Visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat is in every traveller’s bucket list – whether or not they have one. This was the centre of great Khmer empire that once ruled most of the Southeast Asia. Though the civilization went extinct, its identity, in the form of a few historic temples, always remained around us. They are now among a few popular tourist attractions in Cambodia, and perhaps the reason why so many tourists come to Cambodia at first place.
I spent five days in Siem Reap, out of which three days were totally dedicated in exploring the temples of Angkor. While to some tourists they might seem pretty similar, they are not. And perhaps that’s why I advise to learn some history before you start with your tour. Getting a guide is helpful, but if you’ve some knowledge about this place, before you even arrive here, you’ll be able to appreciate the entire archaeological park with a whole new perspective.
Getting Into The Angkor Archaeological Park
There are 3 types of admission passes: $20 one day pass; $40 three days pass; and $60 seven days pass. A three/seven day pass can be used on a non-consecutive days, but within a month. You need the pass to get into some of the larger and popular temples, as well as to gain entry in the Archaeological Park itself. This means, if you do not buy a pass, you cannot even see the temples from outside, or even access much of the 400 square kilometre area of the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Now, I know you’re confused about buying a day pass and save yourself $20. I was confused too. But since I wanted to see most of it on a bicycle and click as many pictures as I can, I opted for a 3 day pass. But one day might just be enough for you. Since the entire area is massive and you cannot see it all, even in 3 days – one day gives you just enough time to get a feeling of what it’s like to visit the ruins of Angkor. In a day, you can catch a glimpse of almost all the temples in the little circuit, and a few popular ones on the outer circuit.
So unless you’re really interested in this, and you’re pretty sure a 3 day pass is the only thing you want – do it in one day and just be happy about it. But make sure you hire a tuktuk to use your day efficiently. Also, buy your ticket a day before, to avoid wasting your time in the morning and making sure you catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
If you’ve only one day pass, you’d naturally want to start early. But even if not, watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is no less than a Things-To-See-Before-You-Die experience. I personally, moreover, found it the highlight of the entire Angkor Wat complex.
Though it’s indeed a marvelous piece of work, I found other temples – particularly The Bayon and Ta Prohm – more appealing. I think Angkor Wat lacks many of the elaborate details and nuances that made the entire structure so memorable, and historically significant. Its grandeur is best seen silhouetted against a rising morning sky. The entire sight is just too clichéd yet too beautiful to give it a miss.
And there are a couple of more reasons to start early, one is the general fact that historical monuments always look a little more appealing with the brightening morning sky, and second, it might just be too hot to enjoy the beauty of Angkor complex during the noon. So start early in the day, and take rest during the afternoon.
Unless you’re in a rush and are bound by a single day pass, I’d recommend you to avoid a tuktuk and rather explore the complex – after researching a bit and creating a perfect route plan – on a scooter, or a bicycle.
The Angkor Archaeological park is surrounded by a jungle, and has many jungle routes and shortcuts to commute from one temple to another. If you have the flexibility of a two wheeler, you can explore them out, and approach the entire temple hopping experience like Indiana Jones. Do not however, forget to buy a bowler hat to get into the proper attire.
It’s true that you won’t be able to hire a guide – if you’re on a bicycle, but if you read a little about the temples a day before, and plan things ahead, you’d be better off without a guide, at all. I did not hire a guide either, yet most of the times I knew much about the temple I was visiting, plus I always knew where I was going (thanks to my favourite navigation app Maps.me).
Have an idea of where you want to go
Getting around the Angkor Archaeological Park can be confusing, and choosing which temples you don’t want to miss can be bewildering. Of course you don’t want to miss the popular ones which includes Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Prohm, among a few others – it would help you a great deal, if you research a little about where all you want to go. The archaeological park is spred over 400 sq kilometer distance with a number of different temple complex, and most tourists often find themselves directionless, soon after they finish visiting the popular ones.
Moreover, it will work in your favour if you decide not to follow the usual ‘circuit’ (which goes something like Angkor Wat at sunrise, followed by Bayon, The Terrace of Elephants, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm… and so on) and rather mix it up, to avoid the crowds.
Some of the most popular temples of Angkor Archaeological Park
Where almost every temple is different and has its own significance, some of the most popular temples around the area, that you surely can’t miss, include: Angkor Wat, Bayon, The Baphuon, Terrace of Leaper King, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Bantey Kdei, Pre Rup, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.
Whether you’re in Cambodia for a day, or a month, make sure you get some time to give Angkor the visit it deserves. For all the temples are amazingly beautiful, and offer an experience that no other place, no city of ruins, around the world offers. So take some time out, and rest assured, visiting the temples of Angkor will be the highlight of your entire Southeast Asia trip.
Suggested Read: How Much It Costs to Travel In Cambodia
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