Arriving into Siem Reap from the southern coastal area of Sihanoukville; I knew very little about Angkor park and found much of the information online contradictory and misleading. We booked 4 nights in a hostel in Siem Reap which gave me a day to explore the city and 3 days to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Siem Reap is absolutely dwarfed by Angkor park and unless you enjoy lots of market shopping and getting blind drunk on pub street, there isn’t really much to do or see in Siem Reap centre.
Firstly, you need to decide how many days you want to spend at the park. The ticket options are 1 day, 3 days or 7 days; but I would imagine if you’re reading this post you’ve probably settled on 3. The 3-day pass cost $62 dollars and gives you access to most temples around the park. The ticket has your photo on it and you need to have it with you at all times. The ticket will be stamped each time you enter the park and cannot be replaced if lost or damaged.
When visiting the temples, you have 3 choices. You can book onto a group bus/coach tour. These tours are quite expensive but provide structure and ease to the day – the coach seats and air-conditioning probably feel pretty luxurious compared to a tuk tuk. But if I’m being honest, even if money was not an issue I wouldn’t chose to do a coach trip around Angkor. The structure of the day will be very regimented and inevitably at points you will end up sat on the bus waiting for someone else in the group to catch up. With 3 days at Angkor Wat, the thought of spending many hours on a coach was not appealing.
Your second option is to take a tuk tuk, which we did on the 1st and 2nd day. A tuk tuk costs around $15 for the day (which normally lasts around 6/7 hours) and is a really nice way to explore the park. Tuk tuk drivers have maps which explain the short and grand circuit and will happily take you on a pre-planned route to visit 4/5 temples each day. These pre-planned routes are a welcome relief if you don’t have any specific temples in mind and you want to have a wander around the main attractions. If however, you have specific temples you wish to visit, or you have a particular order in mind, make this clear with your tuk tuk driver before you negotiate on a price. You will also get a better deal if you negotiate the job with him for the full 3 days rather than just the one.
The 3rd and final option you have is to take bicycles. This is what we chose to do on the 3rd day and I absolutely loved it. A bicycle will cost you between $2 and $5 for the full day dependant on the type of bicycle you would like, and there are rental places all over the city. I am not a confident cyclist but actually found the roads from central Siem Reap to Angkor Wat very easy to navigate (the fact there are practically no road rules probably worked in my favour). And as a complete novice I managed to do the whole cycle only falling off once! No cuts or lasting damage, just a very bruised ego. Once you’re inside the park the roads are relatively quiet. Just make sure you dodge the tuk tuks, oh, and the elephants.
If you chose to go with a pre-planned route; they will normally look something like this:
The small circuit – Angkor Wat, The Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Phrom & Bantei Kdei
The Grand Circuit – Preah Khan, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Eastern Mebon & Pre Rup
If you’ve bought the 3 day pass obviously you can raid your Lonely Planet book for new temples, or choose a few of your favourites to re-visit on the third day.
By South East Asia standards, Angkor park is an expensive few days. However, you can’t go to Cambodia without seeing Angkor Wat. There are many non-uniformed tour guides at the park offering their services for the day. A guide for the day will set you back around $20 for the day, but I assume the quality of guide is extremely hit and miss. So if you want a guide I would recommend doing your research and contacting someone before hand.
The temples are a type of beauty I’ve never witnessed anywhere else in my life. I only have one regret and that is not getting to the park for dawn. I hear the sunrise over Angkor Wat is unlike no other in the world.
Here is a full itinerary for how to spend 10 days in Cambodia.
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