When I visited Cambodia for the first time in January 2010 during the high season, I unconsciously did injustice to the Temple of Angkor Wat by visiting it just for few hours. A tourist Mecca also dubbed as the eighth wonder of the world should be in top of the “must do things” when you are in Cambodia. Since I returned yet again, I realized from my mistakes and here I pen down all my tips and tricks for an unforgettable discovery of the Angkor temples. I hope you will like this comprehensive guide about Angkor Wat.
“Evoking dreams of an exotic past, the temple of Angkor Wat is the number one attraction in Cambodia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest religious monument.” As mentioned in http://www.budgettravel.com/blog/budget-travel-vacation-ideas-touring-tips-for-angkor-wat,28659/
The temple of Angkor encompass glorious remains of the several capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century. This Hindu temple that became Buddhist in the 12th century is conveniently located near Tonle Sap and in the vicinity of Siem Reap.
UNESCO recognizes just 400 Square Kilometers as a total temple area. But, according to the studies and many researches that has been done in the past, it is estimated that this former capital was stretched over 3000 square kilometers with almost 700,000 inhabitants.
Small circuit or large circuit? By Tuk-tuk, by bike or by car? With or without a guide? There is no defined way to visit Angkor Wat. Since there are around 287 temples in total you can choose plenty of options to discover.
Visiting the Angkor Wat Temple
When you visit the Angkor Wat, you will hear people talking about small and large routes. It is a 15 km and 24 km circuit including the most beautiful temples of Angkor. These routes were developed by the conservation groups and now offered by travel agencies and guides. Note, these circuits are complementary and do not involve visiting the same temples. Short tours are not the smaller version of the grand tour because you are not seeing the same temples at all. If you decide to follow one of these circuits, ask your driver to do it in reverse to avoid the maddening crowd.
Short Tour of Angkor Wat
It leads you to famous places from Angkor Wat to the great walled city of Angkor Thom.
What you can expect to see:
Angkor Wat – Phnom Bakheng – Baksei Chamkrong – Angkor Thom including the famous Bayon, Baphuon and the Terrace of Elephants and Leper King and the royal palace – Thommanon – Chau Say Tevoda – Ta Keo – Ta Phrom – Banteay Kdei – Sra Blood – Prasat Kravan.
Grand Tour of Angkor Wat
This route is longer in distance but it takes less time. Those with full of energy and spirit can finish this within half day.
What you can expect to see:
Preah Khan – Neak Pean – Ta Som – the Mebon Oriental – Pre Rup.
My advice: Contact your local travel agency to create a customized route that will include unavoidable places with less crowd.
Find your tour style: time, transportation and guide
Travellers, scholars and families with young children who are eager to explore Angkor Wat, it is important to craft your journey and visits according to your travel needs.
Marathon or slow pace: How long does it takes to visit the Angkor Wat temples?
I would highly recommend you to avoid the marathon style even if you are traveling with kids and no matter if you are bitten by the temple bug. It is better to start the tour by early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hot weather and to enjoy the surreal sunrise or sunset – an ideal time to take pictures. You will definitely travel back into the time to live moments of glorious history of each temple without any sign of tiredness.
To make it funnier, I advise you to prefer a treasure hunt, alternatively between must-see temples like Angkor Wat, temples in the wilderness like Ta Nei and following the way of the most mythical Temples of cinemas, like those of “Tomb Raider” and “Two Brothers.
This historical Khmer architectural marvel also host abundant unique experiences such as picnic in Phnom Kulen, in Siem Reap sacred mountain and have a charming hotel, plethora of markets and restaurants.
In formal style it will take approximately:
> 1 complete day for the Small Circuit
> ½ day for the Grand Circuit
My advice: Allow at least three days to visit the temples of Angkor in order to modulate small and big circuit by adding off the beaten temples. With children I recommend to visit the temple for three half-days so that they can enjoy the morning alternatively on bike, tuk-tuk, treasure hunt and play at the hotel pool in the afternoon.
Car, tuk-tuk or bike?
Each mode has its own advantages and disadvantages and if you have several visiting days, feel free to choose these mode of transports alternatively.
If you wake up at dawn and a bit of sport does not scare you, opt for a bicycle. It is still the best way to soak up the life of the ancient Khmer capital and to enjoy the scenery.
If you fear the heat or you only have two days visit, the car is the best choice. Fast, comfortable and air conditioned, the charm of this mode of transport depends on your driver.
This three wheeler automobile which is famous throughout Southeast Asia guarantees a unique transport. An alternative between the bike and the car, which is often popular with children but also among photographer. It remains somewhat noisy and uncomfortable.
My Advice: Mix the means of transport from one day to another for a good mix of comfort and authenticity. Prefer walking? Do not hesitate to ask your bicycle, car, tuk-tuk for half a day and follow your guide for exploration in the jungle to discover the buried temples of Angkor.
Guide or solo?
It is advisable to hire a guide for the temples of Angkor: so many stories and legends dot the ruins of the ancient capital that it is difficult or impossible to apprehend alone.
If you still prefer to visit alone, I recommend you to visit with The Backpacker and The Angkor Guidebook by Andrew Booth (English only) which provides a lot of informations about the history of the temples and their virtual reconstitution. Keep in mind that the drivers speak English but they are not fluent which can make communication somewhat comical.
With a Local Guide
The choice of the guide who will accompany you during your visit is crucial and local travel agency can guarantee you a punctual guide, English speaking with a good knowledge of the temples. A local guide will tell you about the temples and some anecdotes and legends. If you are traveling with family or friends, this can be a good option.
With a tour guide
Temples buff can enjoy the services of a tour guide for a day for a unique experience. You can adjust your route with him and orient your visit to a particular theme: sculptures or archaeological discoveries … It cost on an average between 500 and 700 euros per day for the services of a tour guide.
My advice: Choose the services of a local guide and look for a good price with a good quality ratio than the lowest price at the risk of missing out on your visit.
Tips and tricks
Like all tourist spots, some tricks can change your life. Now that you have found your preferred style, let me give you some last advice before you start your tour of the Angkor temples.
Rates: All about the Angkor Pass
Passes for the Angkor Wat temples can be purchased on the day of the first visit at the official ticket counter which is open from 5 am to 5:30 pm. Please note that the ticket counter on the way to Banthey Srei only sells day-passes. If you book through a travel agency, your guide will buy a pass for you the first day of your visit.
There are 3 types of Angkor Pass;
– Angkor Pass valid for 1 day the same day until 17h – 20 USD
– 3 days Angkor Pass – valid on the date of the first day of visit and can be discontinued on request over a week – $ 40
– 7 days Angkor Pass – valid on the date of the first day of visit. Possibility on request to allocate those visiting days for a month – 60 USD
Please note, children under 12 can visit the Angkor temples for free.
Respecting the Angkor Temples
Cambodian greet you with a big smile to discover their most valuable assets. It is important to keep in mind that the Angkor temples are above all sacred places for Cambodian and it is better to dress properly and have shoulders and legs below the knee covered. Shorts, tank tops and too tight clothes should be avoided. The monks are accustomed to tourism, but in the Khmer tradition a woman should never touch a monk and avoid looking him in the eye.
The temples of Angkor are archaeological ruins, not a playground. APSARA (Authority for the Protection of the Site and the Development of the Angkor Region) as well as numerous researchers and organizations work on daily basis to protect it.
How to avoid the crowds and enjoy your visit to the Angkor temples?
Many tourists now come to the temples of Angkor and as a traveller it is sometimes difficult to avoid the flock of monks. With over 2 million tourists a year visiting the Angkor temples mainly between November and February, some tips can be useful.
Get up early.
Cambodians start their day at 5am and 6am. You can easily go and do your shopping on any local market. The temples are open from sunrise to sunset and the ticket office opens at 5 am: perfect for enjoying the beautiful lights in the morning and the fresh air.
Post your lunch break.
If you want to visit during the day, enjoy the traditional lunch break: 12h-14h to visit the unavoidable and avoid the crowd. Otherwise get in town, relax beside the pool at your hotel, enjoy a Khmer massage and come back late in the day, let your mind and body refreshed to continue your visit.
Take time and make choices.
There is no point to be exhausted when it comes to visit the temples of Angkor Wat. Depending on your time and with the expert services of your trip, you can shape a route mixing the essential and the lesser known but equally splendid temples to avoid the traditional traffic jams. Once there with your guide, your itinerary is flexible and can adapt over your visit.
To finish with, I would also like to share 19 unique tips from Wendy Perrin in http://blog.tripadvisor.com/blog/2015/06/10/things-you-need-to-know-before-visiting-angkor-wat-2/
- Do your research so you are familiar with the basic history of Angkor Wat. This will help you appreciate it more when you see it in person and free up more time to learn about it in-depth.
- Be prepared to walk–A LOT. The complex is very vast and a lot of the temples and sights are relatively far apart from each other (and may require a little bit of climbing), so don’t forget to wear your sneakers!
- Bring a lot of water. It can get very hot and humid, especially from April through May, and you’ll want to stay hydrated during all of the walking and trekking.
- The best time to visit is before sunrise, which means you should aim to be there around 5 a.m. Many travellers have said that this is the most opportune time to explore the temples, as watching the sunrise is an indescribable experience–it’s also an ideal time for picture taking. Also, you’ll be avoiding the tourist rush and will therefore get the chance to fully enjoy the serenity of the temples.
- If you’re going during the hottest months, definitely visit the temples before 11 a.m. Temperatures can reach a staggering 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the middle of the day.
- Don’t miss the reflection of the main temple from the water at sunset – the color of the sky is one you won’t be able to rid your mind of for years to come.
- Plan which temples you want to see ahead of time and buy a pass for at least three days to save you a lot of time and stress. Many travellers have noted that three days is enough time to explore the complex, and tickets for entry into the temple are valid for a full week and can be used on any of that week’s three consecutive days.
- Bring an umbrella when you’re walking around the complex to help block some of the harsh sun rays.
- Book a hotel that has a pool. You won’t regret if after a full–and oftentimes hot–day of sightseeing!
- January brings some of the best weather. If it’s possible, try to book your trip for this month.
- Pay for a walking tour guide to really make the temples come to life for you. Knowing the history of each temple will allow you to truly appreciate just how significant they truly are.
- Wear respectful clothing, since all of the ancient temples are active sites of Hindu worship. This includes covering your shoulders with sleeves and wearing long pants.
- Be aware: Children under the age of 12 won’t be able to enter certain areas of the complex. If you’re traveling with kids, research ahead of time and plan accordingly.
- Hire a private driver for two or three days. This can cost you roughly 15 USD dollars per day and most hotels will have them at standby. What’s even better is that a lot of drivers will customize the days for you and have water coolers and cold towels readily available to help you combat the extreme temperatures.
- Or, get a bike and ride it around for a couple of days if you have the time. It’s a fun and adventurous way to see the temples.
- Buy souvenirs at stores that are closer to the temples to save money. Gifts at these shops tend to be cheaper than those that are sold in the markets.
- For cheap and yummy food, eat in the Siem Reap indoor market rather than a restaurant. The food is also cooked in front of you, so you know it’s fresh.
- Travelers report that all you need is 30-40 USD dollars per day, which includes tuk tuk rides and food. Dining out in Cambodia is fairly inexpensive.
- And last, but certainly not least, make sure to spend enough time at all the temples to fully comprehend the individuality of each. They are all special in their own way, and your trip won’t be complete until you become well acquainted with their uniqueness.
Want to visit the Angkor temples? Contact Manon Shanti Travel to craft your customized route and immerse yourself in this ancient Khmer city http://www.shantitravel.com/en/