My visit of the Angkor temples didn’t come off so well. Let’s say my visit didn’t come off as well as I thought it would, or not exactly how I was expecting it to be. It’s partly my fault, but I’m not the only one to blame. You must be like “How dare you!? How can you not enjoy your visit of the Angkor temples?” No no, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the visit. The problem is probably the fact that I set my expectations too high. A few things annoyed me (more on that later), but I never said the Angkor temples were ugly!
The very reason most people visit Cambodia? To visit the Angkor temples, the main tourist attraction of the country. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer empire, a flourishing empire from the 9th to the 15th century. At its peak, the Khmer empire had a population of one million people. The different kings succeeding one another built their temples in the area. Most of the temples still present now were built during the 12th century. The Khmer empire was on the decline around the 15th century, and the temples were more or less forgotten… until the 19th century when Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, rediscovered the Angkor temples.
And nowadays, you get it, it’s possible to visit those temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992! I won’t dwell on my visit of the temples, what I did, what I saw, etc… This article will be quite succinct cause there’s already plenty of information you can find online about the Angkor temples. I’ll let you know further down how I felt about my visit. At the end of the article, I’ll give you essential tips, things to know… so that everything goes smoothly if you plan to go there one day.
The main Angkor temples
The Angkor temples spread over dozens and dozens of kilometers (I said it earlier, it was a former empire). Today, some temples are more famous/visited/popular than other ones. There’s one temple you cannot miss, Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century. All the visitors get in front of this temple very early in the morning to admire a beautiful sunrise, and sometimes for the sunset as well (like Bagan in Myanmar!). It’s the largest religious monument in the world, and Angkor Wat is a big pride of the country (yes, that’s Angkor Wat you can see on the Cambodian flag). There are many galleries in this temple, recounting the social life of the Khmers, and it’s possible to get on top of the central tower to have a nice view. Interesting.
In the heart of the old city Angkor Thom, you’ll find another popular temple, the Bayon temple. 216 faces are sculpted on the various rocks. The faces have different expressions, it’s funny to see! In the old city Angkor Thom, there’s also the Baphuon, a huge temple. You can get on top of it.
And another one very popular : Ta Prohm. Why that? This is where Angelina Jolie played the role of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider! Unlike the other temples, this one hasn’t been restored, and it’s more or less in the same condition as when it was discovered. Theremore many plants and trees invade this temple.
Preah Kahn made me think about Ta Prohm a little bit. Trees are inextricably linked with the temples, but Preah Kahn is a lot bigger. Although it’s a large temple, it’s still very crowded. The sculptures are also stunning, admire them! Preah Kahn is a must see!
There’s also Neak Pean, a small temple not that impressive. You have to walk on a footbridge to get to this one. Bakheng Hill is the place to be for a nice sunset (but it’s packed!), Pre Rup is another spot for a sunset (less people there), and there are other temples : Ta Som, Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei, East Mebon, Ta Nei, Beng Mealea…
How I felt about my visit of the Angkor temples
After visiting the Angkor temples, I honestly had mixed feelings. As I said in the first paragraph of this article, maybe I set the bar too high. It’s probably due to the fact that I read so many articles praising the temples, I saw so many stunning photos… Yes the Angkor temples are wonderful and unmissable if you go to Cambodia, but after visiting the temples, there was an aftertaste of disappointment.
I could have said it in each paragraph, but visiting the Angkor temples, you’ll notice we’re all squeezed in together, there’s always someone glued to you. It’s partly my fault, I didn’t get organized well and I followed the “classic” tour, which means following the same itinerary as all the other groups of tourists. But still! People all over the place (many big groups of Chinese tourists!). It quickly gets unbearable. The Angkor temples attract millions of visitors each year. I suggest you not to expect a relaxing place, where you can admire temples taking your time… There are people everywhere, and sometimes the staff asks you to move on because other groups are coming!
Tips to visit the Angkor temples
- The Angkor temples are not far from Siem Reap. It’s very simple to go to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh. Ask your hotel, a van will pick you up and will drop you off in front of your hotel in Siem Reap. It costs 10$, and it’s a 5-hour ride. Find your accommodation on HotelsCombined.
- Don’t forget to get a travel insurance before going to Cambodia. My travel resources page can also help you getting organized.
- There are several passes to visit the Angkor temples. The 1-day pass costs 37$, the 3-days pass costs 62$, the 7-days pass costs 72$. Which one should you take? With the 1-day pass, you’ll keep running around all day long and you won’t see all the temples, Angkor is huge! I suggest you to take the 3-days pass, it gives you more time. If you really want to admire the temples, then take the 7-days pass. The 3-days pass is valid during one week, and the 7-day pass is valid during a month. That means you don’t have to visit the temples 3 or 7 days straight.
- Before getting to the Angkor temples, there’s a big hall where you can buy your pass. They’re named, with your picture one it (they’ll take a pic of you). Don’t lose your pass, otherwise you’re fucked! Keep it with you all the time, sometimes the staff asks to see it during your visit. You’ll notice most people take the 1-day pass, the wait is a lot longer to buy one of those passes.
- For a given day, you can buy your ticket from the day before at 5pm. Or the same day from 5am. Therefore it’s useless to buy your pass at 2pm, you’ll waste one day on your pass. FYI, when you buy your pass after 5pm, they’ll let you get in without deducting one day on your pass. Perfect for a sunset!
- How to get to the Angkor temples? How to get around in this former empire, to see all those temples? You have a few options, but forget about walking. Distances are huge between the temples, and Angkor is a few kilometers away from Siem Reap. You can rent a bicycle (1$ per day), and get around with it. Several people do that, but you need to know the sun is burning, and distances between the temples are important. I saw people cycling, sweating like crazy. You can also rent a scooter (10$ per day), you’re then free to do whatever you want to. In both cases, don’t forget to get a map, available where they rent the bicycles. Otherwise there are tuktuks. You pay 15$ per day, and a guy will follow your instructions and bring you wherever you want to. Some of them are also guides!
- I booked two tours with a group of tourists, and I kicked myself for that. We were getting around by van, we were following the same itinerary as all the other ones, and the temples were packed! The last day, I had my own tuktuk driver and it was a lot better! I was going where the other ones didn’t go, and I felt relieved! I recommend you to do that!
- There are two tours : the big one and the small one. Those who take the 1-day pass follow the small tour, it’s an itinerary where visitors see the most popular temples (Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon…). The big tour is different, you see less visited temples (Banteay Srei, Preah Kahn…). Follow those two itineraries but not in the same order as the groups of tourists, and you’ll be fine! There will always be many people in the temples of the small tour, but avoid to get to those temples at the same time as the other ones. And try to visit the temples between noon and 2pm, when the groups of tourists are eating! A lot less people in the temples!
- Cover your legs and your shoulders, otherwise they won’t let get in some of the temples.
- Take water, it’s scorching outside!
- Don’t buy anything from the children selling stuff there, I explain why in this article.
- Yes you’re visiting the Angkor temples, but you’ll overdose on temples at one point.
- In Siem Reap, if you wanna relax and have a drink, go to Pub Street! This street reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok, but it’s less noisy.
- In Siem Reap, locals on tuktuk will often ask you if you need to go somewhere. In my case, they also asked me if I need weed or if I wanted cheap hookers.
- Going to Cambodia? Get a travel guide!
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