“The Kingdom of Wonder”. Cambodia. Located in South East Asia, next to Vietnam and Thailand with the beach of the Gulf of Thailand. Their pride and honour is the Angkor Wat temple, even represented on the flag. Located right next to city Siem Reap it is the most visited place by tourists in Cambodia. Largest religious monument in the world, Angkor was built in 12thcentury by King Suryavarman II. More than 2,5 million tourists per year visit the site – and the numbers are still growing as the years pass by. Entry for Cambodians are for free, but foreigners have 3 options to choose from – 1-day ticket for 37$, 3-day pass for 62$ and weeklong pass for 72$. The pass allows visiting all the temples in Angkor territory. Visiting the sacred site is a “bucket list” thing for many people. But there are certain things that you NEED to know before visiting.
1. Create a plan
Do your research before – there are two routes that tourists usually take – a small circle (18 km) including several temples, such as Angkor Wat, Bayon temple, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and other central temples – it is made as a route for one day visit with your tuk-tuk driver or a bicycle. In my opinion, it is enough to get an impression of how amazing is this wonder and make your mind more puzzled of how it was possible. The other option is to visit Angkor several days, like 2-3, and go through the big circle (27 km route) – which include all temples of “small circle” and Preah Neak Pean, Ta Som, Pre Rup and others. To see all the temples of “big circle” it could take 2 full days. It depends on which ticket you choose and on how long you want to spend in each temple. Look into some books or travel guides you can find in your hotel/hostel to see what could be the best option for you.
2. Think about your way of travelling
If you stay in a hotel or a hostel, ask the receptionist to recommend a tuk-tuk driver. It is very popular in Siem Reap for a family to own the hotel/hostel and other relatives help out as tuk-tuk drivers because they know the area well. Most of them have good English and for a little bit more money can work as guides to tell more about the history of the temples and guide you through best routes and show best places to have a snack. If you are more into an active lifestyle, ask your hotel/hostel reception for a bicycle rental organization – it is an amazing opportunity to feel the hot air, cycle through jungle, listen to birds, meet other travellers and just enjoy nature.
3. More questions than answers
If you look through pictures online, such as here on this article, you will have many questions, like “how it was built?; how it was possible?; how is it still standing in such good conditions?”. And believe me, visiting the temples won’t give you answers, only more questions. Your mind will question everything that you see and you will not be able to understand how and why and who?
4. Dress Code
It is a religious site, so you need to be prepared – covering the shoulders and the knees. A T-shirt is accepted, but no crop-tops, tank-tops or anything in between. Super-short shorts are not allowed. Make sure that your knees are covered. The best solution would be long pants. And make it as fun and touristic as possible, and get yourself a cheap pair of the light elephant trousers in the Night or Artist market, that will not only serve you good for visiting the temples but also as a great souvenir when going back home. Do remember, even in the rainy season, the sun is shining most of the time, so be prepared and bring a hat – spending long hours in the hot sun is very dangerous. Think about hydration – bring your own water bottle, and if it gets empty, there are many sellers around temples to get fresh and ice cold water. It is hot all the time and the last thing you want to be is dehydrated… Also, there are WC near every temple, just look around or ask your tuk-tuk driver or other locals.
5. It is a sacred site.
Don’t scream, shout or be as loud as possible. Turn your phone to silent mode, talk as little as possible, just enjoy the sites that you can see and feel the moment. If you see monks, they come there to pray, so don’t talk to them, take photographs or anything foolish – respect them. Smoking is prohibited in all territory. Also, be smart. It is old, okay? It is fragile, okay? Don’t climb somewhere up just to take a photograph – you are damaging a sacred site and looking dumb at the same time. Be respectful to the site, to the people who build it hundreds and thousands of years ago, and to the people who are taking care of preserving it right now. Be a decent human being. You are allowed to visit, take photographs and look – be thankful and do not try to demolish it.
6. Don’t give money or food to children.
As tempting as it is, and as cute as they are, just don’t. Giving them money or food makes them stay on the streets and not go to school and get an education because begging is easier. It is a thing that needs to be stopped by the tourists, to pop their bubble of not going to school. Families who use their children to beg for money on the streets are a big issue in Cambodia and as the temples are most visited place by tourists it is very common for half naked and dirty children to run around everyone and beg. The experience travelling through the temples are indescribable. Amazing combination of nature and architecture is inspiring. The ability for Cambodians to preserve this wonder through all the hard times in their history is a wonder for itself.