Angkor Wat, was easily the highlight of my trip to Cambodia. For years I’ve been fascinated by the ancient civilization of Angkor Wat. We’ve heard about it in history classes, on televisions, documentaries, and pictures. God knows how much I love temples and historical places, and to be finally stepping in Angkor Wat felt like a dream come true. Below are my tips and tricks to Angkor Wat, with hopes that it’ll help you in your future planning to Cambodia.
1. GET A THREE DAYS PASS INSTEAD OF A DAY PASS
In all honesty I wasn’t expecting Angkor Wat to be that big. I mean, I know it’s big but I wasn’t expecting it to be that big. Angkor Wat was so huge that you’ll need at least 2-3 days to cover the whole ground on tuk-tuks alone. I thought a day trip to Angkor Wat was more than suffice to see everything, but looks can be rather deceiving.
A day pass will set you back for USD 37 while a 3-days pass costs roughly USD 62. If you’re not pressed for time, I’ll advice you to get the 3-days pass as Angkor Wat can be rather overwhelming. The 3-days pass can also be used on non-consecutive days; you can take small breaks in between if you’re tired of temples. As I had to make my way to Vietnam the following week I went and got myself the day pass, which I regretted deeply because Angkor Wat was just so magical and there were so much left to see.
Tickets can be purchased easily from Angkot Wat’s office, and is non-transferable (they’ll have your picture printed on them).
2. PLAN YOUR OWN TEMPLE ITINERARY
And here’s a quick travel hack on Angkor Wat – ditch all the touristy routes and plan your own temple itineraries instead. Do your own research (please, google is absolutely free) and plan ahead the temples you want to see the most. Make full use of your time in Angkor Wat.
Generally you can mix and match the temples according to your schedule. Exploring Angkor Wat can be exhausting, and the temples can quickly burn you out. If you’re planning to take in everything it’s wise to space out betwen the visits. Angkor Wat, Central Angkor Thom (Bayon, Royal Palace, Terrace of the Elephants) and Ta Prohm are the popular ones, while smaller temples such as the Banteay Kdei are well worth exploring.
Below are the popular temple itineraries, and feel free to experiment with them. For example you can head to Ta Phrom first during sunrise, and then to Angkor Wat and straight to Bayon, or even a lunch break in between. Whichever works best for you.
THE SMALL CIRCUIT
One of the most popular route, the traditional small circuit starts from sunrise at Angkor Wat, before making a loop to Banteay Kdei, Ta Phrom (Tomb’s Raider temple), Ta Keo, through the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon and back to Angkor Wat again.
THE GRAND CIRCUIT
The Grand Circuit is generally an extension of the shorter Small Circuit, which takes a few more sites that are worth exploring. Notable main temples of the Grand Circuit are the Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup.
BEYOND ANGKOR WAT COMPLEX
Located a little out from of the Angkor Wat complex are the Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea and the Kulen Mountain. I’ve heard Beng Mealea is worth the visit.
3. HIRE A TUK-TUK FOR USD 15/DAY
The most convenient way to explore Angkor Wat is to hire a private tuk-tuks for USD15/day (can be share up to 4 people) and make your way from there. Alternatively you can rent a bike for USD 5 and cycle to Angkor Wat. Unless you don’t mind coming off like a lobster at the end of the day I’ll say get the tuk-tuk. Angkor Wat is fcking huge.
4. AVOID CROWDED TEMPLES DURING PEAK HOURS
Overcrowded temples however, is another problem. And for this exact reason I actually hated Ta Prohm to bits (the Tomb Raider’s temple) simply because there were too many crowd. Too many.
It was such a shame as Ta Prohm was absolutely stunning – with structures being overridden by massive tree growths and roots. But the bustling tourists spoiled the experience altogether, which leads to point number 2. Do your own research and build your own personal temple itinerary, that way you won’t be following the exact same route as everybody else is doing.
Quick tips : Wanna have Ta Prohm all to yourself? Cut the crowd and be there early while everybody else is waiting for the sunrise! Which leads to my next point..
5. SKIP THE SUNRISE VIEW FROM ANGKOR WAT
Totally overrated. If weather ain’t so promising, ditch the Angkor Wat sunrise altogether as a cloudy weather makes an awful sunrise. I woke up at 4.30am and waited 3 hours in the cold morning for a meagre sunrise.
If you have to see the sunrise view, be sure to position yourself in front of the lotus lake for the best view. And while you’re at it, stay for the sunset as well. I’ve been told that the best sunrise/sunset view of Angkor Wat is Angkor Wat itself (not Phnom Bakheng as the internet says. Expect lots of crowd).
6. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM THE KIDS!
They are very persistent. Very persistent. They’ll follow you to no ends, trying to sell you 10 pieces of postcards for USD 1. And while this seems like a good deal, do not buy at all cost. This will not only encourage them to beg more (or sell more) – they will ultimately skip schools to make better living by the street.
Which is a problem. You can read more on multiple scams and children exploitation in Cambodia (this is a good article). But I believe in education, and how it’s needed to transform lives, so please do not buy from them. It is also stated explicitly on your Angkot Wat ticket to not buy directly from these children. Do not give them sweets either, as this may cause jealousy among the children plus it’s bad for their teeth.
If you really want to help, reliable organization such as the UNICEF is one way you can look into. And if you find yourself swamped with kids, say a firm no and walk away. It pays to be a little heartless in this situation.
EXTRA SHOTS OF ANGKOR WAT
If I had the choice I would have definitely stayed longer in Angkor Wat. A one day pass was simply not enough (hence, the more reasons why I’m encouraging people to get the 3 days pass). Even if you’re pressed for time, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are the two must see spots.
Enough with the chatter, below are my favourite shots of Angkor Wat!
And just in case you’re wondering why I’m sporting a scarf in Cambodia, the weather was unexceptionally chilly in February for some unknown reason. While Vietnam was drenched in winter early February (with Sapa snowing the very same week) I’m not entirely sure whether Cambodia is affected by winter as it’s far down south, but hey do pack along a nice scarf and a decent sweater just in case.
Also, feel free to read my other post on Cambodia here! Till next time!