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 Southeast Asia. Though the civilization went extinct, its identity, for its rich history and culture always stayed in news. The temples of Angkor are among the highlighted tourist attractions in Cambodia, and perhaps the very reason why so many tourists visit Cambodia at first place.
I spent five days in Siem Reap, out of which three days were totally dedicated to exploring the temples of Angkor. While to some tourists they might seem pretty similar to each other, in fact, they are not. And that’s why I advise learning some history before you visit the city of Angkor. Getting a guide is helpful, but if you’ve some knowledge about this place before you even arrive there, you’ll be able to appreciate the entire archaeological park with a whole new perspective.
Getting To The Angkor Archaeological Park
There are 3 types of admission passes USD20 one day pass, USD40 three days pass, and USD60 seven days pass (prices as per Sep 2016). A three/ seven-day pass can be used on 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 the pass, you cannot even see the temples from outside, or even access the 400 square kilometre area of the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Now, I know you’re confused about buying a one day pass and save yourself some money. I was confused too. But since I wanted to see most of it on a bicycle and click as many pictures as possible, I opted for a 3-day pass. But one day might just be enough for you if you just want to quickly scan the temples and are doing your tour in a tuk-tuk. Moreover, since the entire area is amazingly 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 experience the ruins of Angkor. In a day, you can catch a glimpse of almost all the temples in the inner circuit, and a few popular ones on the outer circuit.
So unless you’re really interested in the history of Angkor and want to explore the temples thoroughly over a 3-day or a 5-day period – go for the 1-day pass and be happy about it. But make sure that you hire a tuk-tuk 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.
Start early With Your Tour
If you only have a one day pass you would 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 kind of experience. I personally found it the highlight of the entire Angkor Wat complex.
Angkor Wat’s grandeur can only be best seen silhouetted against a rising morning sky. The entire site is just too clichéd yet too beautiful to miss.
And there are a couple of other 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.
Avoid A Tuktuk If You’ve More Days At Hand
Unless you’re in a rush and are bound by a single day pass, I’d recommend you to avoid a tuk-tuk 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 the other. If you have the flexibility of a two-wheeler, you can explore them out, and try 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 will study the map a little a day before, and prepare your route map in advance, you will be better off without a guide. I did not hire a guide either, yet most of the times I knew where I was going.
Make A List Of The Temples You Want To Visit
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 include 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 spread over 400 sq kilometre distance with a number of different temple complexes, and most tourists often find themselves directionless, soon after they finish visiting the popular ones.
Moreover, it will work in your favour if you had decided 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.
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 don’t want to miss, include: Angkor Wat, Bayon, The Baphuon, Terrace of Leaper King, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Bantey Kdei, Pre Rup, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.
Here’s another travel guide for Angkor Wat if you’re looking for more suggestions.
Whether you’re in Cambodia for a day or a month, make sure you have time for Angkor Archeological park that 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 Asian trip.
Suggested Read: How Much It Costs to Travel In Cambodia – For Frugal Backpackers