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My visit to 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 be, 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! Here’s a Angkor Wat guide!
History of Angkor Wat
The very reason most people visit Cambodia? To visit Angkor Wat, 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. Wanna know more? Here are 25 Angkor Wat facts.
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 visit Angkor Wat 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.
The Bayon temple
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…
My opinion about Angkor Wat
After visiting Angkor Wat, 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! Now you know!
How to get to Siem Reap
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$, and it’s a 5-hour ride. There’s also an airport in Siem Reap. Click here to check the latest flight prices.
How to get to Angkor Wat
The entrance to Angkor Wat is several kilometers/miles away from Siem Reap. If you’re traveling with a group or a guide, no problem! Someone will pick you up in front of your hotel and you’ll go to Angkor Wat by tuktuk, by van or by bus. If you plan to visit Angkor Wat by yourself, you’ll have to get there by bicycle or scooter. Or take a tuktuk. Don’t even think about walking, it’s way too far!
Angkor Wat tickets
There are several passes to visit the Angkor temples. The 1-day pass costs 37$, the 3-days pass costs 62$, the 7-days pass costs 72$.
Before getting to the Angkor temples, there’s a big hall where you can buy your pass. It’s on road 60, close to the Angkor Panorama Museum. The passes are named, with your picture on 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.
When to buy your pass to visit Angkor Wat
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!
Angkor Wat opening times
Angkor Wat is open from 5:30am to 5:30pm everyday.
How long to visit Angkor Wat
Which pass should you get? 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.
How to visit Angkor Wat
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. I suggest not to do it!
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!
Visit Angkor Wat solo, with a group, or with your guide
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!
Moreover, a guide can give you explanations about the temples. You don’t really know what you’re watching when you’re alone, even though you’re completely free to go wherever you want to. So I’d say first go with your guide, then do it solo if you can’t find one. Lastly do it with a group…
Angkor Wat tours
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!
Dress code in Angkor Wat
There’s no specific dress code in Angkor Wat. But cover your legs and your shoulders, otherwise they won’t let you get in some of the temples.
Best time to visit Angkor Wat
Ideally from November to February. It’s the dry season, it’s not raining and it’s not too hot.
Where to stay in Siem Reap
If you’re traveling on a budget, the Noni Tree Hostel is a good one. Click here to book your stay. If you want to stay in a mid-range hotel, you’re gonna like the Angkor Heart Bungalow. Click here to book your stay. If you prefer luxury hotels, I suggest you to stay at the Viroth’s Hotel. Click here to book your stay. Otherwise click here to check what are the hotels available in Siem Reap.
Finally, if you prefer to stay in an apartment, click here to check the apartments available on Airbnb.
Other things to do in Siem Reap
If you’re traveling with your family, here’s what to do in Siem Reap with kids. You can go to a circus show. Click here for more info. You can enjoy a sunset dinner on a boat. Click here for more info. You can attend a Cambodian cooking class. Click here for more info. You can explore Phnom Kulen national park. Click here for more info. You can discover the beautiful village of Kompong Phluk. Click here for more info. You can also attend an Apsara Dance show. Click here for more info.
Angkor Wat tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page! This list of travel accessories can also be useful!
- Don’t forget to get a travel insurance before going to Cambodia. Here’s why buy travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to Cambodia? Get a free quote here!
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why use a VPN when traveling!
- Apart from the Angkor temples, here are things to do in Siem Reap!
- Spending some time in Cambodia? Here’s a 10-day Cambodia itinerary!
- 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 some 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.