The single reason why Cambodia was on my “to-visit” list while I was in South East Asia was because of Angkor Wat.
The Angkor complex holds the architectural remains of the Khmer Empire, stretching from the 9th century to the 15th century. Not only is this place ancient, but it is huge. Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple in the entire world, and it is listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
This place is swarmed with tourists almost constantly, none-the-less it is still something I recommend to anyone who is South East Asia. You have my word, it will blow your mind.
Siem Reap is about 13 miles from the complex. It is a town that is built completely on tourism from Angkor. It has plenty of hotels, restaurants and nightlife options for anyone and everyone no matter what your travel style is.
Get the right pass
There are 1 day, 3 day, and 7 day passes to see the complex. If you only want to see the most popular spots and snap some pictures the 1 day or the 3 day is sufficient. If you want to see all of the complex and explore the temples in detail go for the 7 day.
You have the option to rent a bike or hire a tuk-tuk driver. Renting a bike looks really cool at first glance, but the complex is huge and you will likely spend a lot of time biking from temple to temple. If you’re looking for some exercise and aren’t upset if you only make it to a few temples in one day, then by all means, go for the bike. If not, renting a tuk-tuk is your best option.
Hire a local as your Tuk-Tuk driver/tour guide
If you choose to only hire a driver, they will drive you to the temple you want to visit, drop you off, and then pick you up when you’re finished exploring. We opted to hire a tuk-tuk driver/guide combo. This is the option I always recommend to people. It was so nice NOT to be a part of a huge group, and it was especially nice not having to search for our driver in the never-ending see of tuk-tuks when we finished a spot. Our driver/tour guide got out with us at every stop, told us some history about each temple and even gave us tips on the best places for photos.
Angkor is both ruins and religious temples. Certain places you can bare your shoulders and legs without a problem, but others are still considered sacred temples and will require you to cover up. I initially was dressed in running shorts and a tank. Our guide nicely explained to me that my attire would not be appropriate for certain stops. I had no pants, so I wore a long dress, and slipped a t-shirt over the top of my dress for the stops that required extreme modesty.
Come early or stay late
If you want to see the picture perfect amazing sunrise over The Angkor Wat temple come early with your camera ready, BUT don’t expect to be the only one there. This is thee most popular place to watch the sun go up on the complex and it is always packed. If you’re looking for a sunSET view set up shop at Phnom Bakheng.
Cambodia is hot. I was surprised at how hot it actually was. If you’re going to be climbing temples and moving around a lot, you’re going to need to pack a lot of water.
Be prepared for the locals
Cambodia is an extremely poor country. Local Cambodians will be steaked out in front of the entrance ready to sell you anything and everything. I’m warning you right now, many of those trying to sell you things will be children. Children who are dirty, with ripped clothes and bare feet. It can be terribly hard to see. I don’t want to discourage you from giving them money (because they obviously need it), but I am telling you, if you give one of them something more of them will swarm to you. They are persistent and will follow you, grab your hand and even hang on to your clothes. If this isn’t something you want to endure, your best bet is to smile at them and keep walking.
Decide which spots you want to see ahead of time
There are certain stops that are the most-popular must see spots. If it’s important to you to see these spots, tell your driver immediately so he knows that’s a top priority for you. Chances are he’ll know exactly when it’s busiest and when traffic around that specific spot is quieter.
Some of the my must-see stops:
Angkor Wat – the biggest and most popular temple in the entire complex. As you can see, when we were visiting they were doing repairs to the front of the structure.
Ta Prohm – this is most popularly known as the temple used in the Angelina Jolie movie, The Tomb Raider.
Bayon – the temple with all the faces. If you stand at just the right spot you can take the famous picture rubbing noses with one of the faces.
Angkor Thom – enter through the south gate and see the 54 gods and 54 demons flanking the entrance.