I have to be honest. I was a little overwhelmed when it came time to visit the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia. It’s a place that I’ve always wanted to visit, and I can’t imagine that there are many people who don’t at least want to visit Angkor Wat. It’s a very popular tourist spot, and there is so much to see in the area that I just didn’t know where to start. I wanted to see as much as possible, and I also wanted to try and avoid the worst of the crowds. I had no idea how long I should spend in Angkor, what ticket to buy, how I should get around between the temples and in which order I should see them in. I read guides and blogs on the subject, and ended up even more confused as everyone seems to suggest something different; so I basically had to make up my own mind and just dive into it.
Most people who visit Angkor simply go there to see Angkor Wat, and that’s where they head straight away. That’s fine, but if you want to see some of the other temples, here are some of my tips for getting the most out of your visit.
Wait…There’s other temples besides Angkor Wat?
It may seem strange, but a lot of people don’t realise that there is more to Angkor than Angkor Wat. If you are one of these people, don’t feel bad. You are in with the majority of people who visit the area. Angkor Wat is the largest, most impressive and most well preserved of the temples, but it is just one out of hundreds of sites that you can visit in Angkor. Many of the ruins are nothing more than just that, ruins; however there are quite a few temple ruins that are very impressive and definitely deserve your attention. You can even see some of them along with Angkor Wat in one day if you want to. Some of the other temples to check out include Banteay Srei, Ta Phrom, Bayon, Preah Khan and Pre Rup.
Which ticket should you buy?
To visit any of the Temples of Angkor, you need to buy an Angkor Ticket which gives you access to all of the sites (apart from a few further afield) within a given time frame. A one day pass costs $20. The three day pass costs $40 and can be used on consecutive days or on any three days within a week (you have to inform them at the ticket office if you want to use it on nonconsecutive days). The seven day pass is the same, but can be used on any seven days within a month and costs $60.
The ticket that you need to buy depends completely on what sites you want to see and how long you have to see them. The Temples of Angkor aren’t something that should be rushed, so it’s important to give yourself enough time. If you only want to see Angkor Wat, then obviously you only need a one day pass. You can also visit the sites in Angkor Thom (including Bayon) as well as Ta Phrom on the same day if you wanted to. If you want to see any of the other temples as well, then you need more than one day in my opinion.
Personally, I bought a three day pass and used it on nonconsecutive days, which was perfect. I was able to visit the main popular sites plus a lot of the lesser visited sites, and I was able to have a rest day in between. By the end of the third day I was pretty “templed out”, so three days was enough for me. I imagine that you would only need the seven day pass if you are planning on staying in the area for a couple of weeks and just want to take it nice and slow, or perhaps you’re one of those crazy archaeologist types.
Getting around the Temples of Angkor
Before you go and jump on a bicycle and start out on an enjoyable bike ride around the temples, you need to stop and realise something first. Angkor is a huge area. Angkor Wat itself is about 8km outside of Siem Reap, and that is the closest of the temples. There are very large distances between many of the sites, so if you are planning on riding a bike, you need to make sure that you can ride those distances first. It can also get very hot in Angkor during the day, and you also have a lot of walking and climbing to do at the temples themselves.
If you are only going to visit Angkor Wat, then going by bicycle is fine. If you want to see any of the other temples, I highly recommend taking a tuk tuk. They are cheap and a lot more comfortable, plus the drivers can often tell you a little about the temples, and they may know of some sites to check out that you don’t even know about. We hired the same tuk tuk driver for all three of our days, so we got a good deal and he was excellent. At the end of a tiring day of exploring the temples, I was very glad to be in a tuk tuk and passing the cyclists who looked like they were about to die from exhaustion on their way back to Siem Reap. A tuk tuk for the day costs around $10 to $15 on average, depending on where you are going. If you are sharing with a couple of people then it works out pretty cheap.
Avoiding the crowds
Angkor is a popular place and you are going to have to deal with crowds at some of the sites. Angkor Wat is busy at any time of the day and the same with some of the other popular temples; however you can at least avoid the worst of the crowds, i.e. the huge tour groups. I went to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise and then explored the temple itself just after the sun had risen. This was a great time to visit as the crowds were quite minimal. There were still a lot of people there (sunrise at Angkor Wat is amazing), but the worst of the crowds don’t arrive until around mid morning, so an atmospheric dawn visit is a great idea. You can get in and out before the huge tour groups arrive.
Angkor Thom is so large that it doesn’t really matter what time of the day that you visit, but it’s most popular site, Bayon, can get quite busy. I went straight here after leaving Angkor Wat, and the crowds were just piling in as I was leaving. Ta Phrom (the Tomb Raider temple) is probably the second most popular site in Angkor, and I got this one very wrong. I arrived here around midday after exploring Angkor Thom and the crowds were ridiculous. I felt like I was taking holiday photos for Chinese tour groups. I would suggest visiting Ta Phrom first thing in the morning (very early) on a different day to Angkor Wat.
Another popular temple is Banteay Srei with it’s magnificent carvings and sculptures. We got stuck with the tour groups again here around mid morning. If you can’t visit first thing in the morning, the tour groups seem to move on by around lunch time, so a midday visit would probably work here. Crowds don’t seem to be a huge problem at the other temples in Angkor.
Save the best until last
You may be tempted to head straight to Angkor Wat when you arrive in Angkor (I know I was), but if you are planning on getting a three day pass, I suggest visiting Angkor Wat (and maybe some of the other popular temples) on your last day. The reason I suggest this is because if you visit it first, the other temples just won’t be as impressive. I started off by visiting the Roluos Group of Temples on my first day, which are the oldest in the region. They were very impressive to me at the time, but they are nowhere near as impressive as some of the temples that I visited over the next couple of days. If I had visited Angkor Wat first, I probably wouldn’t have had the same experience here.
I suggest starting with some of the lesser visited temples and then working your way up to the more popular ones.
I hope that these tips help you get the most out of your visit to the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia. I will be posting a lot more about the individual temples, along with suggested itineraries over the coming months.