Ta Prohm & Small Circuit: Angkor Wat’s Temples

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit

Visiting Ta Prohm & Small Circuit

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit temples in Angkor Wat’s vast complex contain some of the most popular stops. You’ll see Laura Croft’s Tomb Raider temple. I may have watched the movie on the plane ride to Cambodia. And then I may have made Steve watch it again with me after visiting Ta Prohm to see if we could recognize the places Laura went. 

Now that it’s clear what a geek I am, this guide focuses on the Small Circuit temples, but check out more visiting details for the central temple, Angkor Wat.

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit can be completed in a day or spread over several days if you want to explore temples in more depth. We bought a three-day pass that allowed us to enter the overall temple complex for five days.  

So you can tailor your visit to the Small Circuit to fit your interests and time frame. This guide gives you an overview of the circuit and tips to make the most of your visit. 

It’s hard to imagine how magnificent this entire region looked in its heyday, so we watched a couple of documentaries for a better idea. Just type “Angkor Wat documentary” into your search engine, and you’ll find many solid selections.

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Ta Prohm Trees

Background and History of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. It was built in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II. 

Many of the complex’s temples have intricate carvings and bas-reliefs depicting Hindu cosmology and mythology. Angkor Wat and the surrounding city were initially Hindu places of worship. But as the culture shifted to Buddhism, the temples shifted too. So you’ll find a mix of Hindu and Buddhist symbolism throughout your exploration.

  • Hindu example: Churning of the Milk depictions at Angkor Wat, the entrance gates to Angkor Thom, and carvings at Bayon
  • Buddhist example: the faces at Bayon represent Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

In reality, the region we call Angkor (Wat) was a vast kingdom dominating much of SE Asia. With more than a million inhabitants, more people lived here than in Paris or London at the time. 

While the region was partially abandoned in 1431 when the country’s capital moved to Phnom Penh, it was only forgotten by the outside world. Angkor Wat continued receiving pilgrimages and had a Buddhist monastery for centuries. Our Angkor Wat tour guide even studied there.

Significance of the Small Circuit

The Small Circuit is a series of temples in the area surrounding Ta Prohm, arguably one of the most famous temples in the entire Angkor complex. Some of its temples and structures remain unfinished and the jungle is actively trying to reclaim other structures.

Buddha at Banteay Kdei

Planning your Visit to Ta Prohm & Small Circuit

Here are a few things to keep in mind during your visit(s) to Ta Prohm & Small Circuit.

When to Visit

Visit early in the morning, before crowds arrive and the temperature rises. I consider hats and sunglasses a necessity. And think about carrying a sun umbrella or parasol too.

Our tour guide mentioned that in 2019 a couple of thousand people gathered daily for the sunrise at Angkor Wat. But in 2022, only about 300 people per day showed up. However, we opted to sleep in because the weather forecast showed clouds on the days we thought we’d wake early. 

But seeing the sunrise over Angkor Wat is a big deal. So schedule it if your weather cooperates.

Official Website: https://www.angkorenterprise.gov.kh/

Open Hours Vary By Temple: 

  • Angkor Wat and Srah Srang 5:00 am to 5:30 pm (open for sunrise)
  • Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup Temple 5:00 am to 7:00 pm (open for sunrise and sunset)
  • Other temples are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. 

Check with your driver or the official website for up-to-date information about opening times for the temple you’re visiting.

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to Ta Prohm & Small Circuit is to walk out of your hotel. You’ll get bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers wanting to show you around. And most hotels offer tours to the villages, so ask at your front desk.

It costs about $20 per day for the driver. First, he takes you to buy tickets, then to the temples, where he’ll wait to drive you to the following site, to lunch, or back to your hotel. 

Many tuk-tuk drivers have laminated menus of local attractions. You’ll find them tucked into the roof, so point to one of the pictures if you have a language barrier. Most drivers speak a little English, so you’ll be fine.

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Banteay Kdei

Our Favorite Tuk-tuk Drivers

We met two drivers who we worked with our entire time in Siem Reap. Mr. Nhor Chea met us at the bus station on our arrival and took us to our hotel. We liked him so much that we booked him to tour the Angkor Wat temple complex for five days. 

Then we met Mr. Thet on a short trip to a grocery store. And he later took us out to the Floating Village.

Reach Mr. Chea on What’s App at +855 12 666 545.

Reach Mr. Thet on What’s App at +855 69 419 614.

What To Wear To Visit The Small Circuit Temples

As with every temple, dress appropriately with knees, bellies, and shoulders covered.

  • No tank tops or strapless tops
  • No off-the-shoulders or low necklines.
  • No crop tops showing the stomach or back.
  • No shorts or leggings.
  • No mini-skirts.

I left the hotel in shorts one morning, but Mr. Chea sent me back to change. I wasn’t even wearing short shorts, but modest Bermuda-length was still inappropriate. Don’t worry if you make it past your tuk-tuk driver but still get stopped at the temple entrance because you can buy a wrap-around scarf/skirt from a nearby stall.

While the women’s dress code remains strict, men have fewer clothing restrictions at temples in Cambodia and SE Asia. So Steve wore shorts every day, as did most men.

  • Wear a shirt with sleeves (short or long is okay), but no tank tops.
  • No disrespectful sayings, images, or slogans on T-shirts
  • Preferably no ripped or torn clothing
  • Longer shorts are better. To the knees or long pants are best.
Stone loses to Tree

Ticket Information For Angkor Wat Archaeological Park: 

We don’t suggest buying your tickets online, even though there’s a link on the official website. Instead, your driver will take you to the Ticket Center building. There are maybe 40-50 ticket booths, so it goes quickly. 

  • Don’t buy tickets from a third party, as they’ll be invalid.
  • The Ticket Center is open daily from 5:00 am – 5:30 pm. And tickets purchased after 4:45 pm are valid for entry starting the next day.
  • They take your picture and print it on your ticket.

There are three ticket options. Here are the costs, but you can read below for more details:

  • 1 Day = $37
  • 3 Days = $62 (Entries valid for ~ 9 days)
  • 7 Days = $72 (Entries valid for ~ 1 month)

When we visited in November 2022, you got extra days for your purchase. So a one-day ticket allowed you to enter on three separate days. We purchased the three-day ticket and entered the temple complexes over five days. 

I don’t know if extra days are standard or only happening since they’re opening up again after Covid-19. But, if you have time, a three-day pass (five entries) was perfect. 

Our entry date was 19-11-2022, and our expiry date was 28-11-2022. So we took days off to explore Siem Reap and watch documentaries to learn about Angkor Wat.

Hiring  A Guide

We recommend hiring a guide, especially for Angkor Wat. Of course, you can hire guides for each temple individually or work with the same guide for all your visits. 

If you hire a guide on-site, choose one in a pink shirt since they have official training. It costs about $20 for Angkor Wat alone.

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Taking Each Other’s Pictures Inside Banteay Kdei

Tips for an Enjoyable Experience

Here are a few tips for having your best experience at Angkor Wat’s Grand Circuit.

  • Purchasing a lanyard to slip your ticket into and easily hang around your neck is a good idea. We saw several people doing so and wished we’d considered it ahead. You show your ticket at multiple checkpoints, so keeping track of it is essential. We kept our tickets inside our pocket guidebook, but I always worried about losing them.
  • Bring a bottle or two of cold water. 
  • When you get hot, stop and rest. As basic as it sounds, the heat feels overwhelming. So drink water, then relax in the shade.
  • We spent 3-5 hours per day visiting temples. Longer days included a lunch break at one of the many nearby restaurants.

Exploring Ta Prohm & Small Circuit

Even in the Small Circuit, we skipped some temple sites. This is because too many of them exist, even with five viewing days. So pick and choose which temples are the most important for your visit.

Image Credit: Angkor-travels.com

The Small Circuit

Here are the prominent temples in the Small Circuit. 

  • Ta Prohm
  • Sra Srang
  • Ta Nei
  • Ta Keo
  • Banteay Kdei
  • Chau Say Tevoda
  • Thommanon
  • Spean Thmor

What to See and Do at Each Small Circuit Temple

Since it’s challenging to see EVERYTHING, I’ll focus on the main highlights of Small Circuit temples. Here you’ll find information about the cultural and historical significance of the temples. Or the don’t-miss Instagram photo spots.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm was high on my visit list of temples. As I mentioned above, I rewatched Tomb Raiders to catch a glimpse of the spots where Laura Croft traveled. But honestly, it was still hard to tell the exact spots. 

Several wooden decks lie in front of the vast tree roots cloaking the temple walls. It’s a good guess that one of these decks marks Laura’s spots. It wasn’t super important for us to know exactly where they shot the movie scenes, but if it is to you, hire a guide. 

Laura Croft site?

Ta Prohm looks like the jungle desperately wants to swallow it back up. The constant juxtaposition of human-made structures being gobbled whole by nature amazed both me and Steve. 

This temple’s very wildness represents how Angkor looked when the first Europeans found the complex. Well, except for the aforementioned wooden deck/Instagram spots. Our guidebook rather poetically captured my feelings when visiting Ta Prohm.

There is a poetic cycle to this venerable ruin, with humanity first conquering nature to rapidly create, and nature once again conquering humanity to slowly destroy. If Angkor Wat is testimony to the genius of the ancient Khmers, Ta Prohm reminds us equally of the awesome fecundity and power of the jungle.

Lonely Planet Pocket Siem Reap & Temples of Angkor

Trees dwarfing the temple

Exploring Ta Prohm & Small Circuit

Inscriptions at the Buddhist temple say the building began in 1186 as a memorial to King Jayavarman VII’s mother. It was originally known as Rajavihara or Monastery of the King. 

Another inscription stele says 80,000 people maintained and attended royals at the temple. There were more than 2700 officials and 615 dancers. Just for one temple inside Angkor! That gives an idea of how massive the city was.

Today the temple’s partially restored structure still has crumbled stone piles everywhere. It’s more like giant stone cubes balancing precariously. It’s raw and wild.

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Crumbling Stone at Ta Prohm

Enormous trees grow inside, on top of, and around walls. Bas-reliefs have moss coverings. And the whole area feels somewhat mystical. I can completely understand why film crews chose this location. 

Come early in the morning for the fewest crowds. We arrived after lunch, and if we didn’t know better, we’d think several tour buses unloaded their passengers at the same time we walked up. It gets crowded, even in November 2022, as Cambodian tourism is getting going again after Covid.

But I did see this beautiful tourist. And after I showed her this picture I snapped, she asked me to take a couple using her phone. It was nice to connect for a moment while we both enjoyed our surroundings. She was wise carrying so much water!

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Ta Prohm Tourist

Sra Srang

Srah Srang is located across the road from the east entrance of Banteay Kdei. It was built at the end of the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. Srah Srang is a large lake used as a bathing pool for the king and his consorts.

There’s a tiny island in the middle that at one time held a wooden temple. A platform in the shape of a cross with serpent balustrades leads to the pond. Two lions flank it alongside an enormous Garuda riding a three-headed serpent. 

Many visitors come here for the sunrise, but we (of course) did not wake up that early!

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Trees taking over

Ta Keo

This monument was built by Jayavarman V and dedicated to Shiva, but it was never finished either. It’s made entirely of sandstone, which was hard to carve and probably explains the temple’s plainness. An inscription says it was struck by lightning, a bad omen, and could be why construction stopped.  

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei is a huge Buddhist monastery built in the late 12th century. As with many of the structures here, we started recognizing the layout. 

  • Four identical-sized walls
  • Four entrances are guarded by garudas (Hindu demigods) with the four faces of Avalokiteshvara (Buddhist “Lord who looks down with compassion”) atop them.
  • Matching baptismal or cleansing pools astride the entrance path inside the gate.

Banteay Kdei’s central tower’s original construction remained unfinished, even in its prime. Additionally, the structure’s hasty build led to lower construction quality, so much of it is falling in on itself.  

Ta Prohm & Small Circuit
Big Smiles at Ta Prohm

Check Out These Guidebooks

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. This page contains affiliate links, so if you choose to purchase after clicking a link, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. We appreciate you supporting us in this small way.

We used this pocket guide every day onsite at the temples of Angkor. And we found it invaluable. The National Geographic Traveler book is another one we took to Cambodia and referred to often.

Summary of Ta Prohm & Small Circuit Experience

There was something thrilling in visiting “Laura Croft’s temple.” It was one of my favorite temples in all of Angkor. Ta Prohm is a must-see temple in the Angkor Wat complex. 

We found viewing treasures at each site, and although we developed a bit of tourist weariness, I’m thrilled for the chance to visit this fantastic place.


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