A first time visit to Angkor Wat is a surely a magical experience in anyone’s bucket list. A 400 km complex of ancient temples and ruins allows for exploration into untouched beauty. Going to the less favored areas, you’ll find yourself surrounded only by yourself and the silence of the jungle. You’ll likely be surrounded by many other visitors at the main sites because of its popularity. But Angkor Wat has to be one of the most impressive places to visit, especially if this is your first time in Southeast Asia. It will leave long-lasting memories of more than just the Cambodian sun & heat. A day of exploring and wandering through the ancient Khmer ruins will likely be one of the best days of travel yet.
The Angkor Wat complex is located in the city of Siem Reap – 12km north of the main center. There’s only a couple entrances to enter, so you’ll likely go through the main site to reach Angkor Wat, or through the right-most gate, which leads to the other temples.
Siem Reap is easily reached by flights from South East Asia – Bangkok especially. Otherwise, the overland route can take you from Bangkok (12 hours) or from Phnom Phen (overnight bus) easily. You’ll still need a tuk-tuk ride from the bus stop or the airport to your accommodation.
How to Get Around:
Arranging for a Tuk-tuk taxi is the easiest way of getting around to the main sites. You can hop on and off and leave the worries of driving to another person. They’ll take you to all the temples that you want during the day, and could even provide a ride so that you can watch sunrise at Angkor Wat. But it’s certainly not for the most adventurous. There will be times where you might want to skip out on a certain temple and without the ability to switch plans as fluidly, you’ll be wondering what you might have missed. If you are only there for a day, then this is the right way to go.
Renting a moped gives you the ultimate freedom to drive around and see the sites you want to see. Most can be rented for $8 USD or more for the whole day. You could even arrange to pick it up in the afternoon before, so that you’ll have a ride in the morning when you wake up. But if you choose this route, make sure to buy travel insurance. Moped accidents are one of the most common types of injuries sustained abroad, and you don’t want to be left paying a large bill should anything happen. Compared to a Tuk-tuk, it gives you more freedom, but it is exhausting getting on and off and parking. The drive back to the hostel or hotel is tiring after you’ve completed the day. Still, it’s probably the best option for most adventurers.
Renting a bike means the slow pace of riding around each temple and really being a part of the place. This option gives you the most incentive to enjoy your time at each spot because going to the next place requires a longer journey. Biking is the cheapest option though, and makes you see a lot more of not just the temples, but the sights around yourself. If you’re a slower paced traveler, or have been seeing a lot of other tourist attractions lately, taking a bike ride might be your best option. Just make sure to plan your route a little more direct as the heat may be intense. The ejection option is always hitching a tuk-tuk ride for a few bucks back out of the temple complex after you’re done.
Where to Stay:
Garden Village Guesthouse & Pool Bar – this is one of the best rated hostels because of its large pool, outdoor seating areas, and cheap rooms. You’re bound to find other cool traveler fellows there too. It’s a great place to set up base.
Mad Monkey Hostel – more on the party sides of hostels, Mad Monkey is perfect for those wanting to party at night, rest during the day, and catch sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat. It’s cheap too.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap – this is one of the nicest places to stay in the Siem Reap. Just look at the photos. You might want to consider dropping the extra money and having a nice place to stay, especially after dealing with the hostel life for so long.
The Angkor Wat ticket office is located outside the park’s entrance about 4km out of town. It’s open from 4:30am-5:30pm and tickets can be purchased using cash or credit card. Any tickets purchased after 5pm will be valid for the next day.
1 day pass – $37 USD
3-day pass – $62 USD
7-day pass – $72 USD
The 3-day pass is valid for 10 day from the issue date, and the 7-day is valid for a month from purchase, so you don’t need to go consecutively – especially if you exhaust yourself the first day or get sick eating some street food.
Sunrise & Sunset:
The two main spots for sunrise are the main Angkor Wat temple complex and the Srah Srang reservoir – both giving the best views and are the only spots open at 5:30 for sunrise time. There’s plenty of tourists rushing towards the center so you won’t get lost in where to go. But hang close to your friends as they can easily get lost in the crowd. Your Tuk-tuk can take you there and park in the designated locations. For some, sunrise might be too chaotic with all the crowds, however, if you go away from the left-most pond, you’ll find a sort of solitude on your own.
If you go around the Angkor Wat complex in a counter-clockwise fashion, then you will save the main temple for last – a sort of finale to a day of exploring the temples. I think it’s the best way to see the main temple, as you will build an appreciation for the smaller temples and then move your way up to the larger ones throughout the day. Especially since if you go to the best one first, then the rest of the day is sort of a wash, but that’s just my opinion.
Also, there’s food right across the main temple, so don’t be scared to stop by and eat the local way with your hands, sitting (almost) on the ground. It’s a fun experience.