Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, with its stunning temple ruins dating back between the 9th and 15th centuries, is considered a bucket list travel destination for travelers all over the globe.
It’s #1 on TripAdvisor’s 2015 Travelers’ Choice list for the top landmark in the world to visit. The 400 square kilometer temple complex became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. It has gone from attracting just thousands of visitors each year to welcoming millions of sightseers!
Chances are you’ve traveled a long way to see the temple complex! So, here are tips to help you ace an Angkor Wat visit.
Should I rent a tuk-tuk or a bike?
From your accommodations in Siem Reap, and aside from a large tour bus, you have 2 main options for visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, tuk-tuk or bike.
Yes, both are widely available. Bikes are cheaper for sure…but, honestly, I couldn’t believe it when I saw people riding bikes!
Cambodia is the HOTTEST place I’ve ever experienced. Seriously, it’s the sun on steroids! Temperatures are rarely below 80 degrees and are typically up in the 90-105 degree range. It’s not a dry heat either. You are hot and sticky all-of-the-time because the humidity is easily 100%. The people I saw riding bikes were red-faced from the heat and sporting (un)healthy sunburns.
Ok, to put this in perspective, Angkor Wat is a few miles from Siem Reap. From there, temples are spread out across deceptively long stretches of road. Obviously, there’s the ride back to town when you are done for the day. All of this exertion doesn’t include the climbing at each temple. There are flights of stairs, often requiring hands and feet to climb because of the steepness or wide space between steps.
Unless you are in extremely amazing shape and think hot yoga for 7-8 consecutive hours sounds awesome, hire a tuk-tuk!
Hotels and guesthouses have tuk-tuks on standby outside. They can be hired for as little as $15 a day to see Angkor Wat and the temples nearby. To see temples further out, like Banteay Srey, the Roulous Group, and Beng Mealea, prices can vary between $20-$35 for the entire day.
Guides can also take you out to the countryside to places like Phnom Kulen where you can see and experience authentic Cambodian life.
TIP: Be sure to communicate with your driver about where he’ll be waiting for you. Some temples have different entry and exit points. Maps are not helpful because many of the temples have numerous passageways to walk through. It’s easy to get turned around and not remember where to go. Knowing whether it’s the north or south gate is crucial to avoid long walks from gate to gate to find your tuk-tuk.
Should I buy a 1-day or 3-day Pass?
A 1-day pass to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex costs $20. A 3-day Pass costs $40.
If you are not into history and ancient ruins, a 1-day pass might be enough for you.
If you plan to visit more than just Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm (and you should explore more than these 3!), buy the 3-day pass. Some of my favorite temples, like East Mebon, Banteay Srey, and Beng Mealea, were the ones I saw on the 2nd and 3rd days!
Temple fatigue is real. If you try to race through too many temples in a day, you won’t know what you’re looking at after a while. The heat is also no joke. It can sap you of your energy making it nearly impossible to enjoy the ruins.
An important thing to note as well, a 3-day pass is good for a week’s time period. This means you don’t need to do 3 consecutive days of temple visits if you have extra time in Siem Reap.
Visiting Angkor Wat soon?
When is the best time of day to visit the temples?
Morning. No! Early morning is best. Seeing the sunrise over Angkor Wat is a must.
This means a 4:30 a.m start to arrive in time to find a good spot in front of the crowd.
TIP: Wherever you stand, be sure it’s at the foot of the water. If there is even an inch of space between you and the water, you can bet someone will try to stand in front of you! Once you get to your spot, don’t move until you’ve captured all your shots. Chances are you won’t be able to return to that spot.
If you’ve seen the sunrise already, still plan to start your days as early as you can. The park opens at 5:00 a.m. so set your alarm and get going!
Mornings are “cooler,” with the searing sun not quite at full strength yet.
Avoid the crowds! Fewer people (relatively speaking) will be out in the early morning. You might even ask your tuk-tuk driver to visit the circuit of temples planned for the day in reverse order. You’ll end up avoiding the large tour bus groups going from one temple to the next.
Should I hire a guide?
You can hire a local guide by reserving one in advance or by hiring one at the entrance to the main temples, like Angkor Wat. Tripadvisor lists plenty of highly rated tour guides. You could learn more about the history and facts of the temples. Keep in mind, though, guide fees are in addition to the price set between you and your tuk-tuk driver for transportation.
The answer depends on your budget and how in-depth you would like to go in learning about each temple. I found that by reading a bit ahead of time and reading about the temples after seeing them, I learned a lot about the history and architecture.
What should I wear?
First and foremost, it’s important to remember these are temples. They are former places of Hindu and Buddhist worship. Dress appropriately. Temples require long pants or a long skirt and covered shoulders.
You should plan on wearing sturdy shoes like sneakers or sports sandals. Climbing can be difficult with flip-flops or basic sandals and downright slippery during and after an afternoon downpour.
Bring a hat or something to shield you from the sun. It’s unrelenting! There aren’t (m)any shady spots to take cover while exploring the ruins. I packed my hat and it quickly became indispensable!
Plan to carry a backpack or small bag. You won’t want anything too heavy, but you should definitely plan to carry water, snacks, and extra sunscreen.
TIP: Other items to consider carrying…hand sanitizer and toilet paper or tissues, for obvious reasons!
Is it safe?
Yes. There are likely to be groups of other tourists around and many of the temples have security guards. As with any place, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. While visiting Bakong, I found myself at the top of the temple, with a local woman who at first appeared “official”, but wasn’t, eyeing both my camera and iPhone. I simply trusted my gut that this woman wasn’t entirely on the up and up and headed back down the Temple. A potential headache avoided.
Around the temples, expect to find many Cambodians trying to sell you cold drinks, guidebooks, and other souvenirs. It was especially hard to turn away the countless children shouting “Laaaadddyy! You buy 10 postcards for $1?” They were persistent, even walking alongside me to my tuk-tuk counting out each of the 10 postcards one-by-one, but never threatening in any way.
So, what have I missed? What are your tips to help ace an Angkor Wat visit?
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