Temples, Temples, Temples. The Angkor Wat Temple Complex is a must see when in Cambodia. So far I have been up to Siem Reap twice and loved it more each time.
Before I get onto the temples – the main attraction – I’ll let you in on some tit-bits of the town itself. If you are looking for a party, Pub Street is the place to go. It pulses with excitement and bouncing back packers.
There are a few decent restaurants along the street to have a meal and some cocktails to get the night started. One eatery that is a must is Red Tomato. It is just off Pub Street and it claims to have the best pizza in Asia – I wouldn’t say they are far off! Delicious and a good fill after a long day exploring. For the after-dinner stroll down the street to choose your watering hole for the night, pick up an ice-cream from one of the many vendors around – they are yum! For brunch try Fifty5 it has a great selection to get the day started.
If you fancy a bit of a shop, there is a market that is open during the day – near Fifty5, you can’t miss it. Then there is the Night Market that has much of the same as the day market, some stalls are open all the time – well until around 10pm. I bought a beautiful painting on my first trip. There are the things that every store has and then there are some that have unique things that are a bit more expensive – my opinion once you get home it will all be unique so get what you like. If you fancy more ‘sophisticated’ shopping, there is a Duty-Free store in town that sells all the high-end brands – much the same as in airport Duty Free.
There are over 2 000 hotels, so plenty to choose from. All the big resort hotels are along Charles de Gaulle – the road to Angkor Wat. If you choose one of these make sure they offer shuttles into town and back as they are a bit of a drive from the hustle and bustle. There are plenty are places in/near to town. From backpackers to little boutique hotels through to resorts. If you go during off season May/June before the schools close for the summer, you can get some amazing deals in tops hotels. Tip: pick a place with a pool, you’ll need it after a day at the temples.
Getting around is much the same as anywhere else in Cambodia. Tuk Tuk or Moto are the most popular methods of transport. Tuk-Tuks offer ‘tours’ around the temples, you pay a flat rate for the day between $10 and $15 – your hotel will be able to point you in the direction of a Tuk-Tuk, they mostly have their own – some will even offer you an air-conditioned car.
Note: Your Tuk-Tuk driver is not a guide… some may have some knowledge on the temples but they won’t take you on a guided tour around.
There are also tour companies that offer tours around the temples – there are anything from push bikes to vintage jeeps. It just depends on your budget. On the latest trip, we found a hotel that had a vintage jeep for rent, with or without a driver. We went for without and cruised around Siem Reap for a day in our own car which was amazing. If it is your first time and you are a bit unsure of where to go then stick with a Tuk-Tuk or a tour – but if you are feeling brave and confident about where you need to go then why not drive yourself.
You can purchase either One, Three or Seven day passes to the Angkor Wat Complex. It all just depends on how temple enthused you are… and how deep your pockets are. A one day pass is $37, Three days $62 (can be non-consecutive) and One Week $72, Cambodians go for free. Always keep your ticket handy as they check it going into some of the temples.
Have a read about the temples before you go, or watch some YouTube videos – it is quite incredible. From that you can gauge how long you want to spend exploring them. The ticket office is on the way to the temples, just off Charles de Gaulle – don’t buy tickets anywhere else. You can only buy your one day pass ticket on the day you want to enter or after 5pm the day before – if you do this you can enter the temples that evening to watch the sunset.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat is the thing to do, and well worth it. The ticketing office opens at 5am – so get there just before so you can be the first in line and get to the temples before the mobs – unless of course you have your ticket already then you can head straight to Angkor Wat. You can get a guide to take you around, there are guys in yellow shirts at the first entrance over the moat. I normally just like to wander around putting my google knowledge to the test.
The crowds leave much to be desired, but if you plan your trip differently to the norm then you will be winning. Watch the sunrise then be ready to enter the temple at 6am when it officially opens, that way you beat the crowds inside.
There are loads of temples in the complex, big and small – Angkor Wat being the biggest. If you have a three/seven-day pass then I would watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat then gap it to the other temples (you can explore Angkor Wat in more detail on another one of your days). They only open at 7:30am but you can have your breakfast outside one, Bayon Temple for example – this is my favourite. Tip: take a packed breakfast from the hotel so that you can enjoy it overlooking a temple.
If you are only on a one day pass then this is still doable, just try to get out of Angkor Wat by 6:45am. This way you will be a head of the game and have the other temples pretty much to yourself. What most do is spend time at Angkor Wat and then go to one of the local pop up restaurants for some food.
The temples close at 5:30pm – midday is usually scorching. On both trips I have been back in Siem Reap by 12pm, that is 7 hours at the Temples. The big tour buses usually arrive around 9am so it’s good to get ahead of them and not stuck in a temple with hundreds of people.
The main temples are:
Angkor Wat – the main temple and biggest attraction.
Bayon – home to the incredible smiling faces (my favourite).
Ta Phrom – famously, the “Tomb Raider” temple, it is also known as the Jungle Temple with tree growing tall from the stone.
The history of this forgotten world is incredible, one that I think everyone should see and understand – with a photo opportunity around every corner.
Note: Please respect the culture and heritage of this religious sight. Knee length clothing at least and covered shoulders. There are monks visiting the sights, and their orange robes are eye-catching. Ask them first if you want to take a picture of them.