Angkor Wat, one of the most visited and voted one of the best tourist attractions around the world. Because of this, there is tons of information online about the history of the temples and how incredible they are (which they are by the way) so here is the other side of the experience. This is a tips and tricks post on Angkor Wat, an ‘Expectations vs Reality’ of the Temples of Angkor. Here is when and how to do your visit.
How to start your trip in Angkor Wat?
We bought a 3 day pass for $62 (around £48. A one day pass is $37, around £30). If you buy your ticket after 5pm, you can have access to the park that evening without it counting as one of your days. Most temples close around 6pm. What you may not have read is that the ticket office is 3km away from the park entrance, which is then another 4-5 km to Angkor Wat! What I am saying is, the park is huge, so factor in travel time to the temples. We averaged 4 temples per day, totalling 4-5 hours.
A tuk tuk driver can be hired for the day and there are two routes you can take around the park. The smaller route starts from $16 (£12.50), veer off onto the larger route and this will cost $20 (£16). Add a sunrise or sunset onto your trip and you can expect to pay another $4-$5. We plotted on a map which temples we wished to visit and the tuk tuk driver patiently waited for us at each temple before driving to the next.
What is the best time to visit the temples?
We first visited Angkor Wat on a Friday, mid-June. We arrived around 9:30am and it wasn’t too over-crowded. Yes there were hundreds of people there, but Angkor Wat is pretty big, so it didn’t feel swamped like some of the other temples we have visited. You can easily take photographs without having to wait too long for the background to be clear of people.
I’d also recommend visiting any of the other temples (not Angkor Wat) first thing in the morning. Most people are at Angkor waiting for the sunrise shot, which leaves all the other temples empty. If you are happy to get up for the opening times (6:30 – 7am) then do! This is when the other temples are at their quietest.
So in my opinion the best time to visit Angkor Wat is mid-to-late morning, also mid-to-late afternoon, and the best time to visit the other temples is first thing in the morning.
When should you avoid the temples?
We also visited Angkor Wat on a Sunday morning to watch the sunrise. We got into a tuk tuk at 5am! (Killer, I only ever get up that early for a flight!) It was literally a race to Angkor, in the darkness all you could see was tuk tuk lights queueing up to reach the temple before the rise of the sun at 5:32am. It was packed! There were hundreds and hundreds of people all around the little pond waiting for the sunshine. This leads me to another point…
That ‘money shot’ of the temple reflection over the lake at sunrise/sunset…? Well, it isn’t a lake at all, just a pretty big pond. I was shocked! I honestly thought it was a lake! But with the wonders of camera angles, the pond is transformed to a huge open lake.
Phnom Bakheng is another popular place for that ‘money shot,’ this is best for sunsets. Set high up on a hill, this temple has great views over the Archaeological Park and beyond. These magnificent views mean that the sunset looks pretty sweet over the temple. Who doesn’t love a good sunset right? So when we arrived at 5pm it was already on a 1-in-1-out basis. We have never had to queue for any temples so be warned! The temple closes at 6:30pm, we left at 20 past and there was still a huge queue.
So to summarise, avoid Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng during sunrise and sunset if you wish to avoid the crowds. But if you want that money-shot, just expect it to be busy.
Expectations vs Reality.
As I have already mentioned, this place is busy, but there are other things you should note which we didn’t expect.
Scaffolding. Most of the temples we visited had some sort of scaffolding or labour work going on. Expect parts to be closed, covered up, and railings to be in your photographs. Even Angkor Wat had a huge part of it covered in scaffolding and netting as they are constantly restoring the fragile, crumbling temples. Also, some areas are
cordoned off by fences and rope, so it becomes difficult to get that overgrown-wildness feel when there is a new wooden fence in the way.
Sellers. Everywhere. Scarves, traveller pants, books, pineapples, artwork, magnets, postcards… everyone has something to sell. The upsetting part is that there are tons of children trying to sell these to you. You are advised not to buy anything from them and not to give them anything, as it encourages them to stay out of school and work.
Another thing to note about your trip, you are pretty much in the jungle. Expect monkeys, which will grab any food and drink you have on show. Expect tons of flies, lizards, ants that bite (a lot) and snakes! Snakes eating lizards! Wear repellant. Take plenty of water. Wear respectable clothing too – cover knees and shoulders.
I know this post has been very factual, and I don’t want that to take away from the awe-inspiring place that the Angkor is. The colossal park, dilapidated, grand and yet intricate ruins, surrounded by lush, over-grown, green forests are truly over-whelming. It is no wonder it was voted number one in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List, and also number one on Tripadvisor’s 2017 Traveller’s Choice awards.