When we went: July
Weather: Hot, humid and rained in the late afternoon (1600)
How we got there: Booked a private tour (car) from our hotel
Money: Visa credit card was accepted for tickets and official gift shop. USD and local currency used for car, tip, and snacks purchased.
Craziest things that happened: Honestly, when our driver would pop out of no where just when we decided we were ready to go.
Chances are that if you’re heading to Cambodia and plan on being in Siem Reap, you’re going to Angkor Wat. If not, we 100% recommend you change your schedule and make this it happen.
Angkor was the Hindu (originally) capital city of the Khmer Empire. There are said to be over 1000 temples in the city ruins and it is believed to be the largest single religious monument in the world. The beautiful Khmer architecture is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
0730-1730. Special considerations: Angkor Wat & Sras Srang are open for sunrise views (0500 to 0530), as is Phnom Bakheng & Pre Rup temples (0500-0700). The sunrise tour was specifically not recommended to us, so we opted out of this option.
You can buy these tickets at Angkor Enterprise ticket office, next to the museum from 0500 to 1730. (Prices as of Jan 2020). Don’t lose your ticket!
One day $37 USD
3 Days $62 USD
7 Days $72 USD
Free for children under 12 years old
Bring water: at least 2 water bottles a person if you are riding in a car with aircon. We went through more, but we also get cranky when we are dehydrated.
Cover your shoulders and knees. This is a religious site and modesty is expected.
Wear comfortable shoes. These floors and steps are not up to code and you don’t want to roll an ankle because you wore flip flops.
Watch your step: see above. Please, now is not the time to check Facebook.
How to get there:
There are a lot of options. You can rent a car and drive yourself around, you can hire a driver, or you can book a tour. We took the easy way out: we scheduled our driver through our hotel. We had the option of a cyclo (Cambodia’s version of a tuk-tuk) or a car. We decided on the car because we went in the dead heat of summer and knew we would need an oasis of air conditioning between temple viewings. Our hotel arranged for our transport and we decided on a 0600 pickup.
How long should you go:
Most tours and local guides recommend 2 days, but to be honest we can only do some much temple hopping per trip and decided for the one day tour. We actually have a friend that flew in and out of Siem Reap on the same day and still got to see all the temples her heart could take.
Most tours suggest a small circuit or a large circuit. The small circuit is of Angkor Wat itself and some of the very close surrounding temples, while the larger tour takes you on the outer ring of temples. We booked the “large” circuit, which got us 8 hours of driving and then customized our plan to include some of the temples that are in the small circuit.
As mentioned, we opted for a one day tour. Because it was a private tour we were able to adjust the package and do a combination circuit tour. We started at 0600 with a pick up from our hotel and then went to buy our entrance tickets. The ticket area is its own complex in itself and very accommodating to large crowds. The complex has bathrooms, a souvenir shop, and a café. We lucked out by skipping the sunrise tour and were the only people buying tickets at 0610.
We purchased 1 day tickets. Your picture is taken and placed on the ticket. Make sure you don’t lose this ticket as you have to show this to the “guards” in front of every single temple you visit. If you lose the ticket there is no replacement and you have to go back and purchase a new one (as we were lucky enough to witness this happen).
We decided to go to the souvenir shop before continuing on so we wouldn’t have to backtrack.
We didn’t do the sunrise viewing at Angkor Wat. We love sunrises, but are more mountain sunrise kinda people (read: no crowds). Our tactic of going at 0600 and missing the sunrise crowd worked very well for us. We were some of the first to arrive at Angkor Wat post-sunrise and finished our self-guided tour of the temple in time to watch the first batch of (HUGE) tour bus groups arrive and start to unload (and then instruct our driver to step on it!)
Even during the day, Angkor Wat is a must see. This 12th century temple is the best-preserved in the complex. Cambodia takes a lot of pride in this temple and you can find its image on their national flag. You can spend hours here just exploring its grounds. Upon first look you see the outer enclosure and the northern library. We looked at the library from a distance. As we continued to walk, there were a lot of people offering tours and taking photos. We paid someone a dollar to take our photo on our camera for us. There are also a lot of people trying to entice you to come to their restaurant or shop just to the side of the temple’s complex.
You then make your way into the central structure. We tried to make it around each layer before moving upward (there are three tiers). We ended by climbing to the top, where you want to be sure of your footing. The skinny stairs upward are very steep and are more daunting on the way down. After about 90 minutes we walked back to our driver. How we found him in the sea of cars, shops, and people is beyond our comprehension. Alas, we got some coffee and off we went.
Next up we went to Angkor Thom and visited Bayon. You cannot miss seeing the smiling stone faces here. Although this started as a Hindu temple, like the other temples in the complex it changed through the years to support the religion of the succeeding kings (Buddhism). We lucked out and got to visit this section without a lot of people and we were finished in about 45 minutes or so. We happened to find some nice paintings here of the stone faces and now proudly display them in frames that cost more than double what we paid for the paintings themselves. But hey, they look awesome.
Ta Prom was as cool as the pictures lead you to believe, but holy moly is it crowded. After we waiting in line for our picture with the famous tree-growing-on-temple we immediately went out the back to look around in a less crowded area. It was so crowded here we had trouble getting out of the temple. We stayed for about 15 minutes total and told our driver we were ready to get away from the crowds. Definitely recommend, but just be aware that a can of sardines have more room than you will.
Other temples (in no particular order)
Pre Rup: where the climb is a rough one in the unforgiving sun, but definitely worth it. This is where we found someone had lost their ticket. A monk was tying blessed strings on tourists. Although we wanted to take part, we didn’t really want to wait in the growing line.
East Mebon: make sure you check out the elephants at the corners of the temple. They are in great condition.
Ta Som was a great visit, we happened to run into a very nice police officer that decided he wanted to take us around and take our pictures for us. This worked out to our advantage as we got some great photos and a mini tour of the coolest places to take photos. We ended up giving our “guide” about $1-2 USD. It’s definitely a weird position to be in as you don’t want to offend an officer and tell him you don’t want pictures. To that end we didn’t want to end up offending him by not giving him a small “gift”. Just make sure you are aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Reflecting pools of Preah Neak Pean: it’s a long walk down the wooden path, but we definitely recommend checking it out. During our visit the path was dry and it was a hot walk.
Preah Khan is similar to Ta Prom, but much quieter. Take your time here. We were able to walk all the way through and back around and our driver picked us up on the other entrance. It was there that we were able to pick up another beautiful painting. There are quite a few people trying to sell you something and the children, as cute as they are, don’t give up and will try to block your path to get you to buy things.
These were the major temples we visited and we recommend. We stopped at a handful more that were recommended by our driver. We were lucky that our driver was happy to tell us what temples we had to see and which ones we should skip. The sights are beautiful, but after noon we all became very tired (some of us a bit crabby even though well hydrated) and were ready for a nap. We ended up tapping out around 5.5/6 hours and started back for our hotel. We went through about 3 water bottles per person and also brought a lunch, but you definitely have places near Angkor Wat where you could buy lunch. As we left, we grabbed some ice cream to end the day.
Don’t forget you always have the option of hiring an actual tour guide to give you facts and during your explorations, but we preferred the self-guided option that allowed us to speed up or slow down any part of the day.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, a two day tour might be more up your alley, but we were very happy with our one day tour and then spent the rest of our time exploring Siem Reap.
Tell us about your favorite part of visiting Angkor in the comments!