Wandering in Angkor – practical tips
November 1, 2018
When I received the book of the 100 Wonders of the World for my high school graduation, I scrolled through the pages, dreaming, or rather wondering how I’ll manage to get to some of the places. Angkor was clearly on my list of top 5.
This ancient Khmer temple town with its dazzling buildings amazes everyone on captured photographs.
After reading so much about it and seeing a handful of photos, I thought I was ready to take in all the beauty, excitement, tranquility, conceit and power that Angkor has to offer. Oh Lord, how wrong I was! There is nothing like the moment when we were driving up to Angkor Wat on our scooter and at the end of the road we saw the ancient towers stretching towards the sky. I felt incredible happiness and gratitude in my heart to be a small part of a miracle.
Then the moment at dawn when I experienced the rising sun coming out from behind the high towers of Angkor Wat; as the rays of the rising sun showed the perfect reflection of the building in the little pond in front of it and we were surrounded by the thousand shades of yellow, red and blue colors. I was incredibly impressed.
But what Angkor really is?
Angkor is actually an entire city that used to be the center of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries. It is located at the tip of Lake Sap, north of Siem Reap. Only the temples remained for the posterity as they were built from stones. That is why Angkor now looks like a huge temple town. But in its early days it had nearly 1 million inhabitants, so it was larger than any European city of its time. Unfortunately residential homes and palaces were made of wood, so we cannot admire them anymore. But Angkor provides an immersive experience anyways. A huge thanks to the researchers who “pulled out” the city from the depths of the jungle in the 19th century. It was listed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 and has become very popular destination since.
How to visit the city?
Since Angkor embraces a huge area, it’s impossible to walk around the whole city. The best options are cycling, riding a scooter or hiring a tuk-tuk.
The most widespread way for Angkor’s entourage is to rent a tuk-tuk which includes a driver who, in some cases, has good knowledge of the ancient city and can tell stories about its history.
Tuk-tuk owners usually offer 2 types of services:
Small Circle: the usual price is around 15 USD it does not include sunrise or sunset
Great Circle: for around $ 20 they cover a larger area with their passengers and are willing to do the sunrise or sunset for an extra $ 3-4. If we want both , we need to dig deeper in our pocket.
If someone is planning the day from sunrise till sunset, the person should be ready to put some real work into the day to see Angkor on a bicycle. I’m not sure I would be in for it, specially in the nearly 40 degree Celsius weather, though it’s definitely fun, and of course it’s a 12-hour workout. If someone rents a bicycle, should plan at least a 2 days visit.
We used the scooter to explore Angkor because we wanted to rent a two-wheeled vehicle anyway, in order to be mobile in the whole area and get to as many places as possible in the fastest way. We booked directly from our hotel’s front desk and the scooter was delivered to the hotel (rental 15-20 USD / day; renting for several days can be bargained). We had a huge sense of freedom with this option, as we visited places in the order we liked and spent as much time everywhere as we liked. In addition, we avoided the massive crowds, who always visit Angkor on the same route. Basically we went against the mass-tourism.
Only at Angkor Wat we had to pay a minimum fee for parking, everywhere else it was free of charge.
To visit Angkor, one can chose from 3 different tickets, which is basically a photo ID that can not be transferred:
1 day ticket is $ 37
3-day ticket is $ 62
7-day ticket is $ 72
An interesting fact: before February 2017 the ticket price was nearly half the above.
Tickets can be purchased only at the official Angkor Visitors Center (opening hours 5:00 – 17:30), anything bought from hotels, travel agencies or other third parties are invalid! The Visitors Center is located approx. 4 km away from Siem Reap. Since the ticket is basically a photo ID, we need to be personally present.
Payment is possible in US Dollars, Euros, Thai Baht or Cambodian Riel, and now credit- and debit cards are accepted too.
The 3-day ticket can be used within 10 days from purchase and the 7-day ticket within one month – therefor there is no need to plan the visit in advance.
Attention! The 1 day ticket can not be purchased in advance. However, if it’s bought approx. after 16:30 (which is valid for the next day), we are Ingenious and fast (that’s why it’s good to have a scooter), then we can catch the sunset with this entry ticket the same day. And the next morning, we do not have to queue at the Visitors Center, but we can go straight to admire the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Access and opening hours
Angkor is usually accessed from Siem Reap through Charles de Gaulle road. On this road there is a police checkpoint where, of course, tuk tuk drivers knowing what the rule is, stop.
We were hurrying to catch the magnificent Angkor Wat sunset when we barely noticed the police presence on the side of the road. We stopped, they checked our entry permits and we were free to ride away.
We didn’t access the temple complex from any other direction, but I assume that this is the case everywhere.
The opening hours in Angkor differ based on the place, Angkor Wat is open between 5:00 and 17:30.
Dining in Angkor
Since we are likely to spend at least a whole day in Angkor, we will definitely get hungry and it’s necessary to hydrate a lot in the heath. Fortunately, there are plenty of places that sell cool refreshments, juices, delicious local beers, somewhere fresh coconut water, sweet treats and sandwiches. Several places offer cooked local meals too. Near the parking at Angkor Wat, west from the entrance we ate a delicious soup after we enjoyed the magical sunrise. Later we had lunch at Angkor Thom, north of Bayon, near the Elephant Terrace.
Of course, thanks to the popularity of Angkor (it has more than 2.2 million foreign visitors a year), prices are unfortunately adjusted accordingly. A bowl of rice or pasta in the “restaurant” at Angkor Thom was $ 6-8 and the beer cost $ 3. Compared to this, in the city you can eat for $ 2-3 (where locals eat – we’ve been particularly looking for these places), beer and refreshments are $ 1. But since we were in Asia, I bargained even where I saw little chance to be successful. But it always worked. Even in the royal Angkor.