As a gateway to the ruins of Angkor, Siem Reap needs no introduction. Cambodia’s
Let us start by saying that we arrived in Cambodia shortly after experiencing Myanmar and its most popular destination, Bagan (famous for its numerous temples and pagodas). Angkor was a very different experience for us.
▪ Bring your wallet. Cambodia is quite pricy in comparison to other countries in the region. Since all the prices are quoted in US dollars, many things that usually would be cheaper will cost you
▪ We stayed at Anjali by Syphon, a cute boutique hotel located
▪ Brace for the crowds. To say that the Angkor complex is crawling with tourists is
▪ Our favorite eatery in town was definitely Mahob Buos. Super tasty vegan meals with
When you think Angkor, you probably picture a beautiful serene sunrise over the massive towers of Angkor Wat with the hint of ancient civilisation and the smell of incense lingering in the air. Unfortunately, the reality of it is way less poetic.
Angkor Archeological Park is a UNESCO world heritage site that stretches over
The downside being that it’s REALLY popular. According to the Tourism Ministry of Cambodia, Angkor Wat alone receives more than 1 million tourists per year. This can take away from your experience even during the low season (April to October).
Since we were a bit templed out, having previously spent 3 months in Southeast Asia, we focused on the main attractions. We also decided against hiring a local tour guide (a popular choice in Angkor) in favor of exploring on our own and getting lost among the jungle of ruins. Well, kind of… We did, however, managed to find a few not-so-hidden gems. Our favorite spots were: Angkor Wat (from the back!), Banteay Kdei, South Gate to Angkor Thom and Preah Khan Temple.
The easiest way to get to Siem Reap is by plane and that’s exactly what we did. Siem Reap International Airport (REP) is decently connected with major cities in the region. Another popular and more budget-friendly option — if you have 8.5h to spare — would be taking a bus from Bangkok.
As always, 12Go.Asia will help you figure out the most optimal route.
You will need a visa to enter the country. You can easily get it online, if you accounted for at least
If you’re lazy (like us 😂), getting a visa on arrival at the airport is also an easy, but not quick, process. We read online that one should bring a passport photo for your application but some testimonials mentioned it’s not really necessary.We didn’t bring one and everything was smooth. The tourist visa you will get is valid for up to 30 days and it will cost you
Local SIM Card
You can easily get the local SIM card at the airport. The trick is to go out of the terminal building and look around a little bit. On your right-hand side (nearby Starbucks) you will have a row of booths with all the mobile operators. There are shops front and back so compare all the prices before you make the final decision (unlike us 🤦♀).
Inside Siem Reap
The city is one of the strongholds of Grab so you can get places easily. They also have the option of hailing Tuk Tuks and Remorques (a more traditional and more open version of a Tuk Tuk). Both of these are significantly cheaper than traditional Grab cars, so that’s what we were using to get around town. For a 10-15 minute ride, we paid about
Mind Your Belongings!
We heard plenty of stories of people’s belongings being snatched on the street so we were extra mindful of our stuff. That being said, Cambodians are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and we felt super safe at all times. Still, leave your passport in your room safe and hold on to your backpack for dear life.
Around the Temples
If you haven’t secured your tickets online, you will need to make a stop at the ticket office first.
Depending on the length of your stay, your resistance to the killer heat and humidity, and how long you want to play Tomb Raider for, you can get a ticket for
One day passes are the most popular, so make sure you have enough time to get your ticket (there might be a queue, particularly in the high season — December to February) and still make it to Angkor Wat in time for the sunrise.
▪ Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered when purchasing the tickets. We heard of cases when had problems getting the tickets because they didn’t look temple-appropriate.
▪ This is a major one if you’re on a tight schedule. We haven’t tried this but we heard that if you buy your ticket after 5pm it will be valid for the next day. This way you’re scoring a free pass to the sunset at Angkor the before you want to do the proper sightseeing.
▪ Keep your ticket close as there is a checkpoint in front of every temple.
Even though we saw a few rental places in town, we were told that tourists are not allowed to rent motorbikes. Nevertheless, you have a few other options to cruise around the Angkor temples.
After Bagan, we were really excited about those. However, as we did our research, it had turned out that it’s a bit of a hustle in Angkor. All the rental places are located in town, so by the time you make it to
There are a few charging stations scattered around the temples and recharging
Price-wise it’s not a bad option at 12-14 USD for a 24h rental.
Cycling around the temples hidden in the jungle does have a romantic ring to it but with almost 100% humidity and 36°C/97°F+ temperatures, it sounded more like a suicide mission to us. However, it certainly is the cheapest —
That’s what we did. We went with the easiest — but probably not
Grab has the option of hiring a Tuk Tuk or Remorque per hour. Depending on your plans for
There are fixed routes you can take around the temples — a big circuit and a small one (both usually going clockwise). While those are probably the most optimal routes, everybody seems to be doing the exact same thing and avoiding other tourists is practically impossible.
We did both circuits and here are some of our thoughts on getting around the temples and trying to avoid the crowds:
▪ You can access the Angkor Wat from 5 AM onwards (the temple itself opens at 6 AM) so that’s where everybody is for sunrise. Our advice would be to skip watching the sunrise itself. Instead, if you’re looking for unobstructed shots, try approaching the temple from the back or go in as soon as possible to have the place for yourselves for a good few minutes.
▪ Most of the other temples open gates at 7.30 AM. Practically everybody is still at Angkor Wat at that time so anywhere else should be almost empty.
▪ The big circuit generally seems to be less popular than the small one (unless we just got lucky that day).
▪ During the small circuit, we went counter-clockwise. In the beginning, it did help as there were almost no people in the first two spots. However, by the end of the route, Angkor Thom around
▪ The designated sunset spot is Phnom Bakheng Hill. We were told that going there requires some serious commitment as you need to be there 2h before the sunset in order to secure your spot (only
Obviously. After all, that’s the reason why you go to Siem Reap to begin with.
Originally built as Hindu (dedicated to Vishnu), and then transformed into Buddhist, the temple complex is one of the largest religious monuments in the world. It has become the symbol of Cambodia and appears in the country’s flag. It is also a significant religious center and the best-preserved temple in the Angkor Archeological Park.
Curiously, as the only temple in the complex, Angkor Wat faces West which is what makes it a great spot for sunrise watching.
Preah Khan Temple
This one was definitely one of our favorites. It welcomes you with a long picturesque walkway through the forest that will lead you to a diversified complex. A former center of a substantial organization, with almost 100,000 officials and servants.
The Buddhist temple in the middle is surrounded by satellite Hindu structures creating
Another stop, another temple. Banteay Kdei is supposed to mean “A Citadel of Chambers.” It’s
We were there around 7.40 AM so we almost had it all to ourselves. Stay put though. There were two locals wandering around the temple and trying to point us to good picture spots for which then they requested
Ta Prohm Temple
That’s the one from the 2001 Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. Yes, it is a pretty unique place where the jungle tries to reclaim the man-made structures, but for us, it was far from the nicest. At the time of our visit (end of March 2019), the temple was undergoing some major renovations. While we appreciate the necessity of stopping the structure from falling apart, the ever-present scaffolding and a crane in the middle of the temple did take away from the experience.
Still, you should definitely see it with your own eyes. Just make sure you’re there the second it opens so that you can soak all the mystical atmosphere in before the tour buses arrive.
Here’s a few other places of interest we didn’t manage to get to this time around:
- Tonle Sap Lake – the largest lake in Southeast Asia that changes in size and dimension every wet season. Probably best to visit during the wet season when the floating villages are in full bloom. The lake is connected to the Mekong River by the Tonle Sap River. Both rivers meet in Phnom Penh and a cruise from Siem Reap to the capital certainly sounds like
- Phnom Kulen – literally Moutain of Lychees, 1.5h drive from Siem Reap, the main attraction is
a waterfallat the top of the Kulen Mountain. It’s a sacred site with multiple temples, most important ones being Thousand Lingas at Kbal Spean (stone carvings in the river bed), within the Kulen National Park site, and Preah Ang Thom Pagoda with a giant reclining Buddha.
- Banteay Srei – often called The lady temple, the tiny temple, or the pink temple is a 30-minute drive from the main Angkor complex. Quite different from the other Angkor Temples due to its miniature scale, the pink color of the limestone, and the elaborate decorative carvings of many female deities gracing its walls.
Tuk-Tuk scams, child vendors, fake ticket agents, fake guards, and even fake monks! Angkor has it all. World Nomads has a good article on how not to get scammed at Angkor. Have a close look at it before you set your foot in the ancient Khmer land. We didn’t witness anything like that but better safe than sorry!
Children Selling Trinkets
It happened to us once that a young girl approached us in front of a temple offering souvenirs for
This apparently is really common and the kids can be really persuasive. Don’t buy into it. Getting money from tourists keeps children out of school as they are exploited as a way to provide income.
We hear this is another popular way of earning on tourists. Children or young women carrying babies will ask you to buy formula for a baby. They will take you to a special shop, pick out the most expensive one, and then give it back to the shop as soon as you’re gone. The profits are then divided between the parties.
In reality, if a mother is actually unable to feed her baby, there are numerous organisations that provide free formula. So don’t fall for this trick.
Mahob Buos was definitely our favorite restaurant in town. It’s a low key joint with a large selection of mouth-watering vegan dishes. For a healthy meal option, try also Sister Srey Cafe or Vibe Cafe. Both places are well-rated, have cute decor and a great menu to choose from.
We also tried Vegetal Wonder as reviews rave about it and it happened to be the closest one to our hotel but that experience was mediocre at best.
We stayed at the Anjali by Syphon boutique hotel. It’s a cute modern oasis and a perfect place to relax after hours of temple hopping. The rooms were spacious, the pool was very refreshing and
Overall, we enjoyed our stay there and would recommend it.
In Other News… it’s Shopping Time!
When visiting the Heritage Walk Shopping Mall (otherwise underwhelming), we found a shop called Zando that carries many high street brands at heavily discounted prices. Diana actually managed to get a Zara dress (from the current collection!) for 50% of its market price. Don’t ask us how, but this shop was legit. Highly recommended! 👗 💳 👜
While Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor did not end up on the list of our favorite spots, it’s definitely somewhere you should go to at least once in your life.
Having been there in the dry season, we would probably recommend going during or right after
See you on the road,