Cambodia: Visiting the Temples of Angkor Wat
The Glory Days of the Khmer Kingdom
NOTE – This article is over 5 years old. Some of the info may no longer be accurate, particularly in relation to the ‘Buying Tickets’ section.
Angkor was the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire which controlled almost all of South East Asia from Burma to Vietnam between the 9th & 13th centuries. It was the world’s largest civilization and is the source of immense pride to Cambodians.
The temples are spread over a large area and were re-discovered and restored in the 20th century. The main temples include Angkor Wat itself, the largest religious structure in the world. Bayon a weird ruin in the middle of Angkor Thom, with hundreds of large faces all staring at you. Also not to be missed is Ta Prohm a mysterious temple swallowed up the jungle.
These temples in their own right are fascinating but the sheer number and size of the place, makes the Temples of Angkor Wat one of the true wanders of the world. Tourist numbers are increasing but still tiny compared to other famous sites around the world which have been ruined by mass international tourism.
Getting There & Around the Temples
When planning it is important to realise that the temples of Ankor Wat are set over a vast area. The ancient city of Angkor Thom was once home to a million people (roughly the size of modern day Birmingham (UK) or Dallas, Texas hence it is not somewhere you can walk around. Indeed most of the ruins lie outside the ancient city walls.
There are two main routes, the little circuit (17km) and the big circuit (26km) follow the same course up until just past Bayon. Both take in the temples at Angkor Wat and the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The big route includes Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean and Eastern Baray. The little route goes via Ta Prohm and Ta Keo. There are also many temples and ruins that neither route takes in, some being as far as 80km from Siem Reap. There is a huge amount to see and your chosen route will depend on how many days you intend to stick around, your chosen mode of transport and your level of interest in Khmer history.
Bicycles can be rented for little more than a dollar in Siem Reap, although set out early if you want to see it all in a day, and the big circuit is around 40km in total given it starts around 8km from the centre of Siem Reap. Your bike will come with a lock so it is safe to leave by any of the temples you decide to check out. Otherwise find a moto driver in Siem Reap (it’s not hard) to transport you around the temples for the day for around $8. Add $5 or so for a moto pulled trailer tuk-tuk thing (not sure of the exact name) which is perfect for two. Elephant rides are available for $10 from the south gate of Angkor Thom to Bayon.
The official Angkor Ticket Office (5am-5:30pm) is on the main road to Angkor from Siem Reap.
1 day US$20
3 days US$40
7 days US$60
Your pass will have your photo on and you can only pay in cash, so take enough out from one of the ATM’s in Siem Reap. The pass allows you to visit any of the 80 or so temples and ruins. The Temple of Angkor Wat is manned by several staff at the front gate who you will have to show your pass to gain entry. The other temples don’t require you to show your pass to enter, however you must have it with you at all times and there is a fine if you’re caught without it.
The temples are open for visitors from 5am to 6:30pm. If cycling you may want to head back before 6ish because it gets dark quick and there are no streetlights.
Top Temples Tips
1) Get a guide (either Cambodian moto guy or guide book) to get the most out of your visit.
2) Cycling is a fun way to see the temples, watch out for the moody teenage girls who expect payment to ‘look after your bike’. We were told our bike would be broken if we ever returned because we only bought one bottle of their water.
3) You’re supposed to be out of the temple complex by dusk, but we can’t think of a better or spookier way to spend a night than camping out by one of the temples. You will probably get in some trouble if caught.
4) Don’t forget to buy your pass and once you’ve got it don’t lose it. You will need it to get into the main temples and will be fined $30 if caught without it.
5) The temple of Angkor Wat may be impressive and has to be visited but is flooded with tourists and people trying to sell stuff. Visit any of the other 70+ ruins for a more peaceful real experience.
6) Unless you’re a real temple history geek a week pass is likely to be too long. Having said that 1 day is not enough to see everything and take it all in. We reckon the 3 day $40 pass is your best bet.
7) It is true that $20 goes a long way in Cambodia but seriously don’t be tempted to skip this because it is more costly than other activities you’ve taken part in during your time in Cambodia.
8) It’s normally hot and sunny in Cambodia. Drink alot of water. Sold outside the main temples but not all so bring supplies.