Don’t go to Siem Reap! The entrance fee to Angkor Wat has gone up, the temples are just temples, the city flooded with tourists… You’re better off staying longer on the island. – The hotel manager was obviously pleased with our work, but why resort to such arguments?
I haven’t met anyone who wouldn’t want to visit Angkor Wat. It’s about the same league as the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. Is it touristy? Oh, it sure is! But no one really hopes that by going there, they will become the new Indiana Jones and land on the National Geographic cover, do they?
So, how to get yourself to the world capital of ancient temples?
1. Go to Cambodia. For the most comfy option, you can reach Siem Reap directly by plane. In a more budget way, you can fly to Phnom Penh or Bangkok, and catch one of the many buses going in your direction. The version aspirant to Indiana Jones includes getting out of your apartment and starting to hitchhike from there. A year later, give or take, you will have reached your destination. I recommend this way.
2. Get used to the new climate. Actually, you can start exercising at home already – just leave your car in the sun for a few hours, get inside, turn on the warm breeze of air con, lay a wet cloth on your face and take deep breaths.
3. Give yourself time to rest before. You will be visiting an enormous complex of temples in 40-degree heat. Ditch the tent and splurge the $4 per person for a private air con room in a guesthouse with a pool. If that ruins your budget, there are hostel dorms available for $2.
4. Go for a long walk around Siem Reap. Find the best mango shakes, your favorite breakfast spot and take the first round of the local Portobello Road.
5. Dress decently – seriously, at these temperatures there is no difference whatsoever whether you’re wearing a bikini or a sweater with long pants. Besides, you can’t enter the temples in a bikini, so the long sleeve wins.
6. Be at the ticket counter around 4 pm. From the center of Siem Reap it’s a ca. 5km walk, which abounds in tuk-tuks and tuk-tuk drivers (tuk-tukists? tuk-tukers?). Pick your driver – the prices are more or less the same, so no need to spend a whole afternoon on negotiating. What if I prefer a motorbike, a bicycle or just walking? Well, a bike is a great option if you plan to spend at least 3 days exploring the complex. On foot… just don’t. Foreign tourists are allowed to use motorbikes around the temples as often as they’re not allowed – I haven’t discovered any algorithms ruling this matter.
I do consider the tuk-tuks the best option: the driver knows where to go and in which order so that the crowds of tourists are possibly least obtrusive, he will wait for the passengers by the exit of each temple, spot you from afar, and after a busy and exhausting day, he will take you home. A convenience not to overestimate.
7. When you’ve reached the ticket counter, attack a couple who looks more lost than you do. A tuk-tuk can (comfortably) take four passengers, so it is worth sharing the costs. Together take a walk to the nearby market, get some healthy and high protein snacks (nothing bonds people better than having crickets together!), show your faces to the driver and agree to meet him right after 5pm.
8. What’s with all this timing? Holiday mode, and this one keeps looking at the watch… Here is a hack: If you buy your tickets after 5pm, when most temples are closed, you get a free evening! So, ready steady go to the right queue (each counter only sells one kind of tickets – for 1-, 3- or 7 days), pay, smile as your photo is being taken and – voilà!
9. You already have a befriended tuk-tuker (yeah, I’ll go with tuk-tuker) and new American friends, so go to one of the two spots that offer an excellent sunset view. You will have enough time to admire your first temple, go all around it, turn down the first souvenir sellers, find the perfect sunset place, and then escape from it in panic, because the monsoon doesn’t really care about the evening you had planned. No worries, the temples are equally pretty when poured on and the tuk-tuks are quite waterproof.
10. Let the new friends talk you into getting up for the sunrise. Regret it once when setting the alarm clock, and then a few more times throughout the morning.
11. Take plenty of water and fruit. Congratulate yourself on not forgetting the fruit while looking at the crowds queueing to the breakfast booths.
12. Start your tour with the largest and most famous of all temples – Angkor Wat. Half of the population currently residing in Asia will do the same thing, do not let this spoil your mood. Take a romantic picture in which you can’t see the dark circles that you have around your eyes because you got up to see the sunrise.
13. Spoiler: during the rainy season, neither sunrises nor sunsets are that impressive. In that case, is it worth to get up at the break of dawn? No, if you do not mind a whole day of dehydrated and sunburnt sightseeing (remember the heated car exercise?).
14. You do not have to memorize encyclopedias about each and every temple, but it is good to have your top ones, just to persuade the driver to take a longer trip than he had originally planned.
15. Ah, what the heck! Be Indiana Jones or Lara Croft!
Cambodia uses USD and the local riels interchangebly.
The entrance fee to Angkor Wat complex is: $ 37 for 1 day, $ 62 for 3 days, $ 72 for 7 days.
Cost of a tuk-tuk after 5 pm. for the sunset: $ 10
Cost of a tuk-tuk for a one-day sightseeing tour: $ 20 without sunrise, $ 25 with sunrise.
Our day started at 5:00 am, and we reached the center of Siem Reap half dead, but fully happy at 2:30 pm.