Angkor Wat is spectacular and should be on everyone’s bucket list. The sheer scale of the place and the fact that it was built so long ago without the technology that we have today is hard to comprehend. Words alone would not do justice to the place so instead of trying to describe everything, and invariably doing an inadequate job, I have set out below some tips to make your own visit a bit easier.
Siem Reap is a nice little town, although packed to the rafters with tourists (half the population of China was there as it was Chinese New Year) when I visited. There is plenty of accommodation to choose from and enough to suit all budgets.
I stayed at the Wooden Angkor Hotel which was very reasonable, very friendly staff and an easy walk into the town centre.
There are some good eating options as well, the favourite of which I will be posting about in a separate entry.
So here are my tips for a visit to Angkor Wat which should make your visit a lot smoother.
1) Buy a 3 day pass. You cannot hope to see everything in 1 day and there will be some places that you will be tempted to revisit at different times of the day. If you buy your pass after 4.30pm you can use it that evening but it wont be activated til the following day so you get an extra evening.
However it is much better in my opinion to visit one of the other temples without the crowds and see the colours of the stones change as the sun rises. The same with the sunset. To me it doesn’t make sense to be in the temple looking at the sun when instead you can be watching the temple transform in different light.
3) Start as early as possible. You will avoid much of the heat and also the crowds and by midday you will have covered a lot of ground. The temples in the early morning are spectacular.
4) Even if you can afford an air-conditioned car to take you around, take a tuk-tuk instead. You will feel much more connected with your surroundings and will see so much more as you travel between each site.
5) We made the mistake of booking a tuk-tuk through the hotel on the first day and we ended up with driver who was average at best. Take the time to wander around town and speak to a couple of drivers until you find one you like. You will be spending a lot of time with him so it makes sense to pick one you can have a good relationship with. Most speak very good English and will supply you with chilled bottles of water from the cool-box on the front of the Tuk-Tuk. We found a great driver for the next few days and were sad to say goodbye to him on the last day.
6) Tell your driver what you plan to see for the day and negotiate a price in advance as some of the places such as Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean are quite far and you will need to pay extra. The going rate when we visited was USD$15 per day with surcharges for the sunrise and outlying temples.
7) Make sure you negotiate for a return to town for lunch and a break before heading back to Angkor later in the afternoon. If not you will be charged the full days rate and then again be charged for the afternoon. By midday it is very hot and a couple of hours rest in your air-conditioned hotel room will be very welcome before heading back in the cooler late afternoon.
8) Bring USD$ in small notes. Although the official currency is the Cambodian Riel, all transactions are done in USD$. Change of fractions of a dollar is given in Riels at the rate of 4000 to the dollar.
9) The going rate for anywhere in the town centre is $1. Some guys will ask for more so be persistent as they usually agree with a smile after a couple of attempts.
10) Wear sensible foot wear. While it is possible to walk everywhere in flip-flops ( I did) some of the stairways up the temples are prohibitively steep and you will be grateful for something sturdy on your feet