Angkor Wat is by far the best place I have seen in South East Asia. If you’re backpacking through this part of the world it’s a must-see! Angkor Wat is not just one temple but it is an archeological park. There are more than 45 temples spread out over 400 square kilometers. For every traveler this is heaven.
1. How to get to Siem Reap?
From Phnom Phen: Siem Reap is situated in the North West of Cambodia near the Thai border. Every hour there are busses to Siem Reap from Phnom Phen, the capital of Cambodia.
From Bangkok: There are buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap but you have to take in mind that you will have to cross a border. From Bangkok you can take a train to Aranyaprathet. It takes a few hours but it only costs a few euro’s. It’s best to stay overnight in this town because crossing the border can take time and from the border it’s still a few hours to Siem Reap. The cheapest option is to take a pickup truck at the bus station in Aranyaprathet to the border. Finding the pickup can be hard because most locals try to convince you to take a private taxi. About two kilometers after crossing the border there is a bus station that has buses to Siem Reap. It is possible to walk to the bus station but you have to cross a bunch of taxi drivers. Be careful!
Entrance to Cambodia at a Thai-Cambodian border
Siem Reap has a small airport not too far from the city center. If Angkor Wat is the only thing you want to visit in Cambodia then taking a flight is the best option. Flights can be taken from any mayor city in South East Asia. This will not be cheap though so for most backpackers among us not feasible.
There is a possibility to go from Phnom Phen to Siem Reap by boat. This is only possible during rainy season because during dry season it can happen that there is not enough water.
2. Where to stay?
The entrance of the main temple of Angkor Wat is about seven kilometers from the center of Siem Reap. Most hostels are in the center of Siem Reap, at night there is a thriving night market and plenty of places to eat. When I stayed in Siem Reap I found a nice hostel that was actually situated in the Angkor Archeological Park. It is called Angkor Park Resort. A bed in a dorm costs about 5 dollars but they also have private rooms for a little more. The resort offered free bicycles to rent and it took about 15 minutes to cycle to the center of Siem Reap. I really liked staying at this place because it was in a really nice little village close to Angkor Wat where you can experience the real Cambodia.
A normal street where locals live in Angkor Archeological Park
3. How to buy an entrance ticket to Angkor Wat?
Entrance tickets can be bought at the official entry of the Angkor Archeological park. Don’t buy tickets anywhere else. There are three different tickets:
- A one day pass ($20)
- Three day pass ($40)
- Seven day pass ($70)
When you buy a pass it has to be used on a certain day but they will tell you about this when you purchase your ticket. Visiting hours are from 5.00AM (to see the sunrise) to 6.00PM. When you enter the park or sometimes at temples guards will ask you for your ticket.
It’s advisable to buy the ticket the day before you are planning on visiting. From the center of Siem Reap a tuktuk can be hired to drive you around for te day.
4. How long to stay in Angkor Wat?
It depends on what you want to see. If you want to see everything a three days pass would be good but if you just want to see the highlights of the Angkor Temples a one day pass is enough.
5. How to visit the park
The most common ways to visit the temples is by tuktuk or bicycle. Walking might also be nice but the distances between temples are too far if you want to see everything in one day.
The true budget backpacker will take a bike. The advantages of seeing Angkor Wat by bicycle is that you can go anywhere. People that hire a tuktuk will only see what drivers show them. By bicycle you can go into mysterious roads and discover different parts of Angkor Wat which you cannot reach by tuktuk. Everywhere through the park there are paved roads and around some temples there will be a small track on which you can cycle.
–> It can be incredibly hot so you have to wear something on your head and put plenty of sunscreen on your skin. I was lucky because it was clouded, otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve survived a full day.
–> Take plenty of water. Very important!
Me cycling through a through butterflies in Angkor Archeological Park
Most people hire a tuktuk driver to visit the park. A tuktuk driver can be hired for less than $20 dollar. I would say it’s best to ask at your hotel so you know it’s a trusted driver. Tuktuk drivers pick up their customers early in the morning to see the sunrise. After that they show the best spots of the archeological park. It’s a relaxed way to see the sights because you don’t have to think about anything. For lunch most of the drivers will take you to a restaurant they know themselves.
To go for lunch there are some restaurants in the park. Don’t be afraid to negotiate because the prices are ridiculously high for Cambodia. Don’t let them rip you off!
Some beautiful trees grown into the ruins
6. Best time to visit Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat can be visited all year round although there is a peak and a low season mostly due to the weather.
From November until March when the weather is mild and dry most tourists come to visit Angkor Wat. It is a busy time and temples are crowded.
- The months from June to September your visit to Angkor Wat can be spoiled by storms. Although the storms won’t last all day it’s still possible to visit Angkor Wat. A nice bonus of going during the rainy season is that the forests are beautiful with all its greenery.
- April and May are the hottest and most humid months. I visited the park in May and it was not unbearable as I prefer the heat rather than hundreds of tourists that put their camera in your face. If you drink enough water you’ll survive.
Anyway I believe what happens, happens for a reason so it doesn’t really matter when you go. You might end up at Angkor Wat on a rainy day during the dry season or on a dry day during rainy season. You never know…
7. Non touristic secrets of Siem Reap…
- Take some time to see different parts of Siem Reap rather than just the center. We cycled to Phnom Krom which is a nice village where the Tonle Sap lake starts that flows all the way to Phnom Phen.
- Visit the Phsar Leu the ‘Upper market’. This is the biggest market in Siem Reap and definitely the most authentic. It is near the center of Siem Reap on the national road 6 to Phnom Phen. When I went there were no tourists at all.
- See the sunrise or sunset. You won’t regret getting up early! If you buy a one day ticket to Angkor Wat you can go in from 4 PM the day before your ticket is valid and see the sunset.
Upper market in Siem Reap (local market)