Angkor Temples – What to know before you go

If you’re going to Siem Reap, or even Cambodia, you’re probably heading there to see the Angkor Wat temples.  Can’t blame you!  It’s proclaimed the 7th wonder of the world.  It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s the world’s largest religious monument.  It’s impressive AF to see and visit.  And let’s be honest, we could probably have a great time playing Capture-the-flag or hide-and-seek there!

But before you go, here’s a mini-guide of what you should know!

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Visiting the temples

Most hotels or tour groups will split up the visits into 2 sections: The big tour and the small tour.  They are called this way because of the distance that separates the temples from each other.

Instead of going on a tour, we would recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the day.  If you take him for more than one day, you might even get a discount!  He will take you to all the temples you want to see.  If you get a group of 4 people to split the fee, it really doesn’t end up costing you much.  We would also recommend starting with the big tour first and ending with the small tour.  This way, you keep the larger and more impressive of temples for the end.  We do however suggest doing both tours – the temples you will see are quite different, and you’ll experience the full magnitude and beauty of every single temple.

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The big tour, or grand circuit, usually spans over 26 kilometres and will take you to Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean to the Eastern Mebon, Ta Som and Preah Rup.

The Small tour includes the main temples, starting at Angkor Wat, and going over 17 kilometres will take you to Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm (aka Tomb Raider temple), and Banteay Kdei.  It should also include smaller temples like Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma and Sras Srang.  You may need to split the small tour over 2 days as there are quite a few temples to see!

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There is also Banteay Srei, the Lady Temple, that is about an hour out of town.  It’s small, but beautiful.  You’ll need to talk to your tuk-tuk driver to see how to get this one in.  No matter what route you choose to take, we highly recommend you start early.  You’ll beat the crowds, but more importantly, you’ll be done before the sun gets ridiculously hot!  And when it does, you’ll be happy to be able to cool off in a pool!

Sunrise and Sunset

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If you want to see the sunrise, good luck!  Ha.  Ok, so most people go to Angkor Wat to see it on the “Left pond”.  It will get crowded, and it might be hazy, so the amazing view you want is not guaranteed.  But it’s probably worth the effort.  We went, but were not lucky…

A good tip is to ask your hotel to make and pack your breakfast the night before, so you can have a picnic as you wait for the sun to rise.  As for the time, we left at 4:30 to go grab our tickets and head to Angkor Wat.  If you get your tickets before, you may be able to leave a little later (every minute counts when you’re not a morning person!)

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For the sunset, a quick tip: If you wait until 4:45 pm to buy your ticket for the next day, you can go watch the sunset at the temples for free.  SCORE!  Where to see it is a bigger question.  Most people head to up the top of Phnom Bakheng, but that gets quite crowded.  We headed to Preah Rup, but that was crowded too.  I guess everyone loves a good sunset.  We’ve heard that the sunset views on the boardwalk at Preah Neak Prean are pretty awesome, so you may want to try that to switch it up.  Just know that most temples close at 5pm, but for the sunset lovers of this world, Phnom Bakheng and Preah Rup are open until 7.

Costs

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Let’s talk money, as things are not cheap with temples this famous.  Also, like most things in Cambodia, they use USD for pricing.  The Cambodian Riel is mainly used for smaller, more local transactions.

  • Entrance fee for 1-day: $37 USD
  • Entrance fee for 3 days (to be used over 10 days): $62
  • Entrance fee for 10 days (to be used over 30 days): $72
  • Hiring a tuk tuk for the Small tour: about $15 USD
  • Hiring a tuk tuk for the Big tour: about $18 USD
  • If you want to see the sunrise or sunset, add on another $5

Extra tips

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Here are just some things you should know to make the best of your time in Siem Reap:

Trust your tuk-tuk driver: We loved ours from Babel Guesthouse.  Fairly priced, and super friendly.  He knew where to go and when to avoid the crowds and see the sunset.

Siem Reap is hot: Like take off all your clothes and it’s still too hot!  Bring a hat, sunglasses and water, tons of it!  Either start really early, or go in the ‘cooler’ afternoon.  The light is golden and beautiful in the afternoon.

Dress conservatively: Just as most temples, your shoulders and knees should be covered when you are visiting Angkor Wat.  This applies for both men and women.  If you don’t have any clothes that do this, you can buy them at the entrance of the temples, where there are tons of stalls selling Cambodia T-shirts and elephant pants.

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Shoes matter: Most might tell you to wear running shoes or sneakers.  You’ll be walking a lot, climbing up stairs, and walking over uneven terrain.  But you’ll be super hot.  Avoid flip flops, because they might break if you trip (ok, we trip a lot) and you’ll be walking through paths of red dust.  You know, heat and red dust aren’t the best combo.  So maybe go for comfy but sturdy sandals!

Angkor Wat Hours: Most of the temples are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  The ticket office closes at 5:30.  Both Angkor Wat and Srah Srang are open at 5:00 a.m. for sunrise, and Phnom Bakheng and Preah Rup close at 7

Restaurant at Banteay Srei: If you head out to the Lady Temple, your tuk-tuk driver will probably take you to a restaurant where he can eat for free.  The prices there are extremely high!  Instead, ask to go to a more local restaurant and offer to pay for his meal.  It will be more delicious and not put a hole in your wallet.

Get a guide: The tour guides for Angkor Wat are highly knowledgeable, and speak all main languages (we heard some in English, French, Spanish and Mandarin).  There are barely any signs around the temples that explain what you are seeing, so if you want to get the most out of your experience, get a guide.  We took one for the Big tour for $40, and it was highly worth it, especially if you are 3-4 people!

Places to stay

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When it comes to accommodations in Siem Reap, there are plenty of offers, from budget-friendly to high-budget.  For any bookings, you can use our Booking.com link to save some money, cause we can all use some extra change to keep the adventure going.  Here are the ones that struck out to us.

Babel Guesthouse: The premier eco-friendly, responsible tourist destination in Siem Reap.  A lovely staff, a quaint garden restaurant, the friendliest owners and a contributing member of their community, we loved our stay here.

Bou Savy Guesthouse: Located in the heart of Siem Reap, a short walk away from the Royal Residence, the Old Market and Angkor Night Market.  This guesthouse is a great place to stay if are looking to experience Siem Reap’s legendary temples, or their vibrant city centre.  You’re close enough to the action, without being bothered by hoards of loud tourists.  Attentive staff; beautiful and cozy rooms; a great restaurant downstairs where breakfast is served; a nice swimming pool to help you cool down after a long day of temple visits; what more could you need?

Popular Residence: Located slightly off the tourist trail, in a lovely area, this beautiful boutique hotel featuring a breakfast variety, amazing spacious rooms, lovely modern design, and of course, a great swimming pool right in the centre court.  The staff will go to all lengths to make sure your stay is the best in Siem Reap.  They even asked every morning if we slept well the night before, I mean who even does that?!?!

Angkor Zen Gardens: If Yoga is your thing, and even if it isn’t, but you’re looking for a new experience, we cannot say enough good things about this retreat.  Connected with nature, Angkor Zen will help you be one with your body and mind, and feed you like a king or queen while it does!  You can either stay here for a retreat, or drop in for any of the classes.

Where to Eat

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Tuk Tuk Tacos: When you need a little break from Khmer food, head down to Tuk Tuk Tacos.  They have amazing margaritas and delicious tacos that are fairly priced.  Our favourites were the pulled jackfruit tacos that pack in quite a kick!

Khmer Grill: For a delicious but cheap Khmer meal, this is the place!  Situated close to Pub Street, the restaurant offers all sorts of traditional Khmer dishes, and a great variety of vegetarian food.  They will even add tofu to their traditional meals to make sure you get enough protein.  Bon appétit!

Le Tigre de Papier: From Khmer dishes to Italian fare, this restaurant has it all.  And it’s all delicious, unlike other places that fail at making traditional Western food.  If you want a good fire-oven pizza, this is the place!

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Angkor temples what to know before you go

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