As Cambodia’s top tourist attraction, Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is home to hundreds of ancient temples and religious structures dotted throughout the 400-sq km site. While Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm remain the most popular, attracting thousands of visitors from across the globe daily, there are many more off the beaten track temples worth leaving the well-trodden trail for and investing in a multi-day pass. Here is our guide to exploring the sacred site.
These days, seeing sunrise at Angkor Wat means jostling the crowds and dodging death by selfie-stick. However, it’s well worth it if you’re lucky enough to catch a beauty, with the sky plunging into a palette of colour as the sun peaks from behind the iconic temple’s spires.
Of course, there is more to the park than just Angkor Wat, with nearby Bayon and Ta Prohm temples and the structures that surround them forming the popular circuit for one-day pass holders. But for those not pushed for time, investing in a three or seven-day pass comes well rewarded, with access to the hundreds of other ancient sites that dot the expansive park.
These remote temples are much less visited, meaning often you can explore them alone, and many are in the depths of the jungle, bringing with them Tarzan-esque trips into the heart of the forest.
Here are some top tips on how to make the most out of your fascinating journey into Cambodia’s intriguing past.
First things first, what pass are you going to purchase? Tickets are sold as one, three and seven-day passes; prices were recently hiked up to $37, $62 and $72, respectively.
The seven-day passes should probably be reserved for those truly hardened history buffs, with one-day passes the most popular, offering enough time to take in the major temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
If you fancy getting off the beaten track and heading into the heart of the jungle to explore more ruined temples away from the madding crowds, then a three-day pass may be worth investing in. The three visits can be used up within one week, meaning you don’t get too ‘templed’ out.
Further away temples worth visiting include Banteay Srei, Koh Ker, Beng Mealea, Phnom Krom and Kbal Spean.
So, that’s your tickets sorted, now for how to get around. There are several ways to tour Angkor, with tuk-tuk being the most popular.
You’ll find as soon as you land in the city tuk-tuks are touting for temple business so don’t worry, there’s no shortage of vehicles waiting to take visitors to the temples. As well as picking a driver up from the street, hotels and guesthouses can make arrangements. A tuk-tuk costs about $30, depending on how good your bartering skills are.
Private vehicles and taxis can also take guests around the park, and can be booked via travel agents found throughout Siem Reap, or at your hotel. However, environmentalists have raised concerns about the volume of vehicles entering the park so it’s worth considering the environment and preservation of the site when looking into cars or buses.
Alternatively, hire an electric bike or car from the front of Angkor Wat and the Terrace of Elephants.
Those heading to the more remote temples, however, may find car is the easiest, quickest and most comfortable option to make the journey.
Jumping on a bicycle is another option, with bikes aplenty for hire in Siem Reap city, starting from $1 a day. The ticket gate is about 6km from Siem Reap centre, and don’t forget to pack plenty of water because, while it’s readily available from stalls in the park, you’ll pay more than double once you’re inside. Various tour operators, such as Grasshopper Adventures, offer bike trips through the temples.
If you fancy indulging in the high life, then a more extravagant way of viewing the temples is from above. Helicopter and hot air balloon trips run throughout the park, however, restrictions prevent anything from flying directly above almighty Angkor Wat itself.
To get a guide, or not?
Navigating Angkor Wat can easily be done alone – although without the help of a knowledgeable guide, many details and historic stories will undoubtedly be missed.
Guides can be hired for about $20, either from a tour operator in Siem Reap or at the site itself. Make sure they are registered with the Ministry of Tourism – they will have a license – before hiring them, and tips will be heavily appreciated as wages are relatively low.
If you want to go solo, then it’s worth spending a bit of time doing research, or investing in a decent guidebook – these are sold seemingly around every corner of the temple complex, usually by children. Visitors are strongly encouraged not to buy from kids – a rule that should be applied throughout the country.
When to go
There’s no avoiding the crowds if you want to view Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. However, there are ways of lessening the masses if you shake up your itinerary slightly – although you might have to explain this to the tuk-tuk driver, who will switch into autopilot mode.
Firstly, if you want to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat then there’s no way to avoid the masses of people who flock to the lotus lake in front of the temple to catch that iconic shot of the sun rising behind the spires reflected in the still water.
However, if you want to skip the crowds, who will spend the next couple of hours touring around Angkor before visiting Bayon and then Ta Prohm, head straight to Ta Prohm after sunrise, then Bayon, returning to Angkor last.
If you want to enjoy sunset at Angkor, then Phnom Bakheng is a popular spot but, again, that’s where the crowds will be. A quieter 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.
Regardless of how you choose to visit Angkor and which temples you tick off your list, one thing is for sure: you won’t leave disappointed.