Visiting Angkor: A Practical Guide

You probably have seen numerous photos and videos of the magnificent Angkor. I had it among the most coveted places to visit. It always fascinated me with its mysterious atmosphere and grandeur. We planned a 4-day itinerary. I have to say, it definitely didn’t disappoint and unlike many people, who get temple fatigue after a couple of days, I wouldn’t mind spending even more time there.

Below is some information and tips to make your visit to Angkor easier and enjoyable. If you want detailed information and tips on when to visit Cambodia, visa procedures, money, safety, etc, click here.

General facts

Many people call the site Angkor Wat after its most famous temple, but actually it isn’t one temple, it’s a huge city expanding on 400 sq. meters and full of over a thousand Buddhist and Hindu temples still standing. The city of Angkor was the capital of Khmer empire and flourished from 9th to 15th centuries before its decline by the hands of Ayutthaya kingdom and subsequent conquerings.

Currently, Angkor Wat is a national symbol. It is even depicted on the national flag of the country.

Thousands of tourists visit this UNESCO world heritage site every day. So you will always be among the crowds, whenever you visit. You might be lucky and visit at the time, when some temples aren’t that overcrowded, but most popular ones are always full. However, most tourists don’t visit lesser known temples, so you may find some quiet spots.

Where to stay

To visit Angkor, you will have to stay nearby, as it’s a huge archaeological site without accommodation options. Most people stay at Siem Reap, which seems to be fully catered to tourists visiting Angkor.

Siem Reap is quite small, particularly the central areas. The airport is very close, some 15 minutes’ drive from the city center. I suggest to stay close to the main areas, where the restaurants, coffee shops and markets are concentrated, as it will make your evenings much easier. I chose a hotel farther from the center, which meant that every evening we had to catch a tuk tuk to take us to the hotel and we paid 3 USD each time.

You have a number of options, from hostels to airbnbs and hotels. Keep in mind that mosquitoes and gecko lizards are very common here. When we arrived to the hotel, the room was full of mosquitoes, which wasn’t a pleasant thing, as we had to spray the room, then get out and wait. Choose a hotel, which takes better care of these issues, so that you don’t have to after a long flight or a long day out.

How long do you need for visiting Angkor?

Of course, it all depends on your interests and pace.

Most tourists actually visit for a day, just go around the major temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and leave thinking they saw everything. To be honest, I don’t think that is a great way to see this amazing and huge place, for which you travelled maybe even thousands of kilometres. In one day you will hardly see anything. Also, don’t think that once you saw a couple of temples, you have the idea of what others look like. Many temples are so different from each other, with some unique features, quiet places, awesome carvings, etc. etc.

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However, if you have limited time and want to cram as much as possible in a day, the post with the best 1-day itinerary is coming soon.

I do suggest to allocate at least 3 days to Angkor, unless you don’t like visiting temples and historical sites and get bored of them easily. I am working on the best 3-day itinerary for your visit.

I personally was really fascinated by this place. We had 4 days and we did visit the major things on my list. During those 4 days we were out most of the day from early morning.

If you like to spread out your visit and do it slowly, then you can even spend a week or more here.

You can also combine visiting Angkor with other activities in and around Siem Reap, like going to Tonle Sap lake, or visiting the temples and museums at Siem Reap itself.

Tickets for Angkor

You have 3 options for Angkor tickets, based on the time you have here. The 1-day pass costs 37 USD. If you are buying this one, you can’t get it in advance. You need to buy it either the previous day after 5pm or the morning, when you plan to use it. 3-day pass costs 62 USD. This one doesn’t have to be bought a day earlier. You don’t have to use it on consecutive days, just 3 days in one-week period. Similarly, the 7-day pass, which costs 72 USD also don’t have to be used on consecutive day and should be used in one month period. US dollars and cash are the preferred payment method, but you have an option of paying by card.

You will need to get your tickets before heading to Angkor, as the ticket office is not located near the temple complex. It’s in Siem Reap, at this location.

To get a ticket you need to bring your passport along. Some people say that they were not asked to show passports. To be sure, bring them along. They will take a photo of you at the ticket office and prepare the tickets for you. You need to keep these tickets on you at all times, as you will be asked to show them, while entering each temple. The officers will stamp the ticket in the morning the first time you are entering a temple and it will show that it is used for the day.

We bought a 7-day pass and used them over 4 days, so we got 4 stamps for each day.

If you lose your ticket, you won’t get any refund and will need to buy a new one to get admission.

You can buy your ticket early morning, even if you are going at sunrise. But the queues may be quite long in the mornings. It’s easier to buy your ticket the previous day. People suggest that if you buy at 5pm before the day you want to start using the pass (whether 1, 3 or 7-day), you can get a bonus sunset visit. I am not sure about this, as we didn’t try.

Keep in mind, they won’t sell you a ticket, unless you are dressed appropriately.

What to wear

The rules at Angkor on clothes you are supposed to wear, are quite strict. Check here for a detailed guide about acceptable and comfortable clothing.

Transport to get around Angkor

Angkor is very spread out and walking around it is simply impossible. You do need some sort of a transport.

Some, who aren’t afraid of heat and exhaustion choose the bicycles. That would make your visit much slower and tiring, as you have to walk a lot inside the temple grounds anyway. Certainly this is the cheapest option, as the bicycles can be hired for 5USD or even lower.

If you are a confident driver, you can hire a motorcycle as well. I am not sure about the prices for this though.

Most people hire either tuk tuks or cars for visiting the many temples. Cars are an expensive option, but they may be more comfortable, than tuk tuks because of air conditioning. Ask your hotel about the options. They will have contacts with the drivers providing the daily services. You can also just negotiate with a tuk tuk driver on the street. Cars are far rarer in the city. We hardly ever saw them, there are mostly motorcycles and tuk tuks around.

We chose to go with tuk tuk, as this was the cheaper option. The hotel sent us a driver to pick us up from the airport, we did like him, so we arranged to go with him.

One thing I didn’t know was that the drivers have their own itineraries for visiting the city. The so called small circle starting at Angkor Wat and ending with the Temple of Leper king, which costs 15 USD, the big circle – I already forgot the which one they had first on the list for this. This costs 20 USD. And some combination for Banteay Srei and Roluos group, which is somewhere around 35 USD. If you, like me, want to change this sequence, you should apparently negotiate in advance, as it’s not exact same price, as they have fixed, even if you are visiting the same temples (just in another sequence). Because of this we ended up paying 5 USD more the first day and second day each. After that we negotiated with another driver and it worked out easier.

Of course, you can go with their schedule and sequence of temples, which most people do. But exactly because most people do it, you will be at the temples, when they are the most crowded. For instance, visiting Bayon in the morning is a bad idea. It’s better to go later in the day, when crowds are less.

Because of that I made my own itinerary. I will soon share with you the itineraries based on what we did and what we should have done differently.

Most tuk tuk drivers will have water bottles kept cold with ice, which was a saviour for us on several occasions.

They normally will pick you up from your hotel in the morning at an arranged time and bring you to each temple on your itinerary. They wait for you at the entrance of each temple. At the end of the day, they will drop you off at your hotel or wherever you tell them in Siem Reap.

Each time you leave the tuk tuk driver, he will tell you, where he will be waiting for you. If he doesn’t, do ask, as they may stand a bit farther from the entrance, or it may be preferable for you to find them at the other gate.

Also, make sure to get the photo of the tuk tuk number and get the phone number from your driver. You may have difficulty finding them after you get out of the temples. If you can’t find the driver and don’t have a local sim card, you can ask any of the tuk tuk drivers around to call your driver. They will help, as they are used to this.

Temple opening times

Most temples open at 7.30am and work till 5.30pm. There are a couple, which open earlier for sunrise. As far as we found out, these are Angkor Wat and Srah Srang. Not sure about others. There are also a few, which open for sunset – Pre Rup, Phnom Bakheng and Angkor Wat.  I couldn’t find any official information online and had to ask on the spot.

Food at Angkor

The food places in the area are expensive. Most people ask their tuk tuk drivers to take them to a lunch place and they end up at ridiculously expensive places, where the drivers get a free meal, when they bring tourists. So if you definitely want to eat in this area, do your research. Another option would be to bring food with you. We did take nuts during a couple of days and just skipped lunch altogether at other occasions. We would just get back to Siem Reap and eat by 5-6pm.

See the suggestions for cheap food places and coffee spots in Siem Riep, after you are done with sightseeing for the day.

Other tips

  • Bring sunscreen and sunglasses with you.
  • Toilets are quite an issue around the area, they are only at certain spots, sometimes not too close from temples. So if you pass by one, use it, as you won’t know, when you find another one. Carry your toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you.
  • If you hire a tuk tuk, they will usually have water bottles kept cold with the ice they buy in the morning. However, if you are doing cycling or walking a lot, then you should bring water with. It’s very hot and you will be dehydrated.
  • Have some snacks for the times, when you won’t easily find the food places.

Have you visited Angkor recently? Do you have more tips? I would be happy to hear about your experiences.

Visited 50 countries and counting, Lived in 3 cities and collected a lot of useful information to help fellow travel junkies out there.

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