Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is not just Cambodia’s top tourist attraction, it is also home to hundreds of ancient temples and religious structures dotted throughout the huge 400 square kilometre site. Undoubtedly, Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm remain the most popular amongst tourists, attracting thousands of visitors from across the world every day. However, there are many more, less visited temples, worth leaving the well-walked tourist trail for and investing in a multi-day pass.
Here is your ultimate guide to exploring this incredible, sacred site.
Visiting Angkor Wat at dawn within the past three or four years will mean seeing the sunrise in the company of swathes of other tourists all jostling for the best position to compose the perfect photo. However, don’t let that put you off. At the same time, it’s well worth exploring the outer areas too. Then again, finding yourself a quiet spot to sit back and relax to take in the atmosphere for a moment is not a bad idea either. Remember, there is a reason so many visitors flock there, it is hard to beat the plethora of colour you will see as the sun starts peaking from behind the iconic temple’s spires. The lotus lake in front of the temple is perhaps the best place to capture the iconic shot of the sun rising behind Angkor Wat’s spires reflected in the still water.
Although many visitors may be unaware of this fact, there is much more to the park than just Angkor Wat. Just down the road, you will find Bayon and Ta Prohm temples as well as other temples and religious structures surrounding them that form the popular circuit for one-day pass holders. For those not pushed for time, investing in a three or seven-day pass is highly recommended for the full Angkor Wat experience as you will be granted access to the hundreds of other ancient sites that dot the expansive park.
The remote temples in these areas are much less visited, meaning often you can explore them entirely on your own. This, in addition to the fact that the journey to these temples will take you through deep jungle, is a truly wondrous experience in itself.
Listed below are some of the best tips on how you can make the most out of your journey into Cambodia’s ancient and fascinating past.
Tickets to Angkor Wat
Upon entering the park you will need to buy a pass. There are three different pass options on offer, 1 day, 3 days and even a 7 day pass to choose between. Current costs for the passes are $37, $62 and $72, respectively.
The seven-day passes are the most appealing to history enthusiasts and those dedicated to exploring the wider area within the park. One-day passes are the most popular, offering enough time to take in the major temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
If the Indiana Jones spirit has taken over and you feel like getting off the beaten track, a 3-day pass is just for you. Three days ensures there’s plenty of time to head into the heart of the jungle and explore additional ruined temples away from the crowds. This pass allows three separate visits that may be used over the space of a week, coupled with a little time in between to relax.
Moreover, further afield there are numerous temples that are certainly worth visiting, such as Banteay Srei, Koh Ker, Beng Mealea, Phnom Krom and Kbal Spean.
There are several ways to tour Angkor, for example, tuk-tuks and private tours being by far the most popular.
As soon as you land in Siem Reap, countless tuk-tuk drivers will offer to take you to tour the temples. You needn’t worry as there’s no shortage of vehicles along with drivers keen to be of service. As well as choosing a driver from the street, most hotels and guesthouses are also happy to make transport arrangements for you. A tuk-tuk should cost around $20-30, depending on how good your bartering skills are.
Private vehicles and taxis can also take guests around the park. These may be booked via travel agents or the staff at your hotel in Siem Reap. More recently, concerns have been raised over the pollution from vehicles entering the park, so please consider the environment and the preservation of the site when booking your transport.
A more environmentally friendly way to get around is to hire an electric bike or car. These are found at the front of Angkor Wat temple itself. If you are heading to the more remote temples you may find that a car is the most suitable and comfortable option for the journey.
Bicycles are another fantastic option. Siem Reap city has many bike hire centres where you can hire one for as little as $1 a day. Angkor Wat is approximately 6 kilometres from Siem Reap centre. Always remember to take plenty of water with you. It’s also worth mentioning that while water is sold by stalls in the park, you’ll pay much more inside the park than it normally costs outside.
Helicopter and hot air balloon rides are exceptional ways to experience the temples from above. Visitors on a higher budget or anyone who craves that once in a lifetime kind of adventure are likely to jump at the chance of an opportunity like this. Both helicopter and hot air balloon rides are run from within the park, however, restrictions prevent anything or anyone from flying directly above Angkor Wat itself.
Should I get a guide?
Finding your way around Angkor Wat can easily be done alone. However, the benefit of having the assistance of a knowledgeable tour guide not only makes your day more interesting and informative but also contributes to the local economy.
Guides can be hired for about $20 a day from a tour operator in Siem Reap or at the entrance to the site. It is a good idea to make sure they hold a registered license issued by the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism before hiring them. Tips will be much appreciated as wages for almost all occupations are relatively low.
If you want to travel on your own, it’s worth spending a bit of time doing some research or investing in a comprehensive guidebook, sold virtually everywhere around the temple complex.
When should I Visit Angkor Wat?
If you want to avoid the crowds, then get one step ahead of the masses! After sunrise, most of the visitors will spend the first couple of hours exploring Angkor followed by a visit to Bayon and then onto Ta Prohm. A reasonably effective way to avoid the crowds is to head straight to Ta Prohm after sunrise, then onto Bayon, finally ending at AngkorWat.
Avoiding the crowds completely is close to impossible when visiting Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
If you want to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, essentially there is no possible way to avoid the masses of people who flock there.
If you want to enjoy the sunset at Angkor, then Phnom Bakheng is a popular spot, but then again, that’s where the crowds will be. A quieter and generally more serene location is Pre Rup. It’s worth noting that if you buy a one-day pass after 4.30pm, you can enjoy access to the temples for sunset as well as the whole of the next day.
No matter how you choose to visit Angkor, when you come and which temples you choose to see, the experience is guaranteed not to leave you disappointed.