples, helped by the fact it has been in continuous use since its initial construction.
Today it is also the most visited of all of the Angkor temples and now receives well over two million visitors per year. Despite this, the sheer size of the site means you'll easily be able to find a quiet spot to contemplate this true man-made wonder.
Awe inspiring is a phrase that gets way overused but is truly valid when discussing the Angkor temples. The incredible size and scale of the temple sites hidden amongst the landscape give the place a truly otherworldly feeling.