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Angkor Wat Tips: 10 Things Everyone Tells You (And 10 Things You Actually Need to Know)

Angkor Wat calls to backpackers like Paris calls to lovers. I understand that it’s not only backpackers who go to Angkor Wat (in fact, they’re probably the minority, especially given the price tag lately), but it feels like a rite of passage. You have not completed the “Banana Pancake” Southeast Asia circuit if you haven’t watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat and found your new best friend in the monkeys that call the ruins home. We’re excited to share some Angkor Wat tips with you in this post.

Angkor Wat

Plenty of wild monkeys call Angkor Wat home.

The temple complex of Angkor Wat was one of the major experiences on our bucket list for this trip, and yet we never got particularly excited about it. It’s hard, because as anyone going through Southeast Asia will tell you, going to temples is kind of exhausting. You go to temples in every city you’re in. They’re all beautiful but start to look the same, and you go to so many that they start to lose their sparkle.

So while I knew Angkor Wat would be nothing like any temple experience I’d had prior, it just didn’t set my stomach aflutter in the same way that hiking the Inca Trail (another major UNESCO World Heritage Sites) did.

That said, after actually going to Angkor Wat, I can confirm that it was just as incredible as everyone said it would be. We would absolutely send just about anyone to Angkor Wat, but there are a few things we think you should know first.

Angkor Wat

Before heading out, we did a lot of research on how to best experience Angkor Wat. We read a lot of helpful tips, and they were all really great. However, when we got there, we still found ourselves with questions and things we wished we’d known.

We hope you’ll benefit from our compilation of Angkor Wat tips combined with some things that we think you actually need to know. In this post, we’ll share some of the most common tips you’ll hear about Angkor Wat (all good info), but with details that we think you need to know to fully prepare for and enjoy your time at Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Tips: 10 Things Everyone Tells (and 10 Things You Actually Should Know)

1: Everyone tells you to bike to Angkor Wat & through the temple complex, but …

No one tells you that you can’t bike into the actual temple grounds themselves. This eventually becomes intuitive, but it’s a little confusing when you think you’ve arrived at Angkor Wat but it’s nowhere to be seen, and yet someone is telling you to leave your bike on the street. At each temple, there will be a parking area (for bikes, motor bikes and tuk tuks) where you’ll need to leave your wheels and then walk (sometimes a decent distance) to enter the actual temple.

Biking Angkor Wat

Biking the Grand Circuit of Angkor Wat is a lovely and pretty easy 30k ride

Pro Tip: If you’re trying to catch sunrise, bring a headlamp! Some of the streets are not lit and have some pretty serious pot holes that can flip you off your bike if you don’t see them. We didn’t have a headlamp and survived, but we had some close calls and definitely wish we brought one.

2: Everyone tells you to buy tickets from the check point on Charles deGaul Road between Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, but …

That’s no longer true! The new ticket booth is now 3k east of the main road. If you miss the turn and make it to the ticket checkpoint, you’ll have to turn around and go back. There is a large sign noting the turn so keep your eyes open. This new location really sucks, especially for bikers as this almost doubles your expected travel time. Be sure you account for this if you’re trying to catch sunrise.

Angkor Wat

This maps shows the route from Siem Reap town to Angkor Wat, and the jog east you need to take to the ticket booth.

Angkor Wat

When you get to this intersection and see this sign, if you don’t have a ticket already, you MUST turn right and purchase one!

Pro Tip: People will tell you to buy your ticket the night before. If you go after 5 PM, you can buy your ticket and then enter the grounds for sunset for free (anyone can do this, actually, they stop checking tickets after 5). Then you’ll have your ticket ready for the following morning. This sounds nice, but for us this was just an extra trip which cost money for the tuk tuk or just an extra pain to bike all the way there. We didn’t do this, but I feel like I have to point out this strategy.

3: Everyone tells you to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but …

What they actually mean is that you should be there for dawn, which begins 30-45 minutes before the time of scientific sunrise. If the clouds cooperate (which they didn’t for us) dawn is when you’ll see that painted sky and Angkor Wat silhouette you see in everyone’s pictures.

Pro Tip: The sunrise crowd will usually clear out once daylight breaks, but if you stick around 45 minutes after the scientific sunrise, you’ll see the sun actually rise over the temple and can score a great view of its reflection in the front pond. We were amazed not more people waited around for this.


4: Everyone tells you Angkor Wat is the namesake temple in Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, but …

The temple complex isn’t a closed off park or isolated in anway. Busy streets run through the complex and they’re filled with food vendors, market stalls and even schools. The temples just feel like they’re in the middle of a town.

Angkor Wat

At nearly every temple and on many roads in between, you’ll find markets where locals are selling fruit, drinks, food and/or souvenirs

5: Everyone tells you there will be lots of walking, but …

You really need to be prepared for some steep, narrow, rocky steps! (“Steps like ladders” is what we like to call them.) Of course going up the steps is optional, and you can see many temples without going up the steps, but some of the best temple interiors and views are from the top and you won’t want to miss out.

Pro Tip: Bring twice (or triple!) as much water (or water money) as you think you’ll need! It’s a hot and exhausting day, so stay hydrated!

Angkor Wat

Kenny doesn’t have a problem with stairs!

6: Everyone tells you about the temples you’ll see, but …

It’s the trees that really blew my mind! Grown into the temples are 700-year-old strangler fig trees. They grow through and around the temple to the point where it’s not clear who is holding up whom. It’s hard not to be amazed by the intersection of nature and ancient man.

Angkor Wat

The strangler fig trees have grown up and through the temples. The trees actually help preserve the temple’s crumbling walls.

Pro tip: Wander all the way to the very back of the temples to find some of the coolest trees. This one at the very back of Ta Som was one of my favorite trees, but Ta Prohm had lots of great ones, too (just more crowded).

7: Everyone tells you one day is not enough for Angkor Wat, but …

It really is. First off, the entry fees are crazy expensive for a city where beers only cost $0.50. Tickets start at $37 for a day pass, $62 for 3 days, and $72 for 7 days). If you’re really into temples/history or if you don’t mind dropping the cash on a longer stay, by all means take your time, but don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it in a single day.  We took a slightly altered grand loop (on our bikes mind you, it’d be even faster on a tuk tuk) and saw 9 of the major temples and felt perfectly content with our experience. Could we have gone longer? Sure. Do you need to? Meh. We don’t think so.

Angkor Wat

8: Everyone tells you Angkor Wat is in Siem Reap, but …

They don’t tell you how cool Siem Reap is! Of course if you’re in Siem Reap, you’re going to Angkor Wat (50% of foreign tourists in the entire country of Cambodia go to Angkor Wat), but the town itself is really fun! Pub Street and Angkor What Bar are not to be missed, and the beer is super cheap!

Pub Street

Looking out onto Pub Street from Angkor What Bar

Pro tip: Wonder off pub street and you’ll find so many more great (and sometimes quieter) bars and restaurants. We loved Long’s Bar for happy hour, the street of bars near Soul Train, and the Indian food at Great Punjab Celebration.

9: Everyone tells you the temples are Buddhist, but …

The temples were originally constructed as Hindu temples in the early 12th century. When the Khmer invaded, they took over the complex and later converted the temples to Buddhist temples about 50 years later.

Angkor Wat

Pro Tip: Research some of the changes that were made during this conversion and try to spot them. For example, in the center of Angkor Wat temple, there are four buddha statues. When this was a Hindu temple, this was completely open and there was one Vishnu statue visible from all four directions.

 10: Everyone tells you Angkor Wat is beautiful, but …

Words cannot do this place justice. The grandeur, the size, the architecture, the details  — it’s all just more beautiful than my words or photos can capture. Angkor Wat is truly a sight to see. If you find yourself at Angkor Wat, just take a minute to let it all soak in and enjoy your experience.

Angkor Wat

Have you been to Angkor Wat? What’s one of your best tips or something you wish you knew in advance?