Chances are, if you are planning a trip to Cambodia, the Angkor Wat temples are very high up on your list of places to visit!
And no wonder!
The ancient temples of Angkor Wat are recognised as being amongst the most important archaeological sites in all of South-East Asia. They are, in a word, magnificent!
While many of the temples have now been extensively restored, Angkor Wat’s breathtaking complex was hidden underneath the dense Cambodian jungle for centuries. These days though, it is arguably Cambodia’s most popular tourist site, attracting more than 2 million visitors every year!
There is a lot to explore in Angkor Wat, and it pays to be prepared! That’s why this Angkor Wat travel guide covers not only how to get there (and around!), but also how long you should plan to spend there, the temples you can’t miss, ticket information, outfits and more!
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Insight: We visited Cambodia in early March 2020. It was a rather strange time to be there, as tourist numbers were plummeting due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Many hotels were already closed and tourist sites like Angkor Wat were comparatively empty. In a way we were lucky. We got to experience Angkor Wat in a way not many people do – Without the hoards of people that normally flock there each and every day. But it was also somewhat surreal and slightly sad as many Cambodians rely on tourism for their livelihood. Right now, Angkor Wat and many other tourist sites around the world are closed to visitors due to COVID-19. Make sure you check before travelling anywhere, to verify what sites are open and what the restrictions are. Above all – stay safe!
Getting There & Around
You’ll find the Angkor Wat temple complex around 6km north of Siem Reap town. Depending on traffic and the time of day, it will take you around 15 minutes by car or 20 minutes by tuk-tuk to get there. Longer, if you need to go and purchase your ticket first.
The park is absolutely massive, but many visitors underestimate the size of Angkor Wat!
In fact, the complex covers an area of 400 square kilometers, including many forested areas, and most of the temples are some distance from each other. Unsurprisingly, it’s impossible to see everything in one day (more on this later).
Visitors to Angkor Wat normally travel through the complex on either the “small circuit” or the “grand circuit”. There are no set rules though, and you can complete these in either direction, or customise your route according to your preference.
Either way though, I would definitely recommend that you hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day!
The cost of hiring a tuk-tuk varies slightly depending on which circuit you choose, and whether or not you want to be at Angkor Wat for sunrise. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to pay around US$20-30 for the day. Generally, you’ll fit 4 people in a tuk-tuk, and some cold water will be provided.
Your tuk-tuk driver will pick you up at your hotel at an agreed time, and transport you between temples within the complex.
For larger temples, your driver will drop you on one side and pick you up at the other side, while for smaller sites they will wait for you until you are ready to go to the next.
Always make sure you make clear arrangements with your driver so that you don’t waste time finding each other!
The alternative to renting a tuk-tuk is to rent a car and driver. The benefit of a car is, of course, air conditioning to keep you cool between temples!
Otherwise, you are also able to visit Angkor Wat by bike, which is much cheaper at around $4 per bike for the day! There are plenty of cycle paths and the ground is flat so it’s a good option if you’re game!
Finally, renting a scooter is great for both speed and convenience, as long as you are happy to visit independently.
Is A Tour Guide Worth It?
Whether or not to hire a tour guide for your outing to the Angkor Wat temples is really a personal preference. We did have a tour guide who was very knowledgeable and eager to explain everything to us in detail. Plus, he had some fun photo ideas, like the picture above!
Pro Tip: Only official guides are admitted at the Angkor Wat temples
For me though, it was honestly a bit too much… It’s a long and hot day as it is, and with the overwhelming amount of information our tour guide provided, I felt drained.
My personal preference would be to explore independently with the help of a guide book or information booklet. But, others very much love having a guide who can answer all their questions and take them on an educational journey around Angkor Wat.
If you decide to visit Angkor Wat for multiple days, a good compromise might be to hire a guide for your first day and then explore independently on your subsequent day(s).
If you do decide to go with a tour guide, expect to pay them around US$40 for the day.
Note: Don’t expect your driver to be a substitute for a tour guide. Most drivers speak basic English and may be able to share some information. But realistically, they are just there to drive you from A to B.
Angkor Wat Ticket Information
You buy your so-called “Angkor Pass” from the Angkor Ticket Centre, which is a slight detour to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap. If you decide to hire a tuk-tuk or car, your driver will know where to take you.
The Angkor Ticket Centre is open from 4:30am-5:30pm daily. Only tickets purchased from the ticket centre are valid, so don’t get scammed into purchasing a ticket online or from an agency!
Pro Tip: Children under 12 can visit Angkor Wat for free (with proof of passport), but there are no student or senior discounts
You have the option of 1, 3 or 7 day passes, depending on your preference and the time you have available to spend in Siem Reap. The good news is that multi-day passes no longer need to be used on consecutive days.
The one day pass, however, is only valid on the day of purchase unless you buy it between 5pm-5.30pm the day before. This is a good option if you want to head to Angkor Wat early for sunrise the next morning. Plus, you can watch the sunset at Angkor Wat for free that evening if you wish.
Payment is either in cash or with a credit card, but either way, you’ll pay in US dollars.
|1 Day Pass
|On day of purchase only
|3 Day Pass
|Any 3 days within 7 days from the date of purchase
|7 Day Pass
|Any 7 days within 1 month of the date of purchase
Your Angkor Pass ticket will be checked frequently throughout the park so keep it somewhere handy. There are hefty fines if you’re found in the park without a valid ticket!
Also note that your photo will be taken and printed onto your ticket, which means that they are definitely not transferable!
Do I Need More Than One Day At The Angkor Wat Temples?
Sorry to be predictable, but how long you spend at Angkor Wat is, once again, up to you… As I mentioned, the park is immense, and so it is definitely possible to spend many days exploring the vast array of temples at Angkor Wat.
In the end it will depend on how much time you have in Cambodia, and specifically, in Siem Reap, as well as whether you think you’ll experience “Temple Fatigue,” where all temples just kind of start looking the same…
In addition, there is so much more to experience in and around Siem Reap beyond Angkor Wat, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on some of the other sights in the area.
So, yes, you can absolutely experience the highlights of Angkor Wat in just one day. One day will allow you to easily cover the “small circuit”, which includes all the main temples, without rushing.
Honestly, we personally found one day to be perfect.
That said, if you love temples, and have more time, another day at Angkor Wat will allow you to really immerse yourself and venture a bit further afield to visit some of the less crowded temples too.
The Best Temples At Angkor Wat
Although everyone commonly refers to the site as Angkor Wat, the complex which houses Angkor Wat is actually a much larger area called Angkor Archaeological Park.
The park comprises over 1000 temples in addition to Angkor Wat itself, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of rubble to magnificent temples which have been painstakingly restored.
For a map of the Angkor complex, click here.
Either way, Angkor Wat (City of Temples) will obviously be on your list. It is the largest and best known of all the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and will likely be the first thing you’ll see as you enter the park.
It’s popular to head here for sunrise although we didn’t. I hear it is crazy busy at this time so be prepared to share your tranquil sunrise moment with hundreds of other tourists!
The Angkor Wat temple is extremely well preserved, and the lotus bud-like towers draw your eyes as you approach this stunning temple. Angkor Wat is certainly the pride and joy of Cambodia, and even features on the Cambodian Flag!
For the best view of Angkor Wat, enter through the main gate and view it from across the pond.
Ta Prohm (The Kingdom Of Trees) was probably my favourite temple in the park!
I think that’s because it feels more “authentic” since it hasn’t been restored like many of the other temples in the park. Ta Prohm is still much in ruin, with large trees and jungle vines growing over and right through some of the temple structures! It really gives you a sense of the power of nature.
Of course, Ta Prohm became famous after it was used in the Tomb Raider movie back in 2001. Apparently, Paramount paid US$10,000 a day to film here for seven days! (The money was used towards renovation works at Angkor Wat).
As such, it’s an extremely popular temple in Angkor Wat, so be patient when it comes to taking photos. But, it’s actually quite a large temple, with endless photo opportunities besides “that” tree. So don’t rush away! Take your time and really explore this impressive site.
Bayon in Angkor Thom
Bayon Temple is quite a sight to behold as well! This temple is part of the Angkor Thom walled city, the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire.
Fun Fact: The East Gate of Angkor Thom actually featured in Tomb Raider too!
Although it might look a bit like a pile of rubble from a distance, you’ll instantly recognise Bayon Temple once you get up close. It’s hard not to be in awe of the 216 massive stone faces carved into each side of its 54 towers, which symbolise the 54 provinces in the Khmer Empire.
Like many of the temples in Angkor Wat, you are usually able to climb up to the top of it and get up close and personal with some of those magnificent faces! However, the upper level of Bayon is currently closed for restoration and is not scheduled to reopen until 2022.
Pro Tip: Leave Bayon Temple via the northern end, and stop off for a quick photo opp at the 350m long Terrace Of Elephants.
Choosing Your Angkor Wat Outfit
Many of the temples here are active sacred religious sites, so please be respectful when choosing your outfit for your visit to Angkor Wat.
Although we actually saw plenty of people not adhering to the dress code, both men and women are asked to cover your shoulders and knees.
As there is very little shade around the Angkor Wat temples, it certainly gets very hot and humid! It’s in your best interest to choose loose fitting, lightweight and breathable material when picking your Angkor Wat outfit.
Also, even if you hire a driver for the day, you should be prepared to walk a lot. Comfortable shoes are a must! Additionally, bear in mind that it is quite dusty around the park, and you’ll end up with red feet by the end of the day.
Finally, a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen won’t go amiss either.
Food At Angkor Wat
Generally, we found the food and drinks within the Angkor Wat complex to be quite expensive compared to Siem Reap.
Going to a restaurant for lunch will set you back $7-10 per meal. The benefit is that you’ll get a break from the heat in the restaurant’s air conditioning. There are some food stalls around too though, where you can find slightly cheaper meals if you want to stick to a budget.
Make sure you bring lots of water with you, and maybe a couple of snacks to keep you going between temples too!
There are a number of public toilets dotted around the Angkor complex. These are free to use once you show your Angkor pass.
Just let your driver know if you need a pit-stop and they will find one nearby!
Enjoy your time in Siem Reap and Cambodia! I’m sure the Angkor Wat temples will not disappoint!
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