There are a few of reasons people come to Siem Reap – cheap massages, delicious fish amok, happy pizza – but the main one is to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat, while the most famous one, is actually just one temple that is part of the Angkor Archeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site draws over two million visitors each year, and for good reason. It’s the biggest religious monument in the world, and represents a rich and varied history of Cambodia.
The entrance to the park is quite close to Siem Reap’s city center, and can easily be reached by car, tuk tuk, motorbike, or for the hardiest travelers, bicycle. It’s quite easy to hire a tuk tuk – just ask around in town and see what their price is to take you around for the day. An all-day tuk tuk will probably run you 15-20 USD (this is what I did on my last visit).
Another option, which I went with this time, is booking a tour. Since I had already visited a few years ago and done a self-tour, I was interested in going with a guide and hopefully learning more about the temples. I went through Beyond Unique Escapes, and it cost 32 USD for the day (plus tip for the guide and driver). This included air conditioned transport to and from their office in Siem Reap, unlimited cold bottled water, lunch, and a tour guide.
Due to the dusty road conditions and potential for downpour (especially in the rainy season), I would recommend going by car or tuk tuk.
In order to visit the Angkor complex, you’ll need to purchase an entrance pass. As of February 1, 2017, the entrance price for a one-day pass has almost doubled, causing concern that the price hike would turn tourists off from the famous site (personally, I think it’s entirely reasonable given how inexpensive everything else is in Cambodia). Now, you can buy a one-day pass for 37 USD, a three-day pass for 62 USD, or a seven-day pass for 72 USD. You’ll need to pay in cash, although there are plenty of ATMs in the building if you’ve forgotten. They’ll take your photo on the spot, and print out your pass. You’ll need to keep this handy at all times, and show it before entering any of the temples.
How many days do you need? It really depends on how much time you have, and how much you want to see. I did a one-day pass this time around, and basically did a marathon day of all the major sites. Quite frankly, it’s a lot to take in in just one day (especially if you plan to go early for sunrise over Angkor Wat). If you have the time and inclination, I would recommend buying a three-day pass and going twice or even three times. Even with my luxury transport and plenty of water, the heat was definitely starting to get to me by the end of the day. (On that note, midday is the quietest time to visit. Most people go for sunrise or sunset, so if you can plan a midday visit and don’t mind the heat, it’s the least crowded time to go).
What To Wear
The dress code this time seemed stricter to me than the last time I visited. Temple etiquette dictates that you cover your knees and shoulders, which means wrapping yourself up even more than usual in the oppressive Cambodian heat. In the past, I’ve worn long dresses and carried a scarf with me to cover my shoulders when necessary. This time, however, it was specifically stated that you were not allowed to cover up with just a scarf; it had to be an article of clothing. I (reluctantly) bought a $3 pair of elephant pants the day before, and paired it with a tank top and shawl. The no scarf rule struck me as a bit odd, but when in Rome, I guess. And there was a security guard at one of the temples who did enforce this dress code. You could really solve the problem by simply wearing a shirt with sleeves, but I break out in a sweat even thinking about that so I decided against that.
Where To Go
Clocking in at over 400 acres, the Angkor park can be a little overwhelming to navigate. If you’re not sure where to start, it’s best to let your guide or tuk tuk driver lead the way. They’ll be able to take you to the biggest sites (Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon, to name a few), and if there are any other temples in particular that interest you, you can just let them know.
If you’re doing a self-guided tour by bicycle, I would recommend going to Ta Prohm first, then work your way back out to the entrance, stopping by Angkor Wat and ending at Bayon. Or, if you have a three-day pass, you can split this day into a few visits.
Seeing as this post is quickly reaching epic proportions, I’ll delve a little deeper into each temple that I visited and what I learned from my guide another time. But regardless of how you get there, visiting the Angkor Archeological Park is a bucket list experience that you won’t want to miss.