Angkor Wat is one of my favorite travel destinations in Asia. It is a massive area only 10km north of Siem Reap’s Pub Street and requires 1-3 days devoted entirely to seeing the ruins.
Angkor Wat itself, is the main temple that everyone goes to see. It is so famous that it is on the Cambodian currency and almost singlehandedly supports a booming tourism business in Cambodia.
There are few things in the world that will get a backpacker up before dawn, but Angkor Wat managed to drag Jess and I out of bed at 4:30am in order to catch our Tuk Tuk at 5:00am. To get that perfect shot we bumbled along through the darkness with hundreds of other tuk tuks, followed flashlight beams to the base of Angkor Wat and then stood for an hour and a half while the sun began to earn our attention and our camera lenses.
Aside from Angkor Wat there are tons of other ruins and sites worth seeing. Most of them give you a unique opportunity to walk amongst the ruins … I have never been to a place so ancient, where you can actually walk in, through, and on the ruins. You will get up close and personal, stand where they filmed Tomb Raider, and see how nature has completely grown ind intertwined with the ancient ruins. It’s awesome!
Finding the right Tuk Tuk Driver – You will probably get a tuk tuk driver from the bus/train station to where you are staying in Siem Reap. That driver will try to get you to agree on using him as your tuk tuk driver at Angkor Wat. Unless you know exactly what you’re going to do and when you want to go I wouldn’t agree to anything.
Get into your hotel/hostel first and figure out what you actually want to see at Angkor Wat. Once you know where you want to go and how many days you want to spend, then you can start bartering with a driver. Many hostels/hotels have trusted drivers as well … you usually better off using them.
Cover Your Shoulders (ladies) – At Bayon, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm Kel they wanted girls to cover their shoulders. I’m not sure why these temples are deemed more important and required a dress code over the others. It was rather annoying for those people who had to hike up trails, climb steep stairs, and then sit in the sun for hours with sweatshirts on – it’s really hot in Cambodia! Basically, just take something light that can cover your shoulders (light scarves can work)… they do check and will continually remind those who try to push the rules.
Entrance Fee to Ruins – You can pick either a 1 day pass ($20), 2-3 Day pass ($40) or a 7-day pass ($60) and tickets will give you access to the park after 5pm the day before (so you can see the sunset). I saw everything I wanted to see in one day, but it was an exhaustingly long day (13 hours) starting with the sunrise at Angkor Wat and ending around the sunset.
The US Dollar – US dollars are preferred in Cambodia. Everywhere accepts USD and Cambodian Riel. Many times, if you pay in USD they will give you change in Riel.
1 USD = 4,000 Riel
Things to do:
First – Pick Your Tour:
Mini Tour: About a 4 hour loop of temples (Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kidei, Ta Keo, Angkor Thom and Bayon).
Grand Tour: An additional 4 hour loop (Angkor Wat, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Khan, Bayon and Angkor Thom).
Extended Tour: These are usually added on separately to the tour. They add 2 hours driving time (by Tuk Tuk) to get to them because they are 37-50 km away from Siem Reap. These include Bateay Srey, Phnom Kulen, and Kbai Spean.
1. Angkor Wat –
Definitely see the sunrise and plan on getting there early .. seeing the sunrise was my favorite travel experience in Asia.
2. Ta Prohm –
This is the main site where Tomb Raider was filmed. You get right into the temple and can see up close and personal how the ruins are being taken over by the surrounding jungle.
3. Pre Rup –
I really liked this one. You climb some super steep stairs and get on top of the temple for a good view of the jungle and ruins below.
4. Preah Kahn –
This is a super long temple filled with corridors, collapsed hallways, arches, and ancient ruins. It’s another great temple to really get inside and imagine what used to be there centuries ago.
5. Angkor Thom –
Definitely the 2nd most popular temple (behind Angkor Wat). Angkor Thom is a huge complex. You can climb to the top of Bayon Temple first and then visit Angkor Thom. This one is one of the better preserved temples, one of the highest, and one of the biggest. It will most likely be your last temple of the day, unless you go on to see the sunset.
6. Bayon Temple –
Within the Angkor Thom Complex, this temple is huge. You climb incredibly steep steps to get to the top and there is a bit of a dress code. They also don’t let kids in under a certain age (sorry, I can’t remember … maybe 12 years old?).
7. Banteay Srey –
I believe they call this temple the Temple of Ladies or something. It kind of sucks though and is 37 km north of Siem Reap. I wouldn’t recommend adding it because it’s so far out, cost more money, and it isn’t one of the best temples.
8. Kbai Spean –
This is actually a waterfall 49 km north of Siem Reap. Plan on paying extra, taking an hour (one way) to get there, climbing 1.5km by foot up a mountain, and then being disappointed by a pathetic trickle of a stream. Unless you’re going for the hike (which is actually a fun hike up a steep river bed), don’t go to Kbai Spean to see the rock carvings … it’s kinda lame.
9. Ta Prohm Kel –
This is the temple that many people like to see the sunset from. GO EARLY! They only let 300 people on the temple during the sunset and another 300 people at the base of it. We got there at 4:30 (sunset was around 6-6:30) and we just barely beat the rush. We decided to leave early though and by 5pm (we were walking back down) there was a mass exodus of tourists frantically trying to climb the mountain and get a good spot. At the time it was almost comical how many people were going to be out of luck.