Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the surrounding Khmer temples are one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Asia — millions of tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the ancient remnants of a vast empire.
The Angkor Archaeological Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. New ruins are discovered frequently. In 2007, a team of archaeologists realized that Angkor, spread over at least 390 square miles, was the largest preindustrial city in the world at one time.
How you enjoy Angkor Wat in Cambodia is up to you. The main site, the easiest to access, is a bit of a tourist wonderland. But scores of crumbing, unrestored temple ruins wait in the surrounding jungle.
Angkor Wat is considered the world’s largest religious monument. It appears in the center of the Cambodian flag.
Entrance Passes for Angkor Wat
Entrance passes are available in one-day, three-day, and seven-day varieties. No matter your itinerary, you certainly won’t be able to even get a feel for the area in a single day; consider purchasing at least the three-day pass. A three-day pass costs less than two single-day passes.
Entrance fees to enter Angkor increased sharply in 2017; the price of a single-day pass nearly doubled. Unfortunately, despite Angkor Wat appearing on the Cambodian flag, not all revenue from ticket sales goes to help Cambodia's infrastructure. A private company (Sokimex) involved with oil, hotels, and an airline manages the site and keeps a chunk of the revenue.
Understand What You’re Seeing
Yes, snapping photos in front of the many ancient ruins and bas-reliefs of Angkor will keep you busy for a while, but you’ll have a much more enlightening experience if you actually understand what you’re seeing.
Knowledgeable guides can be hired for around US $20 per day, but beware of rogue, freelance guides who are unauthorized. If you hire a driver who doesn’t serve as a guide, always confirm where to meet him once you exit a temple.
With hundreds of guides waiting in tuk-tuks that look similar, finding the one you hired can be tricky after exiting the labyrinth of temples!
If you prefer to go alone, grab one of the numerous maps or booklets that explain each site. The informative book Ancient Angkor is well worth the small cost; the history and insights will enhance your experience. Wait until you are near Angkor Wat to purchase the book; the airport sells overpriced copies.
Avoiding Scams at Angkor Wat
Unfortunately, Angkor Wat, like many major tourist magnets, is rife with scams. Be wary of anyone approaching you inside the temples, particularly if there aren’t many visitors nearby at the time.
- Off-duty police officers in uniform sometimes approach tourists at temples. They may offer information about a particular temple or simply ask for a bribe. Do your best to avoid interactions with them altogether.
- Official tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi drivers are required to wear colored vests. Avoid getting transportation from any driver not wearing an official vest.
- Once you purchase an entrance pass, you will not need to pay any additional entrance costs. Don’t believe anyone asking you for additional money at temple entrances or to climb the stairs to top levels.
- Don’t allow monks or anyone else to hand you an incense stick, bracelet, or gift — they will ask for a donation after your interaction.
- Renting a bicycle or motorbike are great ways to move around Siem Reap and between temple sites. Always lock your bike; thefts can be a problem. Unlike in Thailand, you drive on the right in Cambodia.
- Although purchasing books, postcards, and bracelets from the many persistent children hawking them seems like a way to help, doing so perpetuates a nefarious industry (they are forced to sell by people who profit) and isn’t sustainable.
What to Wear While Visiting Angkor
Keep in mind that Angkor Wat in Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world — be respectful in the temples. The number of visitors seen praying is a keen reminder that the complex is more than just a tourist attraction.
Cambodians usually adhere to a dress code of covering knees and shoulders while exploring Angkor Wat. Avoid wearing skimpy clothing or shirts featuring Hindu or Buddhist religious themes (e.g., Ganesh, Buddha, etc). You’ll be glad you dressed conservatively once you see how many monks are roaming the temples.
Although flip-flops are the footwear of choice in Southeast Asia, many of the stairs to the top levels of temples are steep and dangerous. Trails can become slippery — take good shoes if you'll be doing any scrambling. A hat will come in handy for keeping the sun off, however, it should be removed to show respect in some areas.
Must-See Angkor Wat Temples
Although choosing from the thousands of Angkor temples dotted throughout Cambodia isn't easy, some are considered more spectacular than others.
The most popular temples are as follows:
- Angkor Wat (main site)
- Angkor Thom
- Preah Khan
- Banteay Srei
- Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple)
Once you've thoroughly enjoyed the primary temple sites, consider visiting these smaller sites.
The main Angkor Wat complex is usually a circus of activity, particularly during the busy season months between December and March. But you may have smaller, difficult-to-reach temples practically to yourself. These smaller temples will provide better photo opportunities; there are less tourists and signs instructing tourists what not to do in each frame.
Unless you're proficient enough with a scooter rental and map, you'll need to hire a good guide/driver to reach some of the secondary temple sites. Ask him about the following:
- Ta Keo
- Neak Pean
- Banteay Samre
- East Mebon
- Srah Srang
Getting to the Temples
Angkor is located just 20 minutes north of Siem Reap in Cambodia. There are many options for moving between Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
The best time to go to Angkor Wat is during dry season between November and April. Heavy rain in the monsoon months makes scrambling around the ruins outside a soggy experience.
The busiest months at Angkor Wat in Cambodia are usually December, January, and February. March and April are unbearably hot and humid.