Siem Reap is the gateway to enlightenment, or rather the starting point to Angkor archeological park in Cambodia. Most people are familiar with the Temple of Angkor Wat and Bayon, but the site of Angkor itself is spread across 400km² and within it contains over 1,000 temples, from the most grandiose of monuments to small brick ruins laid out among rice fields.
Because the area is so vast and the temples are spread far apart, you’ll need a reliable mode of transportation to get you around.
There are plenty of options — tour buses, bicycles, scooter — but we hired a tuk tuk driver and I would highly recommend this route. We hired a private driver for $15USD and had a comfortable day being guided by a local who knew his way around the temples. He also provided cold water and ice towels every time we came back to the tuk tuk (so amazing, you have no idea). You can book with our guy, Shafie, through his website here or book a driver through your hotel so that they can connect you with a reputable driver.
Buying our admission passes
We woke up at 4AM to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, which luckily was easy to wake up for since it was only day 2 of our trip and we were still on Toronto time.
Our driver drove us to the main entrance for 5AM and waited for us as we went inside to purchase our passes. It’s early but don’t be fooled — the place will be packed! The good news is that the lineups will go fast.
Once you get to the ticket attendant, they’ll take your photo for the pass. The passes are printed out with your photo on it so everyone going in will need to stand in line. Keep your pass handy on you because you’ll be asked to show it at the site entrance and entering the major temples. You can purchase a 1-day pass ($20USD), 3-day ($40), or 7-day ($60).
Exploring the temples
Once we had our passes, we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Our driver dropped us off at the entrance and we headed to the lake where you can get the money shot. We ended up getting there too late though — there were already hoards of people out with their cameras, 6 rows deep — so we made our way around the lake where the food vendors were and snapped some photos from that angle before exploring the interior of the temple.
To the right of Angkor Wat, if you’re looking straight on, there’s a pathway leading down to some trees that opens up. We went down that way and found a building where the monks were chanting (you’ll be able to hear it from anywhere at the temple). It was really peaceful to listen to and you’re more than welcome to take your shoes off, sit in, and watch.
In that same area is also a public washroom if you need 🙂
We spent about two hours at Angkor Wat before we moved on to the other temples. We saw a lot with our 1-day pass but the highlights were:
Bayon – the temple of the smiling gods with 216 stone-carved faces watching every direction.
Baphuon – it wasn’t crowded when we were there so it was nice to get lost and wander on your own without worrying about getting in the frame of someone’s photo.
Ta Prohm – the “Tomb Raider Temple”. It looks like it’s being eaten by the jungle.
Ta Keo – my personal favourite. The climb down was a good adrenaline rush!
By about 3PM, the heat and jet lag eventually took over and we wrapped up our temple tour. We thought we would spend more time there but I think we got a great overview as first-time visitors. We were debating between a 1-day or 3-day pass but the 1-day was fine and we saw what we wanted to see. If you have a lot of temples on your must-see list, I’d recommend spreading it out to avoid temple fatigue.
What to wear
Siem Reap is HOT! Like melting, moustache sweat hot. But please, leave your tank tops and short shorts at home when at a religious site.
Stick to light, breathable fabrics that cover your shoulders and knees; this applies to guys and gals. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and the stairs you’ll be climbing are steep and narrow so opt for comfortable shoes that have good grip and aren’t clunky. I wore a mid-calf skirt, t-shirt, and sneakers and got along just fine.
– There will be a cafe at the main admissions entrance but skip it. The lineup is long with people in desperate need for their coffee but there will be plenty of food options at Angkor Wat and en route to the other sites so don’t waste your time there.
– If you have a driver, find something distinguishable about the vehicle or tuk tuk, like a sign or the colour of the seats. Locating your driver in a sea of vehicles will be a huge pain and if he doesn’t spot you first, you’ll be spending a long time looking for him if you can’t remember what he’s driving!
– Watch out for the monkeys. They’ll snatch your belongings, even right out of your hands.
– Bring sunscreen and stay hydrated!
Have you been to the Temples of Angkor?