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If you’re lucky enough to catch a good sunrise then there’s nothing more magical than watching the night sky plunge into a palate of colour as the sun peeks above the spires of iconic Angkor Wat. But there is so much more to take in during a visit to Angkor Archaeological Park, meaning the first place to start is to decide how much of the sprawling site you want to see.
Tickets to Angkor Wat 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: 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. Temples further out include Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea, Phnom Krom and Kbal Spean.
With ticket time sorted out, the next step is deciding on transport. There are several ways to get around Angkor, with tuk tuk being the most popular. There’s no shortage of tuk tuks waiting to take visitors to the temples in Siem Reap city, with hotels and guesthouses also able to make arrangements (for about $30, but get your haggling hat on).
Private vehicles and taxis can also take guests around the park, and can be booked through travel agents around the city, or at your hotel. It’s a good idea to think about the environment and preservation of the site when considering cars or buses. Hire an electric bike or car from the front of Angkor Wat and the Terrace of Elephants.
Cycling is another option, with bikes aplenty for hire in Siem Reap city, starting from $1 a day. Check the bike out before you hand over your cash; make sure you check the route so you enter the park at the ticket gate, about 6km from Siem Reap centre; and pack plenty of water because you’ll pay more than double once you’re inside the gates. There are also various tour operators, such as Grasshopper Adventures, that offer bike trips through the temples.
A more extravagant way of viewing the temples is from above. If heights don’t leave you trembling, then take a helicopter or hot air balloon trip throughout the park. Restrictions prevent anything from flying directly above Angkor Wat itself, but great views are guaranteed.
The next point to think about is whether to go solo or seek help. Navigating the temples can be done alone, but you’ll obviously miss out on the in-depth knowledge a good guide provides. Everyone wants to know where the dinosaur carving is hidden at Ta Prohm, right? The why remains unsolved, but quizzing your guide on theories is fun.
A guide can be hired for about $20. Official guides will be registered with the Ministry of Tourism, and tips are well appreciated. Guide books to the various complexes are flogged at every corner of the more populated temples, and offer a snippet into the history of the temples. Again, travel agents offer guided tours of the sites and can be booked in the city.
Then all that’s left to do is to pick your timing. The prime time is sunrise at Angkor Wat, with thousands flocking with their cameras poised to the lotus lakes that sit in front of the temple. Today, it’s a tourist trap, but it’s a tourist trap for a reason. Catching a stunning sunrise there is truly special.
The usual circuit then sees tourists spend a few hours exploring Angkor Wat, before heading to Bayon and on to Ta Prohm. If you fancy avoiding the crowds and having temples all to yourself, then don’t follow the crowds. Or, if you dare, skip sunrise at Angkor and head straight to Ta Prohm instead. It won’t be as stunning, but to have the root-entangled temples pretty much to yourself almost equals the Angkor experience.
Regardless of how you choose to tackle the temples, one thing is for sure: you won’t be let down.