Cambodia: Getting the Best from Angkor Wat
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Angkor Wat (Khmer for Temple City) is a world heritage site located in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province. Known as the largest religious site in the world, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple, it is now a Buddhist site. One can see orange clad Buddhist monks around the temples and statues of Buddha scattered all over the complex, from which you can ask for prayers and blessings.
The largest of these temples is known as Angkor Wat, which is also the most popular and arguably one of the most crowded temples, especially in the morning. The view of the sunrise is very popular here, however it can get very crowded.
The most common way to get to Angkor Wat is through neighbouring Siem Reap, where most tourist come from. As Siem Reap is a fair distance from Angkor Wat, you have to hail either a van or tuktuk to get there and accompany you the whole day as you transfer from temple to temple. Tourist buses exist in the area, although I personally would not recommend this, as if you get on a tourist bus (and thus join a tour group) your time will be dependent on how fast or slow the other tourists finish in one area, or a set time the tour group is given, and thus you cannot spend as much time as you want in a certain temple!
Van or Tuktuk?
Once you get to where you’re staying, whether hotel or AirBnB, ask the reception or hosts about renting a van or tuktuk to take you to the temples. This tends to be a lot cheaper than just hailing a tuktuk from the street! However, because we were a family of five and thus could not fit inside a tuktuk, we had to rent a van instead, which was a lot more expensive. The hotel we stayed in offered the tuktuk for $24 and the van for $45 for the small tour (this is called the small tour because it includes all the big temples like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, etc.) and tuktuks for $30 and a van for $55 for the big tour (which includes select smaller temples, this tour is more spread out).
What You Should Know
The Dress Code
Before you even make it to Angkor Wat, you need to buy your entrance tickets. Make sure that at this point you are already wearing attire that follows the required dress code of the temple complex. In simpler terms, you are not allowed to wear bottoms that end above the knees or tops that reveal your shoulders and midriff. If, by some reason, you forgot the dress code or you thought the guards were not so strict (they are) the building that sells tickets has stalls that sell elephant pants, wrap around skirts, and many more! The only issue with these is that they are pricier than they cost at the night market, however it is better to spend a couple bucks extra on elephant pants than waste your tuktuk or van rental money for the day because you could not enter the complex.
A day pass is worth $37, a three-day pass is worth $62, and a seven-day pass is $72. Of course, you will save more with seven-day passes, however this is only if you plan to visit the complex more than three days. You can spend one day at the complex, however I do not recommend this unless you are willing to spend as little time at each temple as possible in order to fit two days’ worth of temples into one. It is best to spend two days, this is why I recommend the three-day pass. It is ultimately cheaper than buying two day passes, which will cost you $74 – more expensive than the seven-day pass! I opted for the three-day pass but only used two of the three days. However, if you are not as interested in history as I am, I suggest you purchase a day pass and just visit the bigger temples, as the smaller temples are more or less the same in aesthetics and do not require as much strenuous walking.
At the Temples
The first destination is usually the main Angkor Wat temple. There are tour guides you can hire on the spot for $15, but you can also rent an audio guide. We only realised these were available after we left the main temple! I did not get the price for rental, but commonly audio guides are cheaper, so I recommend you check this out.
Scattered around and inside the temples are stalls where locals sell souvenirs. As I’ve mentioned earlier, avoid buying from these places at all costs as they are much more expensive than if you purchase the same items from the night market in Siem Reap! For example, a pair of elephant pants are priced at $4-5 in Angkor Wat, but downtown you can get them for $2!
Amongst these souvenir stalls are also stalls that sell paintings, mostly oil paintings. Our tour guide brought us to a stall that his brother owned. As a former painter and friends with artists, I beg you not to try and get lower prices for the paintings. His larger paintings he sold for $60, and you could tell that he had not sold anything in a while. $60 is already such a low price for an oil painting, and I told my mother that it was already a very cheap price, yet she had him lower the price down to $35!
And Don’t Forget!
Despite your rental of a vehicle, there will still be a lot of walking. If you have bad knees or any other condition that prevents you from walking long distances and steep heights, opt to skip Angkor Wat altogether. My father could not continue the big tour because of bad knees and a bad back. Bring lots of cold water (our hotel provided us a tub of iced water for free), wear comfortable clothes and a hat, put on sunscreen, and lots of energy!