There are two tours that you can do in Siem Reap. One is the small circuit tour. I did it the day before this one which you can read here. The other one is the grand circuit tour. For most people, one day of temple-hopping is already enough. The three most popular temples which I am coining as “The Big Three”, namely Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom, can be toured in a single day and are part of the small circuit tour.
On the other hand, the grand circuit tour consists of lesser known temples in Siem Reap. The list of temples that you may visit within the day is not set on stone; you may opt to choose other temples of your own liking. However, they may require additional payment since some of the temples that are not included in the standard list are located outside the city. I almost did not go on this tour because I was too tired resulting from the small circuit tour. Good thing that I went anyway.
While these temples are not as magnificent and overwhelming as the “Big Three”, they certainly have features that are unique to them. Most of them offer something that the other temples don’t. The best thing is? They don’t attract huge crowds like the “Big Three” temples do.
I started my day late that day as I needed time to recuperate after a long hard day touring the Big Three. I leisurely sipped my coffee like I should be doing on a vacation/time-off from work.
On most occasions however, I gulp it down as I normally rush to get to my scheduled activity for the day. What a shame! The breakfast was also nice. On top of it all, I had a relaxing time at the pool. I enjoyed swimming for the better part of my morning.
The main temples of the Grand Circuit Tour are: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup. The first stop of my tour is Preah Khan.
The name of the temple means “sacred sword” and was dedicated to the father of Jayavarman VII. In comparison, Ta Phrom was dedicated to his mother which explains the similarities of the two sites.
It has a West and an East entrance and it would be advisable for you to tell your driver to wait for you on the other side to save you the time and effort from walking back. There is also a photogenic tree that resembles the one in Ta Phrom without the never-ending lines and the busloads of tourists taking pictures. This is a highly-recommended visit!
The next stop of the tour is the Neak Pean, an artificial island temple built in the middle of a baray or reservoir. It functioned as a hospital within a central island temple surrounded by a sacred lake believed to cure all illnesses.
Most of the people going to the temple traverse a 500 meter wooden walkway over the water which offers great scenery of the ponds. It was a nice change from going to the temples using stairs.
This is the most popular of the first three temples. It is a compact temple with a much preserved wall carvings. It is the third temple built by Jayavarman VII and it is considered as a satellite temple of Preah Khan.
It also features a photogenic tree. Just make sure you go to the very back of the temple. It’s easy to miss if you are in a hurry. I would have missed it if I were not following any people walking towards it. This is the most populated site out of the three but it has much less people than the temples in the small circuit tour.
This temple was built on East Baray or an ancient Angkorian reservoir which has since dried up. The temple is a deviation from other temples because it is made up of bricks instead of stones. It is not as steep as the other temples because it sits on a loose soil and softer foundation.
It is unique with the elephant statues located in the corners of the temple which act as temple guardians. It is one of the two temples on the Big Circuit Tour that offer sunset viewpoints, the other of which is the next stop, Pre Rup Temple.
Pre Rup Temple
The last stop for the tour is the Pre Rup Temple. It is similar to the East Mebon in the sense that it is also made up of bricks and a sunset viewpoint. At about 12 meters in height, it offers 360 degree panorama of the forested countryside.
However, the steps are very steep which requires a great deal of fitness and patience to climb.
This concluded my temple-hopping in Siem Reap. This place makes me imagine how great of an empire the Angkor kingdom was. It is truly a place of gods, full of wonder and mystique.