The ancient temple ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia are such a marvel; they just have to be seen to be truly believed. For all you need to know about visiting Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area, read on…
LOCATION: ANGKOR WAT, BAYON AND TAH PROHM TEMPLES, SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
The temples of Siem Reap aren’t one of the 7 classic wonders of the world, but they are something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the temples hold so much of Cambodia’s tumultuous history in their structure and carvings.
If you are planning on getting to the temples, I have put together a handy guide for you below. She is a bit of a long one, so strap yourself in! Hopefully by the end it helps you make a more informed decision about your visit to the temples…
HOW TO SEE THE TEMPLES
There are a million and five different ways to get yourself out to the temples, but for the sake of keeping this as short as possible, I stuck to just a few of the most common ways (read: no horseback tours included here).
A Bike Tour
On my first visit to Cambodia, we opted for a biking tour through Grasshopper tours. You can either jump on a group tour, or pay a little more for your own private guided tour. We opted for the latter. Going for bikes was probably one of the best things we did; but I will get to the good in a second.
What wasn’t so fantastic was the fact it was a sunrise tour. Now, a sunrise tour sounds amazing… until you get to Angkor Wat and realise that every man and his dog in Cambodia sells a sunrise package to the tourists. By 4.30am It was absolutely rammed with people and not pleasant at all. I get anxious in crowds, so that only exacerbated the issue further. Even the less popular spot outside Angkor Wat was rammed. Don’t get me wrong, it really was a beautiful sight to see the sun rise over the temple, but don’t be disillusioned into thinking the sunrise tour will be a peaceful, pleasant experience. It is probably one of the only places in the world that is busier at sunrise.
Now, onto the good part…
Once the sun was up, all was merry again. We were guided through Angkor Wat for about an hour, and then sat down to breakfast somewhere on the other side. That was when the real fun began! We got our bikes and set off on the biking part of the tour. We cycled between Angkor Wat and Bayon, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Rather than taking the public roads, you go jungle. Going jungle meant we got to see more of the real Cambodia. The roads in and out of the temples are just lined by jungle, but our off-road tracks took us through tiny villages and rice paddies. It was the most incredible experience. We even got to stop a few times to take photos of cute puppies and chat with the villagers.
I will warn you though – the ride is very hot and tiring! You don’t get a break from physical activity on this tour, so make sure you are up for a good dose of exercise. If you can handle the sweat, sore legs and a bruised butt, it is 1000000% worth it.
Going By Tuk Tuk
The last time I was in Cambodia, this was the option we took. I would have gone for bikes again, but we had the ‘seeing the real Cambodia’ part covered elsewhere.
Going by tuk tuk meant that we didn’t have a guide for the temples, but to be honest, we didn’t need one. I remembered enough from the first time I was there to share with my guest, and we had Google to clear anything up later. The best part about being guide-less was how quickly we were able to complete a tour of the 3 temples. We were done in around about 2 hours – travel time included. In comparison to the 10-ish hour bike tour, this was a breeze!
Your tuk tuk driver waits for you at each temple, so you don’t have to stress about finding a tuk tuk each time you go inside.
It was also a nice relief to sit down for a bit between each temple visit. We got the chance to cool off in the breeze and shade a little, refresh with a cold bottle of water and give our legs a bit of a break. It was also a heck of a lot cheaper than booking a guided tour. If you aren’t too phased about seeing things along the way, a tuk tuk is a really good way to see the temples cheaply, quickly and without too much exertion.
Oh, and it is completely customisable (unlike guided tours). We did opted for a later start, and did the temples in the reverse order so Angkor Wat was quieter when we visited it.
Going by car or bus is probably my least favourite option of them all (unless of course you opt for Lavender Jeep Tours). Sitting inside a vehicle seems very constraining and depriving on a tour of the temples. Sure, the air-conditioning is a lovely addition, but you miss out on so much of the experience when you are driving from point to point in an enclosed vehicle. At least on a tuk tuk you are experiencing more of the culture and the countryside around you. It is also the least environmentally friendly option you can take.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
There is a dress code
By a ‘dress code’ I mean that you have to adhere to a bunch of rules. They hardly affect male visitors, but there are quite a few things for women to be aware of.
If you are planning a trip to the temples, it is essential that women remember to cover their chest, shoulders and upper thighs (to at least just above knee length). If you think you can get aware with wearing something otherwise, think again. I had a guard blow his whistle at me and wouldn’t stop until I finally worked out that my coverup had slipped off my shoulder and pulled it back up – that is how strict they are about it at the more touristy temples. They don’t have guards at the quieter temples so you can be a bit more lax. I would still recommend being respectful though!
As much as I hate adhering to dress standards (especially in the heat), it doesn’t take too much to make sure you are being respectful of the site you are visiting. If – like me – you can’t bear the thought of wearing sleeves and/or pants in the stifling heat and humidity of Cambodia, try going for something along the lines of the following:
~ A modest, knee length, sleeveless dress with a kimono jacket or large scarf around your shoulders. This is perfect for the overheaters as you can take the coverup off when you are off the temple sites to cool down.
They are ancient sites, treat them like that!
The number of people I have seen completely disregard the signs that are about is disgraceful. The temples are thousands of years old and they are fragile. It is the least we can do as tourists to be respectful of the sites. Our tour guides told us that a few years back, a tourist decided to stand on one of the bust statues that line the entrance to Ta Prohm for a photo and ended up breaking one of the ancient busts into the river below. If that isn’t reason enough to stick to spots you are allowed to go, I don’t know what is.
If it looks ornate, crumbly or untouched, don’t damn well touch it! There are plenty of beautiful spots you can get photos at the temples that aren’t going to ruin them. Be a considerate tourist!
The more popular temples are very touristy
It goes without saying that the more popular something gets, the busier they are and the more people exploit it; but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway.
Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon are always teeming with people – especially if you visit before lunch. You will always get someone else in your shot in the main parts of the temples. If crowds aren’t your thing, try going to some of the quieter temples about the place; or opt to go later in the afternoon. You can only really do this if you book a tuk tuk though, so keep that in mind when choosing a tour or self guided visit.
Also, warned that you will be bombarded with people trying to sell you things or take you on a guided tour. Please, don’t fall for the traps – especially if they are using kids or animals to try and make their money! There are so many social and environmental issues tied up in these touristy traps and if you buy into them, you are only encouraging people to keep trying to make their money that way. Politely decline and keep walking. I even yelled at some kids there for dropping the turtles that they were throwing in the air for attention. Make sure you are being a responsible tourist.