If you are traveling in Cambodia for the first time, it pretty much goes without saying that you’ll be going to Siem Reap and seeing the Angkor area one way or another. For some people, it might be just a one-day blitz of the “small circuit” (including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm) while others will opt for the three-day pass to take it the surrounding temples and grounds. While we understand that the former option is usually taken by those on a tight schedule, the latter option of the three-day visit is the one that we would highly recommend, and is the basis for the tips for visiting the Temples of Angkor we are about to offer to you (free of charge!) below. The tips are the result of both a lot of research from the various resources we use while planning our excursions, and also from our now completed experience in Siem Reap and the Angkor area.
Take a day to Plan
The that holds the Temples of Angkor is huge, and there really is an insane amount of things to see. It’s really important to arrive with a game plan of exactly what you want to do. For us, the day we arrived in Siem Reap we started our planning. This involved what we wanted to see on each day, when we wanted to start and finish each day, planning out rest times and making sure that everything was in a decent proximity so we didn’t spend too much time driving around instead of exploring. (*If you are interested, we have included our 3-day Angkor itinerary at the bottom of this post)
Schedule in a rest day
When you’re planning out your itinerary, but sure to build in a rest day (preferably between the 2nd and 3rd day). You might feel like you could do 3 solid days straight, but you’ll quickly find how tiring the days can be after just the first day. We found that after the second day we were so thankful we planned a day off. It gave us a chance to sleep in, focus our minds on something other than temples, and made us more excited for the final day.
Pick up the “Siem Reap Angkor Visitor’s Guide”
This guide-book is free of charge and is quite simply invaluable. We got ours in our guesthouse in Kampot, but you can find it in almost any café or tourist shop in Siem Reap. The book includes; detailed maps of both Siem Reap and the Angkor area, information for in and around the city, and a write up for each and every Temple of Angkor. The book is almost good enough to replace a tour guide, and was the best resource we had during our time in Siem Reap.
Start with the small stuff
We can’t stress how important this is for the interest of your visit. If you see all the big sites (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm) on the first day, everything after will be underwhelming and you will lose interest quickly. It’s really important to do your best and not get “templed-out.” So if you start small, each day will get bigger and better. I can remember arriving at the very first site on our first day and being blown away by the ruins of a small temple. In comparison to Angkor Wat, this temple was next to nothing, but since I hadn’t seen anything else, to me it was mind blowing.
Find a tuk-tuk driver who understands what you want
When you’ve finished your planning session, the next thing you need to do is go out and find a tuk-tuk driver who will take you to see everything on your list. The tuk-tuk industry in Siem Reap is almost oversaturated, so shop around. Before even talking about price for the 3-days, go step-by-step through your itinerary with the driver making sure that he understands everything you want to do and when (estimated start and finish times included). While going through this information, make sure you and the driver are in complete understanding of each other. Communication is very important, as the driver will be the lifeline to your excursion and any major misunderstandings could make for a sour experience. Finally, negotiate a price that is both fair to yourself and the driver. If you bargain too hard with the driver, they might not be as pleasant as you’d like during the trip, or may even drop you if a better offer comes along. Our driver asked for $50 for the 3-day excursion. We settled on $15/day, totaling $45. Both parties were happy.
Try to build a relationship with your driver
As I already mentioned, the tuk tuk driver is the lifeline for your trip. Obviously, each person is different, so there’s no definite way of ensuring that you’ll have a good experience with you driver. However, do your best to treat your driver as fairly and considerately as you’d like him to treat you. Nice things you can do for your driver include: bringing him bottled water, sharing snacks with him, asking how he’s doing etc. For us, doing these little things made a world of a difference, and our driver made our days easy and comfortable.
Don’t underestimate the power of the Sun
It’s hot in Siem Reap, and climbing up and down temple steps can be taxing. If you don’t protect yourself from the Sun, you’ll find yourself reeling and losing the ability to enjoy your time. Be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, sun-glasses, and a hat for the day. We also strongly recommend planning a rest between 11am – 1pm, as it is the hottest part of the day and the sun sits right overtop.
Wear appropriate clothing
There is a lot of rugged terrain (including places that are muddy) in and around Angkor, so leave you’re flip-flops at home and break out those shoes you wondered if you’d ever wear again. Consider long sleeves for extra protection, and remember that Angkor Wat is still a functioning temple so it is important to dress tastefully.
Prepare yourself for the touts
Almost every single time your tuk-tuk comes to a stop there will be touting. It will go on all day, in pretty much every single place you can imagine, and a great deal of it will come from children. For most people, the touting is extremely annoying and probably the biggest downside to the Angkor experience. Each person deals with it in their own way, so all we can say is to be ready for it, be consistent in your response, try to be patient, and don’t be rude. If you don’t want anything, don’t look, say “no thank you” firmly and keep moving.
Try to limit your days to about 6 hours
Site-seeing at the Temples of Angkor is not a job, so try not to force yourself to go 8 hours just to make the boss happy. Trust me, after 6 hours you’ll be exhausted. Between the heat, the climbing (there’s a lot of steps) and the walking, there’s more than enough to warrant an early bed-time. We never went more than 6 hours a day and still managed to see everything on our list without ever having to go more than at a leisurely pace.
See Angkor Wat at sunrise
A lot of people will be doing this, as the sunrise at Angkor Wat provides the kind of scenery photographers dream about. It’s really important to get there at about 5am, stake out a spot to the left of the walkway, and as close to the water as possible. Bring a flashlight since it will be dark, and be prepared to have your patience tested when the crowds start pushing into your sightlines.
See Angkor Wat at sunset
While it isn’t as breathtaking as the sunrise view, Angkor Wat at sunset is great since the Sun is positioned to provide the best lighting for photos. You should get there between 3:30-4:00pm, but don’t feel the need to stay until it gets dark since the best time for photos will be long past. By the way, if you buy your tickets the day before you plan on starting your visit, you can actually go and enjoy the sunset at Angkor without it costing a day from your pass (a bonus visit if you want it.)
Not sure where to start? Take a look at our 3-day itinerary for visiting the temples of Angkor:
|Day 1||Day 2||Rest Day||Day 3|
|Pick Up: 8:30am||Pick Up: 5:00am||Pick Up: 8:00am|
LUNCH (taken between visiting the 2 terraces)
|Wrap Up: 4:30pm||Wrap Up: 3:00pm||Wrap Up: 4:30pm|