We had scheduled 4 nights in Siem Reap at the end of our 57-day round the world adventure and we were determined to see the majesty of the temples in this area as well as having some final downtime before heading back to our lives in England.
The temples are all around 900 years old and are in varying states of repair. They were Hindu temples originally, but then were converted to Buddhist use, as the tide of popular religion swung that way. The most remarkable thing is that they were abandoned in the 16th century and due to the area being known for dengue fever, they were left to the jungle for over 300 years. They truly are one of the wonders of the world.
We had done some reading about how to get the most out of seeing the temples, in both blogs and guidebooks. We took that all on on board and then came up with our own way of doing things. Isn’t that always the best way?
1 – We decided to limit our itinerary. We asked ourselves what were the key things we wanted to see and did only them. Nothing more. There is so much to explore, but (and this is said with the utmost respect), it’s easy to get a bit ‘templed-out’. So we chose, Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakeng, the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (aka the Tomb Raider temple).
2 – Do you really want to be up for the sunrise? I know it makes some sense as it’s cooler at that time of day and it’s supposed to be ‘magical’, but a) we’ve had heavy cloud for much of the time we’ve been here, b) it means getting up at 4.30am, c) there are only two times a year when the sun actually rises directly behind Angkor Wat, d) you won’t be doing it alone – typically there are 300+ people there and e) there’s always a sunset instead. Which is what we did. At Phnom Bakeng. It wasn’t the most spectacular sunset we’ve ever seen, but it was pretty and avoided many of the problems listed.
3 – Tuk tuks are the answer to getting around. We split our itinerary into three trips out from the hotel: picking up our passes/Angkor Wat (3.5 hours), Phnom Bakeng for sunset (2.5 hours) and Bayon temple/Ta Prohm (4 hours). These trips cost us $10, $10 and $15 respectively. Our driver was great, cheerily waving to us as soon as got back to a pick up point. The tuk tuks are safe, fun and you can also do a piece to camera from the back of one!
4 – We invested in a guide … but only for the first temple, which in our case was Angkor Wat. They are wearing khaki shirts with official passes and are quite easy to spot. Our guide was really knowledgeable and had good English. He spent an hour or so with us for $20 and we felt that we had gleaned enough of the history to put into context our visits to subsequent temples.
5 – A common topic in our prior research was how to avoid crowds. I have to say that it largely didn’t bother us although our last temple, Ta Prohm, did feel a bit overrun (and not just by the jungle). However, at other moments, we found ourselves in quite peaceful surroundings. Our advice – just try not to let it get to you too much and if it is, ask your driver to take you somewhere a little less crowded for a while … which leads us onto:
6 – Discuss your itinerary with your tuk tuk driver and listen to their suggestions. Ours suggested it would be worth taking in Baphuon and the Angkor Thom gates. We took his advice and were very pleased we did.
We did our Vietnam and Cambodia adventure independently as part of a round the world trip. If escorted tours are more your thing, this trip with Titan Tours covers a similar itinerary:
Been to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples? Got any other tips? Disagree with any of ours? Or perhaps you are inspired to pay a visit? We’d love to hear from you below.