Travelers have heard about Cambodia's ancient wonder, but exactly where is Angkor Wat? What does it take to visit?
Fortunately, visiting Angkor Wat no longer requires bushwhacking with a machete, although there are some temples yet to be reclaimed from the jungle. Instead, modern travelers get to enjoy good food and nightlife in Siem Reap before setting off on expeditions.
Other than travelers in Southeast Asia and archeology enthusiasts, it's surprising how many people don't know the location of Angkor Wat. The impressive ruins that make up the world's largest religious monument don't get nearly as much world attention as they should.
Angkor Wat didn't even make the New 7 Wonders of the World list as voted by the internet in 2007. The temples clearly deserved a spot on the list and can hold their own against the likes of Machu Picchu and others.
The ancient ruins of the Khmer empire are the primary reason travelers visit Cambodia -- over two million people crawl all over the UNESCO World Heritage site each year. Angkor wat even appears on the Cambodian flag.
The Location of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located in Cambodia, just 3.7 miles (six kilometers) north of Siem Reap, a popular tourist town and the usual base for visiting Angkor Wat.
The primary Angkor Wat site is spread over 402 acres, but Khmer ruins are scattered far across Cambodia. New sites are discovered beneath the jungle foliage each year.
How to Get to Angkor Wat
To get to Angkor Wat, you'll need to arrive in Siem Reap (by bus, train, or flight), find accommodation, and get an early start on the ruins the following day.
The main Angkor Wat site is close enough to Siem Reap to reach by bicycle. For those less excited about cycling in Cambodia's sticky heat, catch a tuk-tuk or hire a knowledgeable driver for the day to help you between temples.
Travelers who are experienced on scooters can grab a map, rent a motorbike, and brave the Cambodian roads between temple sites. This option obviously offers the most flexibility, but you'll have to drive with some tenacity.
Flying to Angkor Wat
Siem Reap International Airport (airport code: REP) is connected to South Korea, China, and major hubs throughout Southeast Asia, including Bangkok. AirAsia operates flights to and from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For the short distance covered, flights to Siem Reap tend to be on the pricey side. Regardless, flying allows you to bypass some rough roads and a gauntlet of scams that plague overland travelers.
The airport is located around 4.3 miles from the center of Siem Reap. Upscale hotels offer free airport shuttles, or you can take a fixed-rate taxi for around US $7. Siem Reap has a busy tourist infrastructure -- getting around isn't a problem, but you'll need to be constantly vigilant of scams.
Going Overland From Bangkok to Angkor Wat
Although the geographical distance from Bangkok to Siem Reap isn't far, the overland journey is more exhausting than it should be.
Dishonest bus companies, taxi rip-offs, and even the potential to be overcharged for your visa by corrupt immigration officials add challenges to the otherwise-easy trip. Fortunately, the legendary, spine-rattling road between Bangkok and Siem Reap was resurfaced and offers a much smoother ride than before.
The bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet on the Thai side of the border takes around five hours, depending on traffic. Bangkok's traffic may slow you down, depending on the departure time.
In Aranyaprathet, you will need to take a taxi or tuk-tuk a short distance to the actual border with Cambodia. Clearing immigration at the border could take a while, depending upon how busy they are. At all costs, avoid being stuck in the area and forced to a nearby guesthouse when the border closes at 10 p.m. These guesthouses obviously cater to desperate travelers and look worse for wear.
After crossing into Poipet, the border town on the Cambodian side, you'll have to get a bus or taxi onward to Siem Reap; there are many transportation options of varying cost.
Bus Scams to Siem Reap
A majority of the direct buses and minibuses offered to backpackers from Khao San Road to Siem Reap are plagued with scams. Actually, the entire border crossing experience is an elaborate, multi-part scam involving transportation, exchange rates, and the Cambodian visa.
Some buses have even been known to conveniently "break down" so that you are forced to spend a night in an expensive guesthouse until the border reopens in the morning. The choices for recourse are pretty slim when you're on the side of a jungle road.
Many bus companies stop before the actual border at an office or restaurant. They then force travelers to pay for a visa application (free at the actual border). If you find yourself in this situation, firmly state that you will wait until the border to do the visa application yourself.
Angkor Wat Entrance Fees
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as managed by a private, for-profit company adds significantly to the entrance cost at Angkor Wat. Sadly, not much of the money is put back into Cambodia. Most temple restoration is funded by international organizations.
With so many remote temples away from the main tourist site and ruins to see, you'll most likely want at least a three-day pass to fully appreciate the monument without rushing around too much.
The entrance fees for Angkor Wat increased dramatically in 2017. The ticketing counters now accept major credit cards other than American Express.
- One-day pass: US $37
- Three-day pass: US $62
- Seven-day pass: US $72
Tip: You should dress conservatively when purchasing your ticket; cover shoulders and knees. Whatever you do, don't lose your pass! The penalties for not being able to show it when asked are steep.
Hiring a Guide for Angkor Wat
As always, there are advantages and disadvantages to exploring Angkor Wat with a guide or on a tour. Although you'll probably learn more in an organized tour, finding the magic of the place in a group setting just isn't as easy. You may wish to linger longer in some places.
The ideal scenario is to have enough days at Angkor Wat that you can hire an independent guide for one day (guide fees are relatively inexpensive) and then return to your favorite spots to enjoy them without someone rushing you along.
Technically, guides are supposed to be officially licensed, but there are plenty of rogue guides hanging around to intercept business. To be safe, hire someone recommended by your accommodation or through a travel agency.
Getting a Visa for Cambodia
Visitors to Cambodia need to get a travel visa either before they enter (an online e-visa is available) or upon arrival at the airport in Siem Reap. If traveling overland, you can get a visa on arrival as you cross the border.
A fee of US $30 is charged; prices are in U.S. dollars. Paying for the Cambodian visa in U.S. dollars works out best in your favor. Corrupt officials will ask for more money via make-believe exchange rates if you try to pay with Thai baht or euros. Try to pay exact; change will be provided in Cambodian riels also at a poor return rate.
Tip: U.S. dollars are scrutinized by immigration officials. Only crisp, new banknotes are accepted. Any bills with tears or defects may be rejected.
You will need one or two passport-sized photos (different entry points have different policies) for the visa application. A tourist visa is typically good for 30 days and can be extended one time.
You can get an e-visa for Cambodia electronically before arrival, however, there is an additional US $6 processing charge and you will need a digital passport-sized photo for the online application. Processing time is three days, then you are emailed the e-visa in a PDF file to print.
If you thought the scams in Thailand were annoying, wait until you get closer to Cambodia! The border crossings between Thailand and Cambodia are rife with petty scams that target new arrivals. Many scams center around the visa process and which currency you use to pay. But don't become jaded: traveling Cambodia becomes far more enjoyable once you distance yourself from the border!
The Best Time to Visit Angkor Wat
The weather in Cambodia pretty well follows the usual climate in Southeast Asia: hot and dry or hot and wet. Humidity is often thick -- plan to sweat and rehydrate often.
The best months to visit Angkor Wat are from December to February. After that, heat and humidity build until the rainy season begins sometime in May. You can definitely visit and travel during the monsoon season, although slogging around in the rain to see outdoor temples isn't as enjoyable.