Angkor Wat. Not one of the wonders of the world, but perhaps it should be. An elaborate complex of beautiful, ancient temples that people are scrambling from all parts of the world to see. And, unlike other world-renown tourist attractions, it really is all that you expect it to be.
Sure, you have to deal with bus-loads of crazy, pushy tourists but it’s a truly awe-inspiring place – and if you’re prepared, it can make your visit even more enjoyable. Here are some things you should keep in mind before your epic visit to Angkor Wat.
1. You can’t beat the crowds – but you can beat the heat.
You’d be amazed how many people are in the temples already at the buttcrack of dawn. It’s insane! We started our trip to Angkor at 3:30AM and when we got there, it was already packed full of people waiting for the sunrise. It was actually a little comical to see hundreds of people crowded in one little huddle outside of the main temple, all waiting to get the same exact picture.
We just bypassed that photo-op and went inside. That way we were able to explore the area before the #templesunrise people got there.
It’s definitely LESS busy in the morning but there are still people… everywhere. Regardless, it’s still advantageous to visit in the morning as it is the coolest part of the day. Around noon, you’ll be so hot you’ll pretty much wish you were dead.
2. One day is enough. Usually.
You can choose between a 1 day, 3 day and 7 day pass, but honestly, 1 day is plenty of time to get your fill of the Angkor temples. Unless you are a huge history buff, you’ll probably get “templed- out” after the first day and it’s certainly possible to see everything you want to see within a 12 hour span.
3. There is a dress code.
As with most temples, you need to have your shoulders and knees covered in order to enter. Don’t make the same mistake as me and end up needing to buy cheap, tight pants that were seemingly made from Saran Wrap and sized for a tall, twiggy pre-pubescent girl (it was like using Itworks on my thighs).
Pack something thin and breathable that covers those horrendously indecent shoulders and knees. If you come in shorts and/or a tank top – believe me, they will stop you at the gate.
4. Getting tickets is a pain.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not even find the ticket stand. If you rent a tuk tuk, your driver should take you directly there, but if you walk or bike you’ll have to keep a close eye out.
Along the road to Angkor you’ll see a building that looks promising – that is NOT where you purchase tickets. Learn from our mistake! It’s only a checkpoint where, for some stupid reason, you have to stop and have your already-purchased tickets checked by the staff.
The actual ticket counter is hidden a couple miles off the main road. You should see a sign for it off to your right when heading to Angkor (about 2.5 miles before you actually get to the temples, oddly enough). You’ll turn right, and then you’ll continue for another 1.5 – 2 miles down that road until you see a huge, white building. Congratulations! You found it. And now you have to turn around and ride 4 miles in the opposite direction. What a ridiculous set up.
5. Transportation ain’t cheap.
You basically have 4 main options for touring the temples if you’re not part of an obnoxious tour group – you can rent a private car, give in to the hundreds of tuk tuk drivers begging to drive you around for the day, rent a bicycle, or walk.
A private car is of course the priciest at $35 and up.
A Tuk tuk will usually cost you $15-$25 for the day. This isn’t too expensive by Western standards, but when you’re backpacking like we are, that’s 3% of our monthly budget spent on just one tuk tuk ride. No thank you!
Your next option is to rent a bicycle. If you haven’t heard by now, you, as a tourist, cannot rent a motorbike or scooter in Siem Reap. You can, however, rent a bicycle – which is what we opted to do as it would allow us to stop and go as we pleased and would save us some money in the process.
I read online that you could rent a bike for anywhere between $1 and $5 for the day, but the first place we visited tried to charge us $10. That seemed ridiculous to me seeing as other cities will rent you a motorbike for half that cost – so we moved on and we found a small guesthouse that rented outdated bikes for $1.50.
I would seriously recommend investing in a slightly better bike than we rented unless you want a bruised butt by the end of the day – but biking around the temples is definitely doable. It’s about 4 miles from the city center to Angkor and if you go early in the morning before the sun is up (which you should) it’s an easy ride.
Walking is your last option but it’s one I wouldn’t recommend. 8 miles there and back is a bit much, and the temples themselves are spaced very far apart. Not to mention, it’s HOT in Siem Reap. Walking the whole way? Forget that noise. It is the only free option though.. so there’s that.
6. There are other temples and they ARE worth seeing.
It’s so crazy how many people come to Angkor and have no idea there are more temples to see than just Angkor Wat. What amazes me more is that they were willing to pay $37 per ticket thinking they’d only see ONE temple.
There is more to see than just Angkor Wat. Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm (hello..Tomb Raider, anyone?) and many more small temples along the way.
This is where renting a bike comes in handy – if you’re on your way to one temple and see something else that captures your interest, you can stop, look around, snap a few photos and keep going.
7. You will have to say no – A LOT.
There are locals all over the place trying to sell you guidebooks, clothes, postcards – you name it. More often than not, the people selling are children. I would recommend not buying anything from a child since this only encourages parents to keep their children out of school in order to make more money (short-term) for the family. It’s hard to say no to a kid, and some of them are extremely persistent. Just try to hold your ground.
8. It’s expensive.
Almost $40 per ticket (for 1 day) expensive. Pretty much a theme-park price. The cost was recently increased because, according to the Cambodian Tourism minister,
“We did a survey with tourists- such as at the airports – and they said Angkor is very wonderful, so the prices could be raised.”
Who are these people you surveyed and can I have their home address so I can send them hate mail? Just kidding. But with the day pass increasing from $20 to $37, only 1 month before we visited, I was pretty peeved. We don’t have a lot of money (hence the site name), and unfortunately there really is no “budget-hack” for this one. You’re free to ride/walk around and look at the outside of the temples at no cost but you’d be missing out on so much! Cambodia has something we all want… and unfortunately they know it.
Have questions about your upcoming trip to Angkor? Or do you have your own stories to share?
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And if you’re hungry for more Angkor Wat action – Watch our Angkor Wat video, here.