Angkor Wat & Siem Reap Ultimate Guide
Before my trip to Siem Reap, I went through so many blogs, Youtube videos and guides to put together the perfect weekend trip. I have put together all my recommendations in this Angkor Wat & Siem Reap Ultimate Guide. So you do not need to dig into all the online material. 🙂
How to Plan Your Day in Siem Reap
I recommend starting very early to beat A) the crowds and B) the heat. If you have more than one day, I would split up the visits of the temples. Before your tour, you will have to buy a daily ticket for the temples. It is USD 37 (about EUR 32), of which USD 2 are donated to the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital Fund. This fund offers free medical care for Cambodian children. I would then explore until the late morning (around 10-11) and then head back to the hotel and rest to escape the heat and explore the city in the evening. For more details, read my weekend itinerary for Siem Reap!
Shall I Book a Tour?
I recommend booking either a tuk tuk or a mini van and a local guide. Our guide Ry Manoune was certified by the Cultural Ministry of Cambodia (he underwent a 6-month training for the job). Ry offered us so many interesting historical facts and things to know about Cambodia which we would have never learned about. Therefore, I highly recommend booking Ry as your tour guide. Furthermore, hiring a local driver and/or a guide allows you to learn more about Cambodia and meet locals. I emphasize hiring locals here – we heard that a lot of groups arrive with their drivers and guides. I think we you visit a country, we should contribute to their community and hire locals.
Make sure to inform them about the things you absolutely want to see. Usually, all the tours take the visitors to the same places at about the same time. I strongly advise you to plan ahead and create your own tour. Otherwise, your visit might end up being really unpleasant due to the crowds.
If you want to explore on your own, you can also rent a motorbike. I saw some people with bicycles, but considering the heat and the vast size of the temple area, I do not recommend it.
How to Avoid the Crowds
The typical tours go in a circle, starting with Angkor Wat at sunrise and then moving East, North and then back. Usually, you will stop for a breakfast after the sunrise in Angkor.
However, I had done some research before our trip and we decided to go to Bayon Temple (inside Angkor Thom) and Tasom after Angkor Wat. Hence, I recommend deviating from the standard tour (the guides and drivers call it “Grand Tour”); a good idea is also to start in the North and make your way towards the Angkor Wat in the opposite direction as the crowds.
We also went to Angkor Wat for sunrise but we did not sit at the lake waiting for the sun to rise. Instead, we walked around on the East side and shortly before 6.30 when the temple opens, we started to queue up. If you want to go up to the tower and courtyard of Angkor Wat (which is a must in my opinion), you have to queue. This is because the maximum number of people allowed up there is 100. If you are among the first batches, it will probably take you 20-30 in line. We were in the second or third batch and could go up quickly. It was nice to walk around and enjoy the view. When we came back, the temple had already become quite crowded.
We left Angkor Wat via the main entrance (West Gate) at around 7.30 and headed over to Bayon Temple (inside Angkor Thom).
Also the gates of Angkor Thom are beautiful. We reached the temple quite fast after about a 10 minute drive.
What to Wear
Please bear in mind that the temples are sacred sites. Hence, you need to cover your knees and shoulders. Before we went, I checked some pictures and saw a lot of girls wearing long chiffon skirts and shawls to cover their shoulders. I am usually not somebody who lives by the mantra “style follows comfort”. However, I think if you plan to really explore the temples or even go to the waterfall Phnom Kulen (more in my itinerary post coming up soon), a skirt and the shawl will get annoying. I was glad that I wore long light khaki pants which are cut a bit wider and I also opted for sneakers instead of the usual flip flops. This was a great choice because it was really dusty and just easier to walk.
For the best effect for your pictures, you should wear bright colours or white. If you wear black or earth tones, you will just blend into the temple structures.
In the evenings, casual clothing is fine as well. A nice summer dress (I recommend a long one because of the mosquitoes) with a scarf is the best solution. It can be a bit chilly in the evenings. Some casual pants and a nice top are perfectly fine as well.
What to Pack for the Day Exploring the Temples
You are in the jungle the whole day and you will need to re-apply regularly.
Sunscreen and sunglasses
We asked the hotel to prepare some breakfast boxes (we had booked the room with breakfast). I think due to the popularity of the sunrise tours, the hotels are used to that request. If you plan a longer tour, also bring some snacks. By the way, our breakfast boxes were far too big for us. Therefore, we asked the driver and guide if they want to take the food. Alternatively, you can give it to the kids running around the tourist sites. I think I do not need to emphasize here that you should not waste any food…
Bring plenty because it is very hot and dry.
Wet tissues and disinfectant
Where to Stay?
I would recommend staying in the area East of the Siem Reap river, which is near Pub Street. However, with “near” I mean about 10 minutes away by tuk tuk. I found the Pub Street area not pleasant at all. It is really noisy and full of bars selling cheap alcohol (read more about this in my postcard from Cambodia). I do not think it is a good area to stay. However, most of the restaurants are located in the vicinity of Pub Street. In any case, you will have to take a van or tuk tuk from most of the hotels to the temples, as they are outside of the city.
We were staying at the Hillocks Hotel & Spa. It was in a very convenient location and I think it is perfect for a weekend trip to Siem Reap. (Read my hotel review here)
How to Get There
Angkor Wat is located in the Northern part of Cambodia, in the city of Siem Reap. In my opinion, the easiest way is by plane. I am not a big fan of spending a day on a bus. Siem Reap airport is located about 20-30 minutes from the city centre. We booked a pick-up from our hotel.
Getting Around in Siem Reap
Apart from the above-mentioned tours, I recommend getting around by tuk tuk in Siem Reap. It cost us between USD 2-3 to go from the hotel to the city.
The local currency is the Cambodian Riel. However, you can pay in USD almost everywhere (we only carried USD with us). In the area around pub street, there were plenty of cash machines and banks.
Please check with the Cambodian embassy in your home country if you need a visa. A lot of countries have visa on arrival and/or e-visa for which you can apply via the official government website. I highly recommend the e-visa. The fee was USD 36 (EUR 31) and it took a day until I got the visa via email. I then had to bring two copies with me. This saved me a very long queue at the visa on arrival counter. I could go straight to immigration.
The local language is Khmer. (Foreigners sometimes call it Cambodian but the accurate term is Khmer.) It is no problem at all to get around with English.
All information above as of 15 November 2017.
I love that you have so much detail in this. It’s amazing how many places just by doing the standard tourist route in a different order can mean you beat the crowds and get a much nicer experience.
Thank you so much for your comment. I did try to offer as many details as possible to make future trips of my readers easier. It took me quite a while to put together the perfect itinerary and plan our trip. So it definitely saves you time 🙂 And yes, I was surprised too that simply changing the order of the sights means you can avoid the crowds!
Great writing! Thanks for avoiding us from doing too much digging when we’ll be preparing to go there!
Thank you for your feedback! I’m happy to help 🙂
Those silhouette pictures are so beautiful! Also, great idea about avoiding the typical crowd routes. That can apply to any country.
Yes, I totally agree. Avoiding the crowds has become part of travelling I guess…
This is such a timely post Liz!! I am headed to Siem Reap in 2 months and your tips are so useful since I am still in planning stages!! Thanks for pointing out to wear contrasting colors to pop out in the temples, something minor but so important 😉
Oh this is great! I hope that my post can help you with the planning. Enjoy your trip there, it is truly breathtaking!!! And let me know how your trip went!
This is very thorough! Love the idea of moving opposite of the crowds- brilliant! And thank you for the pointers on clothing for the temples- it is important to be respectful.
Thanks a lot for your comment! I think beating the crowds is probably one of the most important things to bear in mind when you go there. I was actually surprised by how many people go there every day!
I was in Cambodia earlier this year and you’re right, there’s SO much information out there! I spent 2 days there and didn’t think it was enough to properly explore the temples without feeling rushed (and hot!). If I could do it all over again, I’d definitely spend another day in Siem Reap.
Yes, I totally agree! I think a weekend is not enough to be able to see everything. I think 4-5 days is ideal to also be able to explore Siem Reap more.
Wow that’s a big crowd in the temple. Does that include locals as well or maximum are tourists? Just curious.
Thank you for your tips. They are very well explained And are very informative too.
Most of it is tourists. I was really surprised about how many people actually go for the sunrise tour.
Love Siam Reap! Such a lovely guide. I was there three years ago and the price of entry to the temples has nearly double! I do appreciate in Cambodia that all guides need to be qualified and certified by the government.
Oh really has it changed that much? Our guide was really good and I learned so much!
This has been the best Angkor Wat guide I have read and I have read quite lot recently! Well done for including useful information. I really would love it visit soon and this guide has really helped, thank you! I like your photos of ‘face to face’, I will have to do that when I go!
Thank you so much for your very nice comment. Reading this makes me blush and I am really happy that I was able to help you with some inspiration. And yes, please do the face to face picture at Bayon!!!
Angkor Wat & Siem Reap is on my bucket list! This just made me want to prioritize it all the more. Thanks for the wonderful photos and information!
Thank you so much for your lovely comment. You should visit Angkor Wat, it was even better than I imagined!
Did you go recently? Man, that’s an insane crowd right there! I went 6-7 years ago and I thought it was really crowded but not that crazy!
Yes, I went three weeks ago. I was so shocked too when I did my research. I had friends who went 2, 3 years ago and it wasn’t as bad.
Loved your recap video!!! Looks and sounds like you had a blast and I love all these useful tips especially the one with not wearing a skirt and shawl hahaa. I’m definitely guilty of dressing up cute for pictures so will have to keep that in mind!
Haha, yeah me too! And I found it really useful to know beforehand 😀 😀