Angkor Wat is generally the name that people use to talk about the entire Angkor Archaeological Park area. Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples there, but it is the most famous. And many of the other temples are even more impressive than Angkor Wat. That’s just one of the things to know before you visit – check out our list of 13 more below!
And don’t forget to read our Complete Guide to Angkor Wat before your trip!
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Things to Know Before Visiting Angkor Wat
#1. Start Early to Avoid the Crowds and the Heat
Most people who visit Angkor Wat Architectural Park choose to get started on their day of exploring bright and early. Watching the sunrise in the complex is very popular. And it’s a good time to visit because the sun gets intense and unrelenting in the mid-day. Many of the temples offer little in terms of shade and considering that you’ll likely be commuting by motorbike or tuk-tuk, you won’t have the luxury of air conditioning either.
Buy your ticket bright and early on your first day (or better yet, buy it between 5 pm and 5:30 pm the day before) and head to your sunrise spot of choice for a good view. Keep in mind that the main temple of Angkor Wat is the most popular place to watch, with hundreds of people gathering there every morning.
#2. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is Crazy Crowded
As I mentioned above, Angkor Wat is the most popular place in the complex to watch sunrise. Our tuk-tuk driver picked us up from our hotel in Siem Reap at 4:30 am and we arrived at the entrance of Angkor Wat right at 4:53am. It’s a short walk to the pond which got us there right after 5 am. We were able to lock down a front spot but within 15 minutes the entire front row was filled with tripods.
Behind where we stood, there were probably five rows of people trying to get a look at the temple. They stood on their tiptoes and held their cameras over their heads.
The number of foreign visitors buying an Angkor pass between 1/1/2019 and 2/16/2019 was 430,739. That amounts to about 9,000 per day! And most of those people are following the advice found above – they are waking up early, heading to visit Angkor Wat, and locking down the perfect spot to see the sunrise. It’ll be you and 8,999 of your closest friends.
If you want an alternative to visit Angkor Wat, Srah Srang Lake and Pre Roup temple are less crowded. But keep in mind that the other temples in the area don’t open until 7:30 am. So you’ll have some time to kill between sunrise and opening time. There are a few vendors at both spots that serve coffee and breakfast. And make sure you bring a good travel tripod so you can capture the moment!
#3. Most Temples Don’t Open Until 7:30 am
As we mentioned above, most people who visit the Angkor Archaeological Park begin their temple tour with sunrise at Angkor Wat. Sunrise there is not only beautiful, but it’s also convenient as Angkor Wat actually opens earlier than most of the others so you can head right inside and begin exploring.
If you watch sunrise at one of the other spots in the park, you’ll need to wait until 7:30 am to start exploring the nearby temples. Grab a coffee or some breakfast while you wait.
The four locations that open at 5 am are Angkor Wat, Srah Srang, Phnom Bakheng, and Pre Rup.
#4. There are Plenty of Places to Eat and Drink in the Park
If you ask your tuk-tuk driver to take you to a good lunch spot, you’ll more than likely find yourself at the Temple View Restaurant. We can’t figure out exactly what they get – possibly a free meal or a kickback based on what you spend. This restaurant is ridiculously expensive for the area – pretty much everything on the menu costs at least $7.50 even a simple bowl of noodle soup.
Don’t waste your money here unless you specifically want to take advantage of the air conditioning, the Wi-Fi, and the clean bathroom. There are plenty of small restaurants throughout the park to choose from. But you can expect prices to be a bit higher here than in Siem Reap, no matter what restaurant you choose.
#5. There are Essentially Two Tour Routes
The Small Circuit Tour, and the Grand Circuit Tour. The Small Circuit includes Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei. And the price to hire a tuk-tuk to take you to all of those will run you about $15 – 18 USD. If you want to deviate from that plan in any way, you’ll need to hire a driver who speaks English. Most drivers stick to exactly the same schedule.
The Grand Circuit takes you to the outer edges of the park. You’ll get to visit Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, and Pre Rup. The price for a tuk-tuk will range from $20 – 30 USD depending on whether or not you make any changes or add any temples to your tour.
We hired an English-speaking driver for $30 and were able to put together a customized tour. We started with sunrise at Srah Srang, added Ta Prohm to our list of temples to visit, spent a ton of time at each temple, and had him confirmed to be our driver from sunrise until sunset. However, we only lasted 10 hours so our tour actually ended at 3 pm.
We enjoyed taking the grand tour in reverse order as most people – counterclockwise. We found many of the temples to be far less crowded and we were able to arrive to Ta Prohm before the tour buses descended.
#6. Hire a Tuk-Tuk Driver for the Day
As I mentioned above, the best way to get around the Angkor Archaeological Park is to hire a tuk-tuk driver. For $15-30 USD, you’ll have your own personal driver who will drop you at the front of each temple and wait for you to finish. Or sometimes, if the temple is really large, they will drop you off at one end and pick you up on the other so you don’t have to walk as far.
If you prefer the comfort (and air conditioning) of a car, you can hire a nice SUV to drive you around the Angkor Archaeological Park for around $45 USD per day.
#7. Regardless, You’ll Still Walk a LOT
Many of the temples are quite large so it’s easy to put in a lot of mileage without really realizing it. On our first day in the Angkor Archaeological Park, we did a modified big tour. It took us 10 hours to complete and we walked eight miles that day. We drank a beer on our tuk-tuk ride home, then lay on our bed and immediately passed out for two hours. It’s exhausting.
#8. Wear Flats and Plan on Getting Them Dusty
The ground that you’ll be walking on in the Angkor Archaeological Park is uneven. Thick sand covers the ground in some areas. And you’ll need to climb tall, steep stairs to reach the top of some temples. Flat shoes are a must to keep your feet comfortable all day.
Flip flops will work but your feet will be covered in a layer of dust by the end of the day. And if you wear closed-toe shoes, stay away from white ones if you want them to stay white.
#9. You Can’t See Everything in One Day
Trust us, you can’t. And you wouldn’t want to. By your sixth temple, you’ll be exhausted, sweaty, dehydrated, and miserable. If it is important to you to visit every inch of the Angkor Archaeological Park, buy a 3-day or 7-day pass and take your time.
#10. You can Enter and Leave as Often as You’d Like
If you are exhausted and sweaty after spending all morning at the park but still have more temples to see – don’t fret! Go back to your hotel, enjoy the pool, take a short nap, and return to the park when you’re feeling better. You can enter and leave the park as many times as you like in a day.
#11. The Sun is Unrelenting
By 9 am, the sun is already scorching here. Some of the temples offer some shade to give you a quick rest, but most leave you exposed to the blazing sun. And if you plan on traveling in an open-air tuk-tuk, you won’t get the benefit of cooling off in an air conditioned car between stops.
Drink a ton of water, take breaks, and don’t forget your sunscreen!
#12. Exercise Patience
When you visit a place that gets thousands of tourists daily, it can be really frustrating. You’ll need to line up for a photo in popular places like the tree from the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie. And even though you wait your turn patiently, another tourist may jump in front of you anyway.
Giant tour groups gather in the most inconvenient places and don’t seem to notice that they are blocking you, or getting in your photo, or generally being irritating.
Usually tourists aren’t doing it to be mean, or rude. People get blinders on when they want to take the perfect photo or are just really excited to be visiting a place for the first time. Exercise patience with others here and remember that you’re probably unknowingly annoying others around you as well.
#13. Dress Respectfully
Many of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park are still in use. And regardless, they are spiritual places that should be treated in a respectful manner. Be sure that your knees and shoulders are covered – leave those belly shirts and short shorts home.
But keep in mind that is it HOT. So you’ll want to dress in loose-fitting, lightweight attire that won’t show your giant sweat stains.
Enjoy your visit to Angkor Wat!
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