What used to be a sleepy hamlet is today, a booming town, thanks to an influx of tourists from around the world who come to see the UNESCO World Heritage site – Angkor Wat.
Literally meaning ‘Siam defeated’, this culturally rich town has a lot to offer, depending on the amount of time you are willing to spend here. My suggestion is to take a relaxed approach to everything you are doing, including a visit to the many temples in the complex.
Getting into Siem Reap
Getting into Siem Reap is relatively hassle-free if you are flying. There are flights from international destinations in the region. There are also bus services from Bangkok. However, I would advise that you read up about these services as I understand it is all part of a large scam to swindle you off your hard-earned cash. You can read more on applying for a Cambodian visa here.
Your day itinerary through the sites
I agree, a day may not be enough to see all the temples of Angkor Wat. Chances are even three days may not do it. However, if you want to get a feel of this magnificent site without spending too much time and money, why not do a day tour instead.
Ideally, your trip should start at Angkor Wat. This is the largest of the complexes, and your first stop on a well-oiled itinerary that everyone, from the hotel staff to the tuk-tuk driver knows. It follows a pattern, and my suggestion is that you go with the flow. You can opt to start your day before the crack of dawn, to capture the sunrise, or much later. Either way, see what works best for you. This is also the most photographed site, especially for those looking for that perfect shot as the sun rises. If you aren’t doing the sunrise and instead choose to start later in the morning, then this complex should take you between two to three hours to explore.
From here, it’s a short drive to your next destination – Angkor Thom – Bayon, or the temple of many faces. It’s relatively small when compared to Angkor Wat. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up with the number of giant faces, more than 200, through the complex. It is over here too that you will get some of your most amazing photographs. Keep an eye out for the policemen and guides who can point you out to the best Instagram worthy snaps, including of you touching your nose with one of the faces. And if you are lucky, then you should be able to photograph some of the elusive monks too, who normally shy away from the camera when they spot you focusing on them.
Once you are done with it, and depending on how you have organised your tour, it should be around noon, and my suggestion is to take a lunch break. Chances are you will be whisked to an overpriced restaurant that, often, has worked out deals with drivers. They get a free meal, while you grab yourself some refreshments and a meal. While not an ideal lunch you may be hungry for, my suggestion is that you eat something. Make sure you stock up on water too.
From here, it is short hop to Ta Prohm, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple. It’s a complex where the forest is slowly devouring the ruins, making for spectacular visuals of massive trees intertwined with structures. Made famous by The Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie, it used to be overcrowded with tourists trying to locate and snap themselves in the exact same spot where sections of the movie were shot. Thankfully, that has changed now. There is a strict route that you need to follow, thereby preserving the temple and controlling the crowd. My suggestion is that you take your time and you will get to see it in its entirety.
Time permitting, and if you have worked out a good rate with your driver, then also try and see if you can head to Preah Khan. It’s a short drive from Angkor Thom and is mostly overlooked by most tourists on a day tour. While not as impressive as Ta Prohm, this site has also been left in its natural state, allowing for the trees and ruins to be one.
You can finally end your day with stunning sunset from atop Phnom Bakheng. It is a mountain temple located on top a 70-meter-high hill and is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. King Yasovarman I made this the most important temple in the Kingdom. Try and get as early as possible to get a great spot, and you will be treated to a stunning display as the sun paints its own canvas in hues of colours that range from red and yellow, to deep orange. You also get spectacular views of Angkor Wat, the surrounding forest and the Baray reservoir.
Getting to, and around Angkor Wat
Depending on the number of people, an idea way to get to, and move around the complexes is to hire a tuk-tuk for the day. You will need to agree on a good price. Expect to pay between US$ 15 and 20, depending on whether you can manage three, four or even five of the sites listed below. If you are planning on catching the sunrise and / or sunset, then expect a marginal increase in your cost.
Depending on whether you opt for a one-day or three-day pass, remember that each entry fee covers all 72 of the temples across all the sites. Ideally, the three-day pass is what works, depending on the amount of time you wish to spend, including catching both the sunrise and sunset. However, a one-day pass is fine too, as it gives you a broad overview of the main attractions around Angkor Wat.
A one-day pass costs US$ 37, a three-day pass is US$ 62 while a three-day pass will set you back by US$ 72.
If you have hired a tuk-tuk or a van / car to take you to Angkor Wat, the driver will stop along the route so you can purchase your tickets.