Angkor Wat: the 8th Wonder of the World – a backpacker guide

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Angkor Wat

In southeast Asia, an abandoned city sprawls magnificently across the heart of Cambodia; its hundreds of monuments contain more stones than the Egyptian pyramids and cover more ground than modern Paris. This is Angkor Wat, the capital of an empire that once controlled most of Southeast Asia.

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Credits: @viajerosaladeriva

More about Angkor Wat

Angkor’s greatest marvel, Angkor Wat, meaning ‘Holy Temple’, served as a shrine, an observatory and a funerary temple. Researchers suggest that it took almost 30 years to complete, and it was finished in time to bury an important King.

But Angkor Wat had hardly claimed its space in the horizon when disaster struck. Drawn by its increasing splendour, the Chams from what is now Vietnam attacked and burned the city.

When the capital was rebuilt, the King built a walled city, Angkor Thom, to protect them in time of war.

But the Khmer story came to an end not long afterwards. More than 500 years ago the Khmer fled this grand city. The Khmer capital was lulled into a centuries-long sleep by the encroaching jungle.

To the outside world, the city existed only in obscure travelers tales. Then, in 1860, a French naturalist named Henri Mouhot stumbled across the ruins.

After being overlooked by travellers for many decades, also due to the country’s unstable situation, Angkor Wat has seen a boom in visits in recent years and it is now facing another huge challenge: mass tourism.

The number of visitors to Angkor Wat reached nearly 2.5 million over the course of 2017, making it the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia, and an entire city, Siem Reap, serves as its gateway.

Credits: @viajerosaladeriva

Best places to stay

Pretty much anywhere in the city of Siem Reap is a great place. With over 900 hotels, hostels and homestays, you can easily find the best accommodation that suits your needs.

SIEM REAP IS BUDGET FRIENDLY

You can find bunk beds for as low as $3 USD if you are on a budget.

Here are the best hostels in town, powered by Hostelworld:

HostelNoteRatingPrice (USD)
Onederz HostelRooftop pool, perfectly located9.6/10from $8Book now
Lub D CambodiaVery new, clean, modern hostel9.4/10from $8Book now
Mad Monkey HostelCheap Party Hostel9.3/10from $3.5Book now
Cozy Cloud
Backpackers Hostel
Outdoor swimming pool &
garden
9.4/10from $4.5Book now
Funky Flashpacker
Siem Reap
Party hostel, sky bar open 24/79.2/10from $3.5Book now
One Stop Hostel
@ Pub Street
Clean, comfortable and well-designed
hostel with a rooftop area.
9.3/10from $6Book now
Alternatively, if you don't like staying in hostels, check the best accommodations on Booking.com.

Angkor Wat site only gained its worldwide popularity in the most recent years.
This means that most of Siem Reap accommodations are fairly new, modern and clean.

The city has various night markets as well as the very popular ‘Pub Street’.

Very similarly to Khao San Road in Bkk perhaps, Pub Street is a long road, dotted with pubs, lounges, restaurants and cafes that starts getting crowded around 6 PM and stays that way until sunrise, making it one of the best party places in Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat Relief

How to get around

By bicycle:

The terrain in Siem Reap is flat and many hostels and guesthouses include free use of bicycles in their room rate or offer very cheap bike rentals. This makes Siem Reap a very suitable destination for bike lovers.

However, keep in mind that it gets very (VERY) hot in Cambodia and temples are relatively far from each other.

By motorbike:

In Siem Reap motorcycle rental is still technically forbidden, but lately authorities are taking a relaxed view and a growing number of places now hire out motorbikes to tourists. It is usually possible to rent a 100cc motorbike for between US$4 and US$10 per day.

READ ALSO: How to buy & sell a bike in Vietnam

By tuk-tuk:

Tuk-tuks are the most common way to see the temples, especially if you are on a budget.

Usually a tuk-tuk can accommodate 4 people and hostels organize them the day before so you can jump on a shared one even if you are a solo traveller.

A tuk-tuk (with driver) will cost about $15 USD for the day, which is less than $4 USD/person if you share it with other 3 people.

The price is variable and it depends on which temples you want to visit and how far they are.

TIP: Check out our top tips section to “Arrange a custom tour”.

By car:

If you want to avoid the heat or just to travel more safely or comfortably, renting a car with driver and a/c is probably the way to go.

Expect to pay about $30 USD for a day.

Credits: @viajerosaladeriva

Angkor Wat Pass and Entrance Fee

Prices of admission for foreign visitors to Angkor Wat are now set at $37 for a single day pass, $62 for a three-day pass and $72 for a weeklong pass. They used to be $20, $40 and $60, respectively, until early 2017.

Ticket Office is open from 5.00 AM to 5.30 PM every day.

  • 1 Day pass, $37 USD – valid only on the day of purchase, or for the next day if bought after 5PM.
  • 3 Days pass, $62 USD – valid for ten days from the day of purchase.
  • 7 Days pass, $72 USD – valid for a month from the day of purchase.

You can read more about it at http://www.angkorenterprise.gov.kh/.

The ticket office is located here:

Angkor Wat Overview

The most touristic routes are the ones marked in red and green, respectively called small circuit and big circuit.

Angkor Wat Map

The visit along the small circuit usually starts at sunrise in Angkor Wat, and you can then proceed either clockwise or anticlockwise. Those who start the tour early in the morning often don’t stay out until sunset, due to the heat and the redundancy of the temples.

The people who visit the temples along the big circuit usually start their trip later in the day, around 11AM and stay out until sunset.

If you want to avoid the crowd you can try to use the following information and do something different.

How to avoid the crowd

Avoiding the crowd is not an easy task in the Angkor complex.

All sunrise tours start at Angkor Wat temple, making it probably one of the crowdest places at sunrise in the world.

Instagram vs Reality, credits: @swedishnomad

There are two lakes in front of Angkor Wat temple, but you can try to watch the sunrise from the lake on the right since most of the people go to the one on the left. The view is pretty much the same.

Keep in mind that the only temples that are open at sunrise (Opening Time 5 AM) are Angkor Wat Temple, Sras Srang, Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup.

Also watching the sunset in Phnom Bakheng is a very popular thing to do.

The only temples you can visit after 5.30 PM are Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup, which stay open until 7 PM.

There is no way to completely avoid the crowd in Angkor Wat, but you can follow a few tips to get the most out of your visit!

Credits: @viajerosaladeriva

Top tips

One day is not enough

Plan to stay a little longer. There is so much to see in Angkor Wat and you definitely can’t see it all in one day. The chances you will get “templed out” are high if you rush it, so take your time and consider taking a day off between the visits.

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng is NOT a must

A temple packed with tourist for no reasons. Expect to find the same amount of people you see in the morning at Angkor Wat, just to see the sun setting over a forest from a temple. There are no temples between you and the sun, nothing special is waiting for you.

Take advantage of the closing hour

All temples stay open until 5.30 PM but hardly anyone visits them in the last hour or half an hour. This happens because the sunrise tour is quite a must, so most people are exhausted at the end of the day. At the same time, most of the other tours end up in Phnom Bakheng for sunset. You have the chance to wander in temples such as Bayon, Ta Phrom and many others by yourself. We promise you it’s a totally different experience, and you can really feel like Henri Mouhot in 1860. Also, while during the day the security is very rigid, no one seems to care when the temple is about to close. We have stayed in many temples after 5.30PM until it was dark, before to head home.

Drones are not allowed

You can have them with you, there aren’t security checks, but you can’t fly drones in the temples. If you do so, expect to see dozens of policemen running at you (it happened to us) telling you to delete all footage at the very least. So, if you really want your drone footage of the temples, we highly recommend you to fly only over the less popular temples. However, this is not enough. Security agents stay on their toes even in the most remote temples out of the circuits, so we’d recommend to set up everything from a distance and to fly quite high in the sky.

Arrange a custom tour

If you rent a car or a tuk-tuk with a driver for the day, arrange a custom tour instead of following the circuits mentioned above. This way you will be able to see some temples at the least crowded hours. The price will change depending on which temples you want to visit, so be sure the driver understood what your plans are. Expect to pay about $20 – $25 USD for a custom tour.

Get your tickets in advance

You can’t buy tickets online yet, but we’d recommend you to get your tickets in advance if you are going for sunrise. The ticket office will be way less crowded in the afternoon and you can save up some time in the morning. If you are only interested in a one day pass you can still get it the day before after 5 PM and it will be valid for the next day.

Ticket / No Ticket Groups

If you got your ticket in advance but you are sharing a tuk-tuk with other people, you want to make sure that also the others already have their tickets. Some hostels include this info on their ‘planning boards’. It may look like a minor thing but it’s a huge waste of time to go to the ticket office in the morning.

The first temple matters

Besides Angkor Wat Temple, Sras Srang, Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup, all of the other temples open at 07.30 AM. At this time of the day you will avoid most of the tourists of the peak hours and you can enjoy being the only one visiting these ancient ruins, so you may want to visit the one you like the most. Also,

Go off the beaten path

If you look for a less touristic experience, there are many other temples far from the popular circuits. I.E., check out the Rolous Complex, but don’t expect to see the greatness of Bayon or Angkor Wat.

Start from the least famous ones

Visiting Angkor Wat temple at sunrise is a must. However, if you are NOT on a one day visit to Angkor Wat, plan to do it later. Our brain works by comparison and saving the best for last is always a good idea. You will enjoy much more all of the other smaller temples.

Visit Bayon at 5 PM

When the sun is about to set, you want to visit Bayon temple. The temple closes at 5.30 PM but no one is really there checking it so you can also have some extra time to wander among the ruins. Bayon is one of the most beautiful temples in Angkor Wat so we highly recommend to visit it out of the circuit.

Bayon Temple Angkor Wat

What to pack

You will find many local sellers in the temples area, so water, food and other essential things are not a problem, and they are very cheap too.

Instead, remember to pack sunscreen and additional clothes. It gets very hot in Angkor Wat and you may want to change yourself during the day and protect from the strong sun of Cambodia.

Dress code

Angkor Wat is a sacred site, so you need to wear proper clothes to be able to enter the temples.

“Wearing revealing clothes disrespects the temple’s sanctity. We will not allow [tourists] to buy a temple pass if they wear revealing clothes. Our officials will inform them what they should wear to be able to visit our ancient temples, so they can come back to buy a ticket later after they change their clothes” said Apsara spokesman Long Kosal.

Apsara is the authority which manages the Angkor Wat site.

Apart from clothes, Apsara also issued a code of conduct for visitors, warning them not to touch or climb on the ruins, give money to begging children, or take selfies with the local monks.

The authority has illustrated its point by issuing photographs of unsuitable clothing on its website.


What other backpackers say

@northsouthtravels – January 2019: Our alternative route around Angkor

If you want to explore the Angkor Temples without hoards of tourists, here’s our alternative route and timings to get you on your way! From sunrise to sunset. FYI, catching that much sort after sunrise is not for the tired traveller!

1st stop – Srah Srang

4.40 AM. This quiet temple leads out onto ‘the royal bathing pool’ which was used for ritual washings. This expansive reservoir not only guarantees to escape the coach loads of tourists heading to Angkor Wat but also the most rewarding and golden sunrise that reflects across the water only adding to the magic. Head here for 5AM latest to watch the sky turn from night to day.

2nd stop – Ta Prohm Temple

This is only a short Tuk Tuk journey from Srah Srang. We recommend you head here for 7.30 AM when it opens to avoid the crowds and get to explore with only a handful of others. It’s here that Tomb Raider was filmed in 2000 and is now famed for the trees that have grown routes in and around the temple. It’s quite amazing to see, especially at this time of day when the light is streaming through the branches.

3rd stop – Banteay Srei

Often referred to as the the jewel in the crown of all temples. Translates to ‘The Citadel of Women’ and is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God. Glowing in the mid-morning sun, the pinkish tones and intricate carvings make this definitely the most beautiful in our eyes. We recommend heading here for 10AM.

4th stop – Pre Rup

Meaning ‘turn the body’, Pre Rup insinuates that this temple could have been used as an early royal crematorium. We headed to this temple at mid-day to avoid the crowds and it was empty. The temple as lots of hidden spots for great pictures and allows you to roam freely unlike others.

5th stop – Banteay Kdei

This is a peaceful & quiet temple to explore. The temple ruins are a fascinating maze of chambers which is fitting as the names translate to ‘Citadel of Chambers’. Head here for around 1pm to get lost all by yourselves.

6th stop – Bayon Temple

Our favourite temple it must be said. From a distance, this place doesn’t look much to behold, yet entering the temple gates and climbing the steps to the top, the temple’s magic comes to life. All 216 gigantic faces across a staggering 54 gothic towers become apparent, resembling Avalokiteshvara, the earthly representation of the eternal Buddha. This temple is NEVER without its tourists, however, we visited around 3 pm and found quiet spots to ourselves, just have to seek them out.

7th stop – Angkor Wat

Visit it at sunset. Often the most sought-after temple to visit and it is breathtaking. We decided to end our journey around the temples here. Watching the sun set and Angkor Wat glow in the golden light was the perfect end to our, somewhat busy, day.

Hope this helps you plan your day around the wonders of Angkor.

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