Angkor Wat is an extensive temple complex in Cambodia and is a must for any adventure bucket list. Of the many wonders of the ancient world, this one really lives up to the hype. We have some insider tips and tricks for you to make the most of your trip.
1. Fly into Siem Reap, Cambodia.
We flew into Phnom Penh and rented a dirt bike, there's more to that story in another post. Cambodia is a relatively small country, but it takes 8 hours to ride between the two cities on congested dirt highways. Siem Reap turned out the be the more interesting city, so maximize your time at the temples by flying right to the source. Spring for the more expensive flight.
2. Get the most qualified Tuk Tuk driver.
You can hire a driver for the entire day for under $20 USD. The trick for getting a good driver? Hire one from one from the parking lot of one of the expensive hotels instead of the street. We hired our driver, Kim, from the Smiling Hotel in Siem Reap, pictured below. You can't miss the place. Smiling allows up to 2 Tuk Tuk drivers to wait in their parking lot out front for tourists. These drivers cost a bit more, but they were the best ones we used the entire trip.
That day, we stumbled out of each temple dazed and dehydrated into an endless sea of motorcycle taxis, but Kim always found us quickly and whisked us off to our next temple.
USD goes really far in Cambodia, and the pool at the Smiling Hotel is also nice after a long day of temple exploring.
3. See all of Angkor Wat in one day with this tip: Go backwards through the temple complex.
Most tourists start by visiting the namesake Angkor Wat temple and then carrying on to see Ta Prohm and Banteay Srei as the day progresses. Instead, go the opposite direction ending with Angkor Wat around sunset. Not only does Angkor Wat look stunning at sunset, you will see much lighter crowds the entire day. We were weary of overcrowding thanks to many online accounts, but had no problems. There was a line for taking photos at the tree in Angkor Thom thanks to its Tomb Raider fame, but that was the only dense crowd.
4. Dress right for the occasion.
Cambodia is hot and dusty. Sunglasses, hat, and sunblock are a must. You can wear shorts and a t-shirt in Cambodia, most of Siem Reap is touristy and local clothing customs are not well upheld. Women should carry a wide scarf while visiting the temples and markets. Not only is it excellent sun protection, it can be wrapped around the waist to make a long skirt. Temples that are still in use, such as Angkor Wat, do not let women with exposed knees inside. You can even purchase scarves in the markets everywhere in the country, it makes a practical souvenir.
5. Save a day for seeing temples off the beaten path.
After a long day exploring the Angkor temple complex, take a second day to get off the beaten path. Hire a tuk tuk to take you to Beng Mealea. Beng Mealea is a little bit of a drive but well worth it. This temple is based on the Angkor Wat floorplan, except the jungle has completely engulfed it. The light cascades through the trees and into the collapsing corridors of the temple, creating a mystical feeling. Locals working with a supposed historical agency await out front to walk you through the inside of the temple and show you favorite photo locations. For a few bucks, they did a great job showing us around and letting us explore to our hearts desire for the afternoon. We almost didn't explore Beng Mealea, but made a last effort to find it on our way back to Pnom Penh. It was an excellent decision, as it was the highlight of the trip.
6. Okay, one more tiny tip...
Temple exploring is hard on the feet! Wear good shoes, preferably something with some traction like light hiking boots or trail running shoes for all of the temple scrambles. After a long day of exploring, get a foot massage at the night market or try the fish.