Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
There have only been two places I’ve visited that have truly blown me away. Places where I felt totally in awe of previous civilizations and the incredible work they were capable of. The first was the Colosseum in Rome and the second was the temples at Angkor. I was constantly amazed by the construction that had been done tens of centuries ago (and the current restoration in progress). These temples feel spiritual but far unlike the temples you see in places like Chiang Mai. There is so much to explore – I felt like a little kid at the playground running up and down stairs, looking into doorways to find something new – I had such a sense of wonder and awe the whole time I was walking around the park.
And while it is mostly tourists visiting the ruins, there are offerings to Buddha being made within the temples so it feels like something is still alive, still present in these temples. You will notice different architectural styles at the temples and these often relate to the timing of when they were built and who ordered them to be built.
The reason most people go to Siem Reap is to visit Angkor Archaeological Park (Angkor Wat is actually the name of just one of the temples within the park), and you can easily spend a few days exploring the temples because THERE IS A LOT TO SEE.
Tickets are available for 1, 3, or 7 day passes. I opted for the 3-day pass which would give me flexibility during the week I was in Siem Reap (you do not need to use the tickets on consecutive days), allowing me to see many of the temples but not having to cram all my sightseeing into just one day. A few people I met at my hostel just did the 1-day pass which meant they were picked up at 4:30am to buy their ticket before heading to sunrise at the park…and then spent the entire day visiting the park, returning to the hostel around 5pm. THAT IS A LONG DAY. Keep in mind that it is very hot during the day and there is not a lot of shade. Of course, if money and time are concerns, then you can definitely see the highlights in just 1-day. But if you have the time and don’t mind spending more on the ticket (the 3-day pass is $62 vs $37 for the 1-day pass), get the 3-day pass. Even if you only go to the park on 2 days, it is still worth it. Also, you can pay with a credit card for your ticket which is helpful!
The ticket office opens early for all of those people going to see sunrise, but you can also buy your ticket after 5pm the day before to avoid the early morning rush at the office. You will need a tuk-tuk (or your own transport) to get to the ticket office as well as to the park.
Angkor Visit Tips:
- Bring water! And sunscreen! You can bring some snacks along as well. There are stands and restaurants throughout the park selling food and drinks (and other souvenirs) in case you need something.
- Make sure you are dressed appropriately (covering shoulders and knees) and wear good shoes for climbing around ancient ruins (ie don’t wear flip flops). Wear a hat if needed for the sun.
- Do some research on the temples before you visit so you understand a bit more of the history. You can also hire a guide or go as part of a tour group. I preferred just visiting on my own schedule without a guide.
- Plan accordingly – it gets very hot and tiring wandering all of these temples. Do more in the morning when it is cooler and cut off your sightseeing midday when it starts to get really hot. The only benefit of exploring the temples in the afternoon is that it is generally a bit emptier.
- Find a tuk-tuk driver and stick with him during your time in Siem Reap. This will make it easier to schedule pick-ups for early mornings or to customize the route you want to take in the park. My driver was really friendly and we had a great time together – we went swimming together at a waterfall on the 3rd day of sightseeing and he also took me to the airport on my last day.
- PACE YOURSELF. There is a lot to see and you cannot possibly see it all. I did a lot of blog reading for tips on which temples to see and what order to visit them. There are a few standard routes the drivers take, but you can always ask to adjust it based on your interests/time. I’ve included some suggestions on how to plan your time at the park below because this was something that was a bit confusing for me at first.
- Most of all, let yourself wander through these places and spend time exploring the places that feel most special to you. My favorite moments were those when I found myself alone in parts of a temple and could just sit for a few minutes to enjoy the silence and beauty all on my own. So often you are standing around waiting for people to finish taking photos that those solitary moments feel quite incredible. Soak it in and don’t let yourself get too burned out! All of these temples do start to blur together so don’t feel like you have to do it all.
Planning your time (assuming you do at least 2 days):
Day 1: I was picked up around 8am and taken to the ticket office. There were lines, but I only waited for about 10-15 minutes. After buying your ticket, hit the main temple at Angkor Wat, followed by Angkor Thom (Bayon is my favorite of all of the temples!) and Ta Keo (tall and steep!). You can visit Ta Prohm on this day as well if you are up for it (I was exhausted and called it after Ta Keo). Suggest going in the morning, but not too early (I arrived around 9 at Angkor Wat). You will arrive at Angkor Wat as the sunrise crowd is starting to disperse – I found myself suddenly in all of these empty places that morning because I seemed to be just a bit behind all of the crowds. Though it was emptier by mid-afternoon, I was ready for a break from the sun (and needed some food).
Day 2: Go for sunrise on the second day. The popular place for sunrise is Angkor Wat. Sure, it looks beautiful. But it’s also going to be massively crowded with tons of tourists snapping photos (ahem, lots of selfie sticks). Everyone I met that went to sunrise here thought it was gorgeous, but totally a pain with all of the tour groups. I opted for a much quieter sunrise option at Srah Srang. This is not a temple, but rather a lake within the park. I counted less than 20 people there; most of the people didn’t even take any pictures – they were actually just there to enjoy a beautiful sunrise. There’s also a little restaurant nearby so you can grab a coffee or some food before going off to see some temples.
Post sunrise, walk across the road from Srah Srang to Banteay Kdai. This temple opens at 7:30am and I managed to be one of the first 3 people to enter. It was pretty awesome having this place almost to myself. It’s also nice and cool that early in the morning which makes for a much more pleasant visit. I then went to Ta Prohm (the Tombraider temple) – it was busy (and probably would have been less crowded had I gone in the afternoon the day before). After this temple, my driver and I went around the smaller circuit of temples which are generally less crowded (Neak Pean, Pre Rup & Ta Som). Again, by midday, I was totally exhausted (and spent the rest of the day in the pool).
Day 3: If you are up for the third day, you could visit some of the temples you missed before (Phnom Bakeng is great for sunrise or sunset). There are so many little temples on side roads that you could explore. Alternatively, you can go further and visit Banteay Srai which is at the far northern edge of the park. It’s a small temple and it takes quite a long time to get there via tuk-tuk – be warned. If you come this far, you can also check out Kulen Mountain which houses a temple and a beautiful waterfall. It costs extra to visit the mountain ($20). And if you can arrive there via van/car rather than tuk-tuk, I would recommend it. The trip on the tuk-tuk was long and, when we arrived at the park, we had to remove the cart portion of the tuk-tuk and travel the rest of the way on just the motorbike (on a very bumpy steep road). Probably the most unpleasant motorbike ride of my life. The waterfall itself is very nice and was a nice way to cool off on a very hot day. But I probably would have skipped this due to the distance and extra cost had I known more about it.