There is no doubt that the region of Angkor around Siem Reap is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It remained hidden for 500 years from the world.
Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of the hottest travel destinations in Asia. In 2015, 5 million people visited Angkor archeological park and you can just imagine how many people visit these temples every day. It is not easy to see a monument if you are walking around with the mad rush of tourists. Where everyone wants to click a perfect picture of themselves or a selfie. It is a constant struggle for people like me, who like to click monuments or see them in detail at a slow pace.
There are some important questions –
How to beat the crowds?
What are good tips for visiting Angkor Wat temples?
What is the best time to visit Angkor?
Read more about Temples of Siem Reap in Angkor Archeological Park
If you have a day then these tips for visiting Angkor Wat will help you –
The best weather in Angkor is from November to March, the temperature is low, humidity is lesser and it is the dry season. Though the heat is less but tourists are maximum at this time. Months of April and May are defined by heat and humidity. The wet season begins in June and lasts until September.
I think it is best to visit in September and October, there are fewer tourists and prices are lower in Siem Reap. The surrounding forest areas are lush green after rains. If you don’t mind monsoon rains, which are intermitted during the day then May to September is the best time to visit Cambodia. It is lush green and the temples are without crowds. If travel at that time then you should carry waterproof bags to keep your mobile, camera and other electronic items.
I personally advise hiring a tuk-tuk. Why not an air-conditioned car or motorbike or cycle?
The airconditioned taxi’s cost almost doubles to a tuk-tuk and you have very little time to spend in the car. In any case, you have to walk in temples. Cost of the motorbike is slightly lower than a tuk-tuk but you have to drive and park in a safe place outside the temples. In case of a tuk-tuk, you need not worry about parking and driving.
Bicycles are most economical but considering the heat and the sheer size of the park, distance of Angkor archaeological park from Siem Reap and then you have to walk a lot in different temples this option does make much sense.
Cambodian tuk-tuks are like a horse carriage that is attached to the back of a motorbike and are quite spacious. Some of the drivers keep icebox to keep the water cool, which is very helpful in Siem Reap’s weather. Check with tuk-tuk drivers in the market area for a day tour cost because I have noticed if you hire from the hotel, they charge more maybe because they give commission to the hotel.
Watching Sunrise in Angkor Wat is one of the most popular activity. Check the time of sunrise and start from your hotel at least one hour before the sunrise. There are hundreds and thousands of people next to the moat at the time of the sunrise depending upon offseason or season. Everyone wants to have a good picture and getting a good spot for clicking is a struggle. If you are planning to explore the temple in a day then buy the ticket a day before after 5.00 PM for next day. If you buy a ticket after 5.00 PM then it will be dated for next day.
Keep your ticket safe and accessible because you need it to get into the Angkor archeological park entrances. There are people from APSARA society checking the ticket at some of the larger temples entrances. You can not use a ticket of another person because ticket has a photo of the person on it.
Food and Water
Don’t go back to the hotel for breakfast, you will unnecessarily waste some cool precious hours in this process. Ask your hotel a day before for packed breakfast, most hotels happily provide this. If you don’t want to carry breakfast then you can have bread omelet from any stall near Angkor Wat, which is safe because they cook it in front of you. Carry enough water with you for the day. If you buy water in the park then check the price. At some stalls they may try to sell water bottles at double the market price, negotiate with them. A lady outside Ta Prohm sold me a water bottle at double price and after 10 minutes she sold same water bottle to another person at half price after negotiation.
Research about Angkor
Do your research before visiting and have an idea, which temples you don’t want to miss. The ‘must-see’ temples are Angkor Wat (the main temple), the Bayon (temple with faces), Ta Prohm (the one with trees growing over and also known as Tomb Raider temple), Preah Khan (similar to Ta Prohm, but less crowded) and Banteay Srei (25 km from Angkor Wat and thought to be done by women with fine and detailed carvings). If you are visiting for 3 days or more then check about less popular temples and monuments. In your research, you will know what to expect in which temple.
Hire a Guide
Get a guide even if you have done your research. A guide can explain things about temples and the differences between temples, their history, he can also guide you to important points and significance of bas-relief. Don’t hire a guide for the whole day at first go. Check with other travelers at the hotel, if they recommend someone. If you engage a guide outside a temple, ask him for two prices: one for that temple and another for a whole day to show all important temples you want to see. In this way, you will be able to judge the guide and if you like his explanation then hire him for the full day.
Visit Temples in Reverse
Don’t visit the temples in recommended order instead visit in different order. Don’t go to Angkor Wat after watching sunset because most of the people do that. Instead, go to other temples inside the park and do a reverse tour or whatever you feel comfortable doing. If you see tourist bus approaching a temple then skip that temple for some time and come back later.
Explore Smaller Sites
There are several smaller sites that have almost zero visitors in comparison to Angkor Wat or Bayon. Insist your guide to show you some different places in the park, you never know what you see. Guides are local people and have better knowledge about the park. They usually stick to the popular route but if you ask them then they will show you different places.
It’s hot in Siem Reap no matter what time of the year. It is better to start off early and do some sightseeing before the afternoon when the heat gets unbearable. Moreover, there is so much to see that you need a lot of time.
The Angkor archeological park is open from 5:30 AM to 5:30 PM. If you are trying to see the temples in one day then my advice is not to come back to the town for lunch break. In that case, have lunch in the park at a place where you see the crowd or tuk-tuk drivers eating. Then relax for some time near the lake in shade.
Go to Angkor Wat around afternoon, when the crowd is lesser and you can explore the inner area of temple and galleries on side of temples. If you are exploring the Angkor archeological park in 3 days then go back to town for a couple hours in the mid-afternoon and return to the park for the last couple hours.
Personal Care and Precautions
It is hot throughout the year, few months are less hot. So in whichever months you travel, you will be walking the whole day to see the temples. Keep yourself hydrated and drink water as much as you can. Carry electrolyte and drink it in between, chances of getting dehydration are strong if you don’t drink water. If you follow this basic precaution you will remain fit.
Keep a good sunscreen cream with maximum SPF protection and apply it during the day.
A cap is a must to cover your head while walking around in temples to avoid direct sun and heat.
Keep an umbrella, it will protect you from the sun and also useful in case it will rain. Sometimes weather changes suddenly in Siem Reap.
Space out your Visit to Angkor
If you have bought a multi-day pass don’t visit the park on consecutive days. Take a day off to rest or take a cooking class or visit market and cafes or wellness centers or visit the floating villages of Tonle Sap.
Read more about Floating villages of Tonle Sap
What to Wear
When you are visiting temples of Angkor keep in mind that these are sacred sites, these temples were the place of worship for Hindu or Buddhist. Wear something which can cover your shoulders and knees, which is mandatory to enter a temple. You will be denied entry inside the temple if your clothes won’t come under approved guidelines of dressing. In some places covering with stole is not acceptable, so if you are wearing a without sleeve top then carry a light shirt to wear over your top.
Wear only cotton or linen fabric clothes because synthetic or nylon fabric is a bad choice for Siem Reap’s weather.
The sneaker and canvas shoes are best options. The shoes should be comfortable as you have to go up & down and walk a lot to explore the temples. You can also wear comfortable sports sandals (Floaters).
Don’t yell or behave aggressively in the temple complex. Don’t climb ruins to take a perfect shot, by doing so you will damage the heritage. Don’t take naked pictures, these are temples and sacred sites, be respectful. (In past few incidents came into light when people stripped down and get a shot naked at Angkor. This is not cool and its a sign of disrespect.)
With all the crowd in Angkor, it can be difficult to get the perfect picture. Try to take pictures from different angles, wait for the crowd to get thinner and don’t push people. Get creative with editing tools or make photos black and white to avoid dull coloring.
Some interesting facts about Angkor –
* Angkor Wat is facing west and not east unlike most of the Khmer temples in the park. It’s the biggest temple in the park.
* The moat around Angkor Wat restricted the growth of forests on this temple and that’s why the temple was in much better condition after the discovery.
* After the popularity of temples wooden platforms, fences, and ropes have been put up to protect the temple from the visitor as well as for the ease of walking. These didn’t detract the experience rather in some places this help walking around in temples.
* The ticket for Angkor Archaeological Park is valid from the date you purchase but if you buy the ticket after 5:00 pm, it is valid starting the next day.
* The visit to Angkor Archaeological Park after 5:30 pm is free, no ticket required. You can visit the park for sunset without having to use up a day on your ticket.
* There are few temples outside the main park area that also takes Angkor ticket. These temples also punch the ticket for the day, so manage your ticket days wisely.
The Angkor temples were “in danger” list of UNESCO till 2004, after continuous restoration and preservation these temples are in the safe category now. It is a priority at Angkor to maintain and preserve the temples. The booming tourist numbers can be a threat to the monuments, so be a mindful visitor. Be respectful, don’t abuse the place to take a perfect picture for Instagram, be mindful and give space to other people and don’t litter the place with empty water bottles or with packing material.