With so many temples to explore, it’s vital you choose the right way to go see them to make the most out of your trip to Angkor. Here, we give you tips and pointers to guide your through your adventure.
The time-honoured way of a temple trek is by tuk-tuk. For about $20 a day, the driver will take you to all the main sites, often offering an overview of them and their legends as you drive.
Tourists are not allowed to rent motorbikes in Siem Reap, so hiring a motodop and driver is your next best bet. A moto allows you to travel quickly and skirt the traffic that stacks up during evenings and holidays. Alternatively, starting at $1 a day, it is possible to cycle throughout Angkor at a leisurely pace, particularly if you have a three-day pass.
There are scores of stranger ways to explore the temples. If you’re with a group, why not try an electric car? Carrying up to 16 people, these carts provide a quiet, shady ride, and at just $3 per person are a great way to go. You can find tickets outside the south gate of Angkor Thom.
Renting a whole taxi costs about $20 a day and can take up to four passengers. Meanwhile, the fun and environmentally friendly electric Green e-bikes cost just $10 per day to rent. The battery lasts for around 40-50km, and they’re remarkably quiet.
See the temples in all their glory from the sky. There are a series of companies offering visitors the chance to see Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples by helicopter. Flights start from about $90.
Elephant riding at Bayon temple is available, but we encourage you not to do this, as it is cruel and very stressful for the elephants. Recently one female elephant died from exhaustion, she was literally worked to death.
Plan to spend $20 to $25 to hire a guide for taxi or tuk-tuk travel. Guides provide an overview of what you are about to see, and give you a walking tour of the temples. Whatever you choose, agree on prices in advance, charge your camera and bring plenty of water!
Professional temple tour guides can be hired for $20 to $30 a day and can speak most major languages. There will be many people approaching you at the temple gates claiming to be guides. Many aren’t, so it’s worth checking their credentials or pre-booking from a reputable agent.
All professional guides must be licensed with the Ministry of Tourism and they should carry identification cards. To pre-arrange a guide, contact the Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association on +855 (0)12 866 914. KATGA offers a list of Ministry of Tourism and UNESCO trained guides.
Travel website TripAdvisor is another good source of information and a simple search will flag up a series of highly recommended guides and their contact details, as well as tour companies offering a range of packages to suit all needs and schedules.
Now it’s time to decide what you’re going to see, and with more than 45 temples scattered across the 400 square km Angkor Archaeological Park, it will take up to one week to see it all. Visitors can, for the time being, buy one-day passes for $20, three-day for $40 or week-long for $60. However, be aware that starting in February 2017, these prices will nearly double: one-day tickets will sell for $37, three-day passes for $62 and a week-long pass for $72.
Plan your route carefully in order to try and avoid hordes of tourists getting in the way of that perfect photograph. This is where an experienced guide can be a real help. A handy tool to guide you through the treasures of this massive archeological complex and help you plan your route is the Siem Reap Tourist Map from Pocket Guide Cambodia, freely available at your guesthouse.
The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, the “Great City” of Angkor Thom, which houses The Bayon temple, and Ta Prohm, the tree-covered temple made famous by Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film Tomb Raider.
All of these temples listed can easily be taken in over the course of a day, if you have the energy to keep going from dusk to dawn – just be sure to keep cool and hydrated, especially during the hot season.
Most day trippers start their temple trekking with sunrise at Angkor Wat, and while this is undoubtedly the busiest time of the day, it’s still worth battling the crowds to watch the sun peer from behind the temple’s spires.
The Angkor Thom complex, which is home to The Bayon and its famous 173 smiling faces, as well as the Terrace of the Elephants, is a good place to head next, but make sure you seek solace from the relentless midday sun that always seems to strike hard at the Bayon. The afternoon is best spent exploring the slightly further out temples, such as Ta Prohm. To the southeast of here is Banteay Kdey, also known as the “Citadel of Monks’ cells”, which Srah Srang (the royal bathing pool) nearby.
Heading north you’ll hit Ta Keo, a step mountain temple that affords excellent views from the top. The picturesque Ta Nei is also in the area.
Further up is Preah Khan (“Royal Sword”), a complex of rectangular galleries that have also succumbed to jungle growths. On your way back into town, perhaps finish off with a hike up Phnom Bakheng, a hilltop temple with a view to Angkor Wat, one of the most popular places to watch the sunset.
Those with a bit more time on their hands, should head even further afield, where they can escape the thronging crowds of tourists. Roughly 25km north of Preah Khan you’ll find Banteay Srei, a 10th century Hindu temple with a stunning array of elaborate carvings in pink sandstone.
Other sites away from the tourist trail include Kraven, with its smattering of small, beautiful brick temples, as well as Pre Rup and Ta Som.
Serious temple trekkers who have invested in a seven-day pass can take their pick of the remaining temples. Those of notable interest include the Roluos group of temples, made up of three temples – Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko – located around 13km from Siem Reap. These date back to the late 9th century, making them some of the earliest permanent structures built by the Khmer Empire.
Finally, Kulen Mountain and its refreshing waterfalls that can be swum in, is home to a giant Buddha, while Kbal Spean, commonly known as the “River of a Thousand Lingas”, has a series of ancient stone relief carvings made directly into the riverbank rock.