Angkor Wat is one of the best-preserved ancient ruin sites in the world with intricate carvings and completely original structures still intact on most all sites. While there isn’t much that can be said about this massive temple complex that isn’t already written in a million other places online I think the below information is a summary of what you need to know before going. With over 300 temples in the ancient city it may seem a bit overwhelming but truthfully after our time there it’s quite easy to just go with the flow. Here is a quick guide on how to get situated!
How long to stay: There are 1 Day $20USD, 3 Day $40USD, and 7 Day $60USD passes for the temple complex. The days don’t have to be consecutive but for the 3 Day there is an overall time period limit of one week and for the 7 Day I believe about two weeks. They cannot be purchased in advance or online but no worries as the ticket lines are never long and it’s a quick and easy process. Due to the heat and the very real probability of getting “templed out” I would suggest sticking with the 3-Day Pass and a 4-5 day overall stay in the city. I was able to see a dozen or so temples in that amount of time without feeling rushed or killing ourselves in the 100-degree heat.
Transportation: Most any hotel/hostel in Siem Reap will have tuk tuk drivers that they work with regularly for Angkor Wat trips. Given a few minutes notice and they can arrange for one to come pick you up at a specific time and take you to whatever temples you desire, trust me there’s no shortage of tuk tuk’s in the city! The Angkor Complex is very large so depending on what you want to see that day you’re looking at $10-18USD to hire the tuk tuk, which seats 4 people easily. Might get lucky and get for a bit cheaper on your own but based on my inquiries with random drivers I wouldn’t bet on it as the pricing seems to be quite universal.
Although I am a huge fan of renting a motorbike I didn’t here for two reasons. First the cost is too high with most places charging $5+USD and requiring a massive deposit ($300+USD) and also because having a place to leave your bag and store water/food really is important when you’re scrambling over the ancient ruins with the sun beating down. I also wouldn’t recommend biking the complex unless you’re in incredible shape as it’s a bit of a drive from the city of Siem Reap and the temples are not side-by-side, often 1-3 kilometers apart. Save your energy for exploring the ancient ruins J.
Planning your day: The early bird gets the worm! The heat here is no joke so the earlier the better, it’s truthfully worth it to get to the complex as early as possible as temperatures around sunrise are around 70-80 degrees and quickly climb towards triple digits by mid day. Most people show up around 10-11am (opens up at about 5:30 for sunrise) so an added bonus of arriving early is having the temples to yourself more or less. Plan on seeing 3-5 sites a day, if you want to put in 6-8 hours straight you could definitely see a couple more. Also, if going to multiple sites in one day, try and get your tuk tuk to take you to the one that’s further away first as most people do the opposite. Maybe you’ll be tougher than us but usually by 2pm we were exhausted and ready to head back.
Which Temples Are “Must See”? You could spend a month in this city and not even scratch the surface of what the Angkor Wat Complex has to offer, there are an endless amount of temples and ruins worthy of your time. That being said I wouldn’t waste your time over analyzing which temples are most worthy of your time. Thankfully there are 3-4 primary routes through the complex that every tuk-tuk driver in the city will know and these routes will likely cover 95% of the temples that you have ever even heard of, much less have a desire in going to.
I would personally recommend skipping the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It’s over priced, obscenely over crowded, and unless conditions are perfect the sunrise is quite disappointing as well. Below are some shots of my favorite temples, all of which were seen as part of the standard tuk-tuk routes through the complex. Write down their names and forget about anymore planning until you arrive in Siem Reap!
Life After The Temples: Siem Reap is not the biggest city I’ve visited in Southeast Asia but it is one of the few major cities I’ve been to where travelers outnumber the locals on any given street corner. So while you won’t be having a cultural awakening you’re guaranteed to find a party downtown on any given night (Hint: head to the aptly named Pub Street). There are a few excellent walking streets downtown that shut down traffic once the sun sets with enough food, artwork, and fellow travelers to keep you occupied long into the night!
How to Get Here: Air Asia is your best bet for flying into Siem Reap, which in my opinion is the only way to make your way from outside the country. Flights from Hanoi or Bangkok can be purchased in advance for as low as $20 USD one way, maybe $5 over the cost of a bus trip from Thailand or Vietnam that would take 12+ hours easily.
Want more info on Siem Reap? Click here for my guide to the wonderful cuisine of the city with restaurant recommendations, advice on which food carts to head to, and more!