Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park are somewhere that I cannot recommend visiting enough, seriously, just go there. I have spent the last ten years stepping through ancient cultures in Asia but this is something truly special, the minute I walked onto the path towards Angkor Wat and looked towards this massive stone temple I had a chill up my spine that lasted for hours.
Wandering around the ancient stone temple I couldn’t help wondering what it would have been like in its heyday, buzzing with people, full of color and life, it must have been something beyond imagination. I also reflected on the fact that the Khmer race was once as advanced as any other nation of the time, maybe even more so.
How did it look in its heyday? Check out this short video from the Smithsonian Institute http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/videos/a-digital-reconstruction-of-angkor-wat/20077
• Angkor Wat, was built between 1113 and 1150 by King Suryavarman II
• Originally constructed as a Hindu Temple it was later converted to a Buddhist Temple
• Whilst the major temples and buildings are clustered around Angkor Wat, the Angkor Archaeological Park covers a staggering 1000 sq km encasing hundreds of temples and ancient buildings.
• Scenes for Tomb Raider were filmed at Ta Prohm.
• 150,000 – the number of people involved in supporting the operation of Angkor Wat Temple alone during its heyday.
• The first Westerner to discover the temples and introduce them to the Western world was French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860
Itinerary – the Grand Circuit or Small Circuit?
There are two commonly talked about routes for seeing the temples being the Small Circuit and the multi-day Grand Circuit. Both are pictured here:
The Small Circuit is in red and the Grand Circuit is green and red combined. Of course, you can go any way you choose these are just suggested routes and in the end, it’s probably the means of transportation that determines how much you see and which route you take.
Transport to and around the Temples
You have several choices including:
Car – $30 and up – Private companies offer car and driver (4pax) – Siem Reap Shuttle – siemreapshuttle.com
Electric Car – $30 and up – these open-top electric offer great viewing. (3pax) – Blue Mobility – https://www.blue-mobility.com.kh
Rent a bike – $2 and up for the day – easy to find throughout the city.
Rent an e-bike – $8 and up per day – Electric bikes can be rented from greene-bike.com, ovelocity.com, and siemreap-ebike.com.
Rent a scooter – $10 and up for the day plus fuel ($1-2) – Several places near the Park Hyatt and at most hostels/hotels.
UPDATE for 2017/2018: Laws are now being enforced that prohibits the renting of scooters to foreign visitors. If you have an EB type visa (ordinary visa) then you are able to rent a scooter. In either case, scooters are no longer allowed to be ridden through the Angkor area. Electric bikes and bicycles are not affected. Free charging stations are located throughout the city. Most electric bikes have a max speed of 25km/h and range of 40 km.
As you can see there are a number of ways and it really depends on your style and what you’re comfortable with. Most people choose tuk-tuks, this is the simplest option, you don’t have to think or plan just let the driver take you everywhere and enjoy the sights. The downside, you are captive to the driver’s plan and don’t really have the freedom do your own thing. Same goes for the two hire car options.
The other options, inc. bike, e-bike and scooter all give you the option to go your own way. There is some debate about whether scooters are legal for visitors to ride through the park but I was assured by the rental company and also at the gate of the park that it was OK. Apparently, the laws had changed at the beginning of the 2017 but they also said next year, who knows, it could change again. I’m glad I went this option as it was just awesome to have that freedom to go and come as I pleased and if something caught my eye I could easily go and explore.
As for e-bikes, I saw one and passed it on a couple of different occasions, to be honest, it looked slow and awkward, not quite as cool as the glossy pictures they put out. And you’ll need to recharge while perusing the park. In its favor, there are plenty of clearly marked charging points scattered around the place. As for riding a bike, yeah, if you are super fit and still I wouldn’t advise it. It’s so hot, heatstroke-inducing kind of heat. Just exploring the temples by foot is draining let alone riding the distance between them as well.
The stupidest thing I saw was people walking between temples, why? why? The look on their faces just said it all. Don’t do that.
With a bike I managed to take in the whole grand circuit in a day and to be honest, it was temple overload by the end. As much as it still carries a special feeling, after a while, they all start to look the same. Still special, just more of the same.
The ticket center is oddly located at the corner of Street 60 and Aspara Road. Buy the ticket after 5PM (but before 5.30PM when they close) and the ticket will be for the next day entry but you can freely enter after buying and go and watch the sunset at one of the many spots.
Buy a one-day, three-day or seven-day ticket. Don’t think like a good little scout that your going to see ALL the temples and get your booked fully stamped, because you won’t, once you have seen all the temples around Angor Wat, there’s hundreds more waiting in the Siem Reap area, then when you’ve seen those, there’s loads more scattered throughout Cambodia. Just enjoy yourself. Most people get ‘templed out’ quickly. I could suggest either hitting it hard and do the sunset on the night of buying your ticket, the next day get up early and take advantage of the cool temp and scooter your way around for the day and take in the whole grand circuit. Alternatively, get a multi-day ticket and spread things out a bit one day at temples avoiding the peak heat of the day between 12-3, the next day relax and tour the city and it’s local shops/markets, then next day temples again and so on. This second way would take in a lot more if you were a big fan of ancient architecture and make it enjoyable all the way. The tickets are designed this way as a three-day ticket can be used over seven days and a seven-day ticket over a month.
They only accept cash for tickets and there is an ATM at the ticket office. Adjacent to the ticket office building is a cinema of sorts, it cost money to see the movie which I passed but it is free to check out the miniature scale model pictured below.
Catching the sunrise and sunset
To be honest with you, it’s really over-hyped and you are not going to have some spiritual epiphany delivered by ancient Angkorian gods that are hiding behind the rising sun. The truth is that it’s so oversold, it’s crowded and a hit and miss affair based on the time of year and the weather on the day. If you really want to enjoy yourself go where the crowds are not and have the temples to yourself. Add to that, the pond that lies at the front of the temple where everyone clusters for that magical shot and the reflection in the water, quite often it’s not much more than a puddle.
The same goes for the sunset, it all depends on how long you want to sit it out, whether you get there at the right time of year and the conditions on the day.
Lastly, most of the photos on the net are photoshopped beyond reality and you’ll never get a shot anything like what you see in your searches. So, in the end, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. But, knowing all those people are going to be there, you can head in the opposite direction and enjoy crowd-free temple time.
The largest thing to deal with is the heat and sunburn. There are plenty of places to buy bottled water at every temple, plus ice-creams, and soft drinks. Coconuts are aplenty too. Whilst nothing special, food and drinks are reasonably priced, as an example $3 for an egg baguette and coffee.
Go for hats, suncream, long sleeves and a Kroma (scarf) is super handy to wrap around your face, wipe away sweat or wear it like a Saudi King and it will pleasantly catch the cool breezes. Drink plenty as dehydration/heat stroke is a real issue and take advantage of any cool shady spots where you can.
There are toilets throughout the area, and there’s no fee for using them (a question asked by many Europeans), generally, they are clean and there shouldn’t be any issues there. You could take some anti-bacterial wipes (or fluid and tissues) if it concerns you.
Try not to get caught amongst the hoards of tourists and especially the tour groups which can really take away the moment. Be a contrarian and head in the opposite direction, which isn’t hard to do as most begin at Angkor Wat and head around in a clockwise kind of direction and have their lunch at definite times (12-1).
My favorite temple? Ta Phrom. It was the one that truly felt surreal with just so many nooks and crannies to explore and so much to catch the eye.
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This is a small excerpt from the book: Essential Siem Reap which is available from Amazon in e-book and print. The book is not expensive, and I am sure you will find it enormously useful to carry with you and get the best of your time in Siem Reap. It provides deeper insight to the temples, more off the beaten path temples, loads of activities and things to do in Siem Reap, plus guides to local foods, where to eat, and how to stay safe.