Flashlight in hand and a lunch box, never thought that would be the best way to visit Angkor Wat. If you traveled from so far [as we did], I’m sure you want to experience the famous tourist attraction in Cambodia, and you must be prepared for it. Angkor Wat Sunrise, beautiful, intense, full of people, touristic, however magical.
The temples of Angkor Wat surprised us in so many ways. The orange morning sky was only one part of the show. The architecture, the energy, the children, and the monks give to that place an incredible atmosphere. I felt happy, a mix of Indiana Jones + Lara Croft discovering ancient ruins and ready to battle against the evil [the sun and the heat, of course]!
Jokes apart, explore the temples of Angkor Wat is one of the top things to do in Cambodia and you don’t want [and can’t] miss it. We went to Siem Reap to visit the temples and to run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon, sport and sightseeing in one place. We stayed in Siem Reap for 5 days, in my opinion, was a bit too much, as I didn’t like the city. But many people love it, so give it a try.
If you have spare time like us, I recommend a visit to the Angkor Wat National Museum before going to the park, it will help you to understand a little bit more about the beliefs and the architecture of Angkor Wat. Surprisingly, I realize that the Buddhism in Cambodia is way more related to India than to the other countries in Southeast Asia.
Angkor Wat is an Archaeological Park, spread over 400sq. kilometers and with more than 45 temples. The park contains remains of different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. The complex breaths history, spiritual beliefs, and harmony. Angkor Wat Unesco website
What is the best way to visit Angkor Wat?
First things first, don’t buy Angkor Wat tickets or tours from unauthorized people. Don’t be a fool, and don’t believe that a taxi driver or a hotel receptionist can sell it for a better price or with a discount. I know you are really anxious to visit the temples and to watch the Angkor Wat sunrise, but trust me, leave the sunrise for your second day in the park. Unless you are visiting the complex in just one day, what is really a pity. There are so many things to do in Angkor Wat, that you should devote to this ancient ruins at least two or three days of your trip.
Also, the temples are open-air, in the middle of nature, so be armed with mosquito repellent, sunscreen, hat and bottles of water. Along the way you can find small stalls selling drinks and food, to avoid dehydration carry water with you all the time.
Last, but not least, dress respectfully. Angkor Wat is more than an archeological site, it’s a temple, the symbol of a civilization and people’s belief, so cover your shoulders and avoid miniskirts. Don’t forget to follow the rules like smoking and eating in proper areas, don’t feed the monkeys and don’t go inside the barays [artificial lakes that surround the temples]. Be a sensible tourist! Said that, let’s move on, I’m going share with you the best way to visit Angkor Wat.
» How to buy the Angkor Wat ticket:
You can buy your tickets and hire guides [in English and other languages] from the official ticket booth on the road that connects Siem Reap city to the archeological site. Buy it just before starting the tour, there is no need to purchase it in advance. Be aware that if you want to watch the Angkor Wat Sunrise it might be a queue to get the ticket on the early morning.
You can choose from 3 types of tickets:
- 1-day pass – $37 USD
- 3-day pass – $62 USD (has to be used within a week)
- 7-day pass – $72 USD (has to be used within a month)
Angkor Wat is open from 5 am to 6 pm, every day. Always carry your ticket with you, in some temples the security will check it at the entrance of the ruins. The tickets are personal with your name and photo on it.
» Driver or Guide? How is the best way to get around Angkor Wat?
To get around Angkor Wat you need a vehicle, no way you can walk the whole complex. Foreigners are not allowed to drive inside the park, so you must hire a bicycle, a tuk-tuk or a van driver. Bicycles are fun, but be prepared for long hours cycling and the heat. For a bicycle adventure you definitely need two or three days in the park, otherwise is impossible to see everything.
BOOK YOUR TOUR IN ADVANCE
We recommend you to hire a tuk-tuk driver. Ask to your hotel reception, they can recommend a trustworthy driver, talk to him and negotiate the price. We paid $18 USD for a day tour and $20 for the day we went early for the Angkor Wat sunrise. He picked us up at the hotel, and stayed with us until 6 pm when the park closes. If you find a nice and helpful driver, stick with him during your whole trip. It’s not easy to bargain with Cambodian tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, can be really tiring.
If you want to understand and get deep into the Khmer civilization you should hire a guide [an official one, please]. Most of the drivers know a few bits and pieces about the temples, but I wouldn’t trust a full historical tour on him.
» Best time to visit Angkor Wat
Sleep well and go to the temples early in the morning, 8 am is a good time to start your expedition. Most of the temples have the best light during morning time, but don’t worry too much, the afternoon shadows over or inside the buildings give them a more dramatic vibe.
For the Angkor Wat Sunrise, you must be at the complex around 5:30 am. Don’t be lazy or late, this natural spectacle is worthy. After the sunrise you can go and explore the other temples, later on we’ll share with you the best way to visit Angkor Wat and avoid the crowds! The Sunset in Angkor Wat happens between 5:15 and 6 pm. I suggest you to watch the sunset on your first day visiting the Angkor Wat temples, and the sunrise on the second day.
The best time of the year to visit Angkor Wat is between November to March, which means mild and dry weather. Less heat, but more tourists. The rainy season starts in June and lasts till September, the place is lush green but can be hard to drive from one temple to another with frequent storms. Avoid April, unless you can handle freaky roasting days.
Angkor Wat is a Cambodia must-see attraction, so actually there aren’t high or low season. Siem Reap is full all the time, and so are the temples. We were there in December and it was busy & hot!
» Which route should I follow? What is the best way to visit Angkor Wat?
On your first day in the complex, I really recommend you to explore Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. These two temples are huge and you have time enough to see all the details, climb to the top of the constructions, search for mystical inscriptions, and walk in the forest. Angkor Wat is fully restored and the religious art displayed there are unbelievable.
I suggest you to get a map or a guide book of Angkor Wat. Start your walk at Angkor Wat temple itself [all the corridors, the different levels and the tower in the middle]. If you get hungry or tired, there are some small eateries beside the garden. Fill yourself with some energy and go in search of The South Gate, The Bayon temple, Elephant Terrace and Terrace of Leper King.
Angkor Wat and Bayon [temple of Buddha’s faces] are the crowdest temples, they are quite close to each other, and together with Ta Prohm [worldwide famous after Tomb Raider movie], are the top attractions in Angkor Wat complex. It doesn’t mean they are the most beautiful and interesting ones. You definitely need to venture yourself in search of the other temples.
Your tuk-tuk driver will instruct you on how to get around Angkor Wat temples. He will drop you by one side of the temple and pick you up on the other side, or maybe even in another ruin further down on the park. So keep in mind his name, his face and tuk-tuk plate. 😉
After Bayon go by foot to the Elephant Terrace, walk among the trees and lakes, you will breathe fresh air, listen to the birds and even be scared by some naughty monkeys trying to grab food and attention. I’m sure that by 4 pm you will be tired, sweaty and in ecstasy.
The second day is the big day, you must wake up early and enjoy the magnificent Angkor Wat Sunrise. All the details about this dark and adventurous expedition we’ll talk later. Let’s jump over the sunrise just to finish your itinerary.
On the second day you will explore the temples around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the tour companies call it as the big circle tour. The driver will take you to Ta Prohm, some temples that are under restoration, and others that seem to be forgotten in time. During the second day, the driver’s knowledge is essential. The secret to avoid the crowd is to ask him to start the big circle tour in the opposite direction! 😉
The best way to visit the complex is to start the big circle ride towards Banteay Kdei, opposite to Angkor Thom, where everybody goes after the Angkor Wat Sunrise. Doing this you will start your adventure in empty temples, and when you arrive at the famous Ta Prohm [by mid afternoon] it will be less crowded and you will be able to snap that awesome photo.
As we were doing the tour in the opposite direction we had the opportunity to drive on empty roads, see some kids going to school and monks praying. Our driver realized that we were in search of unique moments, so he took us to some temples that the organized group tour won’t even mention on the tour leaflet. We stopped by Sras Srang, Pre Rup, Ta Som and many others.
I remember we crossing this baray, all surrounded by trees, you couldn’t see what was hidden inside. We walked by this long bridge, the sun shining through the water, fishes jumping, flowers blooming, and the silence. I could only hear the “click” from our camera freezing in time that stunning scenery. At the end of the bridge, in the middle of the lake, a shrine. Like a fountain with elephants, lotus flowers and a few people gazing the majestic place.
I’m not sure of how many temples we visited, and the names of all them. I know I should have written them down, but you know what, I prefer to tell you to go and explore by yourself. After two intense days, I learned that the best way to visit Angkor Wat is to follow your heart and your own path. Ask your driver to stop where you think is worth a photo, or a nap under the trees.
Two days are enough to visit Angkor Wat temples, to get a hint of the Khmer history and architecture. If you buy the 3 days pass [as we did] you still can have a third ride around, go back to the temples you like the most or enjoy one more sunrise over Angkor Wat. It’s your call! We used our third day to run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon, one of the most beautiful and magical races we have ever run.
» Angkor Wat Sunrise & Sunset
It’s hard to choose each one is the most beautiful. I would say that the Angkor Wat Sunrise is more powerful, especially that you can witness the transformation of the dark night into a brand new day. Watch the sunrise on your second day, so no need to buy tickets in a hurry, you already know the road and how long does it take to arrive there.
On the night before, when we were talking to the driver about the pickup time, he told us to ask the hotel to prepare our breakfast to go, so we could eat it after the sunrise. Such a clever idea! On the next day, when we stopped at Angkor Wat I realized that we have forgotten tour flashlight. Thank God our driver had two to borrow us. Those smart moves guarantee him an extra tip and a big thanks for being such a lovely and caring driver.
The place is crowded, people trying to walk around the ruins in a completely dark night. Hold your torch firmly and cross Angkor Wat main gate then you must find a spot in front of the building, on the left side of the bridge that leads to the temple. There will be a small lake with flowers, that is the place you want to be when the sky turns purple, orange, and light blue.
The colors are so intense, when the show starts the crowd became silent. We could hear the cameras clicking, the self-sticks folding up and down, and tons of “Wooowwwww”. Don’t look only to the sky, pay attention to the lake too, the reflection of the temple and the clouds is stunning!!
As soon as the sun appears people tend to leave the garden. Don’t rush! Now it’s time to find a good spot in front of Angkor Wat and savor your breakfast. Until 9 am the color of the sky will change, the clouds will play with the sun creating unique sunbeams. After breakfast go back to the tuk-tuk and start your second-day expedition in Angkor Wat complex.
The sunset in Angkor Wat is beautiful too. The best place to watch it is at Phnom Bakheng or the Terrace of Srah Srang, from there you can see the sun setting over the forest. But I believe that from any temple you will have a great view, from the top you can see the sandstone buildings shining like gold.
This is our best way to visit Angkor Wat, if you follow our travel tips I’m sure you will have a memorable experience too. You can do the tour on your own [as we did], or hire a guide, choose a group or an exclusive tour, there are plenty of them in Siem Reap. However, always double-check the references, be aware of scams and outrageous prices. You can find some reliable companies on Tripadvisor and even book a tour online.
To finish our travel guide to Angkor Wat, here it goes some practical information about where to stay in Siem Reap, how to get to Angkor Wat and around.
Where to stay near Angkor Wat
Siem Reap is the closest city to Angkor Wat attractions, and one of the biggest city in Cambodia, that means plenty of rooms options. Most of the hostels and hotels are near Angkor Wat, and it won’t take more than a few minutes to get from one place to another. I would say to choose your accommodation in Siem Reap based on comfort and budget. Almost all the hotels are close to the city center, easy to find restaurants, markets and near to all attractions and things to do in Siem Reap.
We stayed at Lotus Garden a bit outside of town and can be hard to find the address but the property itself is great. I was glad to be far away from the messy streets of Siem Reap, but to leave the hotel we needed tuk-tuk or bicycles. I liked Lotus Garden, they have big rooms, a decent breakfast [and the lunchbox for the Angkor Wat Sunrise], swimming pool, tuk-tuk service, bicycles, and massage. All these for a fair price!
These properties are among the best hotels in Siem Reap:
If you are looking for a hostel, we can recommend One Stop Hostel offers comfy rooms, great atmosphere, and a nice rooftop bar.
If you want something fancier you can easily use Booking.com and Agoda to find top hotels in Siem Reap, we book our rooms with them and never had a problem. Check the prices, the options and don’t forget to book your hotel in Siem Reap through our links, you don’t spend any extra penny and we get a little commission from your booking! Tks 😉
How to get to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap
You have two choices, you can travel to Siem Reap by bus or by plane. It all depends on your budget and time. Siem Reap International Airport receives daily flights from almost all the big cities in Southeast Asia. For the best flight fare look at Kiwi and Skyscanner, they have a great search engine and an easy way to compare prices. The airport is close to the city, a tuk-tuk or taxi ride will take you to the hotel.
Getting to Siem Reap by bus is not that easy or fast. Depending on where you are coming from this can be a long, hot and annoying trip. We have done it twice and as much as we tried to relax and enjoy, it was quite hard to not get angry with all the bribe scheme that happens on the border with Thailand. If you decide to travel overland you can check routes and tickets with 12 Go Asia.
I could write a whole blog post about it. However, to make a long story short, there is only one company that cross the border between Thailand and Cambodia, without the need to change buses or get taxi and minivans. The company is OK, the price is fair, and the meal they serve is quite good. But when you stop by the customs on the Cambodian side to pay for the visa you discover a ridiculous scheme. The signs on the wall, the rules online, everywhere says it’s 30$ USD for a tourist visa single entrance, but the customs officers ask you to pay more and if you don’t pay in Dollars or Thai Baht you can’t get inside the country.
That means: if you bribe, you are in. If you don’t, you are out of Cambodia.
It’s not about money, I had extra dollars in my pocket, but it goes against my principles and I refused to pay. Bottom line, they hold our passport for one hour, we were seated there waiting for the answer, telling people not to pay more than the official fee. I think they got tired of us, and we were holding the bus on the border, so finally they give us the visa for the correct price. I was worried, threatened, but glad that we stood by what was right.
The list of scams on the Cambodian border is long. People selling fake visas on the bus, companies that promise to take you all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap but drop you on the border and then turn back to Thailand. Taxis drivers that charge a ridiculous amount of money to drive you from the border to the closest bus station on the Cambodian side. The visa bribe, and so on… Be aware, stay safe and look after your money. Sad to say but we didn’t feel safe in Cambodia, even though we had a great time in Angkor Wat.
Now you know where to stay in Siem Reap, how to get to Angkor Wat, and how to avoid scams and problems. Even better, you know the best way to visit Angkor Wat! The complex was nominated by Lonely Planet as the best tourist attraction in 2015, and no doubt it is. I lack words to express how amazing our visit to the Angkor Wat temples was, and how happy we are for sharing it with you!
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Remember: go there with a flashlight, food, an open heart!! That’s the best way to visit Angkor Wat, Sunrise and Sunset! Are you ready to explore it by yourself?!