#1 There’s no wrong way to do Angkor Wat.
Everyone does Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples differently. It’s all about priorities and every day is different given the weather, so you can give yourself multiple days and try it a few ways. We did it two ways. Here’s a map of the park to follow along.
The first time, we focused on avoiding the crowds. Up at 5am, straight to Bayon to avoid the Angkor Wat sunrise madness, then Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdai, Sras Srang, Preah Khan and lastly Angkor Wat around 11am. We didn’t feel the crowds until around 9am.
The second time we tried to get Angkor Wat at sunrise, but it was too cloudy to see the sun so we snapped a few pics, explored a bit and moved on to Bayon (had to see it again), Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Pre Rup and back to Ta Prohm since we somehow missed the famous ‘Tomb Raider” tree the first time and Eric had become obsessed.
#2 Angkor Wat sunrise is overrated.
It’s a madhouse. Like the paparazzi waiting for Justin Bieber to emerge from a nightclub, the hordes blind you with their flash (at 5am!) and cluster around their tripods jabbering like a flock of geese. If you’re dead-set on that sunrise photo, go for it, but I’ll opt for the peaceful serenity of exploring the neighboring temples all alone as if I were the first to discover them, every time.
#3 Ticket sales don’t start until 5am
So when the tuk-tuk driver tells you to be ready at 4:30am, you might get away with 4:45am depending on your hotel location. Best bet is to buy your ticket after 5pm the night before and cruise right by the line of sleepy eyed tourists. So long Suckas! If you’re a kiddo under 12 lucky enough to see this mind blowing World Heritage Site, you get in FREE if you show your passport so don’t forget it! Otherwise it’s $20 for a day pass, $40 for a 3 day pass (good for a week).
#4 Do your homework or get a guide
Like my favorite guide Alex said when he successfully hooked us, “If you don’t know the history, you’re paying $40 to look at a bunch of rocks”. Sold! An hour of Wikipedia will give you a decent foundation and improve the experience tremendously. Which temples are Hindu vs Buddhist? How did they change over the years? Which king built which and why did Angkor Wat age more gracefully than Bayon? Answer these questions, then drop some knowledge on a tourist and bask in the glow of your super smartdom.
Even if you’re feeling edumacated, I recommend you get a guide at Angkor Wat. It’s huge and there’s so much you’ll miss if it isn’t pointed out. I highly recommend Alex, he speaks 7 languages and is a wealth of knowledge. You can email him here.
#5 Stop for snacks
If your hotel doesn’t pack you a breakfast to go (ours did), be sure to bring some water & snacks or stop along the way to refuel, it’s a surprisingly exhausting day. I highly recommend a cold coconut or pork on a stick off the grill. You don’t have to go far to hear the sing song call “Hello laaaady, you like to buy something cold to drink?” Follow her and sniff out the bbq.
#6 (I lied, there are 6) Be nice to your Tuk Tuk driver
$20 is about the max you should pay for a driver who gets up at 4:30amfor a half day touring Angkor Wat Archaeological Park but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer him a cold drink, learn his name, and get to know him. Let him know what you’re after (avoid the crowds, cheap lunch spot, specific temple, etc) and he’ll customize your Angkor Wat tour for you.
Headed to SE Asia soon and need some tips, or just wish you were?
- For more beautiful Wat’s and must do check list from some local’s, check out Dog’s in Sweater’s, my guide to Chiang Mai.
- Rock climbing, reggae beats and gigalo fire dancers – Southern Thailand: Bangkok, Railay and Tonsai Beach
- Luang Prabang, and getting off the tourist track in the village of Moung Ngoi: Through the Looking Glass: Laos Village Life