Located just outside of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is what draws most tourists to Cambodia. It is a huge temple complex dating back to the 9th century and made its Hollywood debut in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. As famous as it is, you may read mixed reviews about this temple complex.
Some people complain that it is too crowded and feels claustrophobic, while others are in awe of it’s sheer size and detailed decorations. When it comes down to it, it is the largest religious monument in the world- and you can’t argue with that. I think it would be a shame not to see one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia while visiting this small country.
Because you have so much area to cover it will be almost impossible to do on foot.My advice is to hire a tuk -tuk driver to take you around the temple complex. Even with a tuk-tuk driver I was exhausted at the end of the day.
So how do you hire a tuk-tuk dirver? They are everywhere looking for your business.
When I first arrived in Siem Reap I took a tuk-tuk from the bus terminal to my hostel and I arranged for my tuk-tuk driver to pick me up in the morning. This was a lot easier than walking around trying to find a driver at 4:30 am (the time that I wanted to head to the temples). Sure enough, the tuk-tuk driver was outside waiting for me as promised before the sun had even risen.
I arrived at Angkor Wat at 5 A.M.- just as the gates were opening. I arrived this early because I wanted to watch the sunrise from this amazing monument. If you plan on doing this I would recommend bringing a flashlight because walking up an uneven stone staircase in the dark takes some skill.
Once I found the perfect spot I sat and waited for the sun to rise over this UNESCO World Heritage Site (usually between 5:30-6:00am). I have read that it can be hard to claim your spot for the sunrise during high season (November to March). I went during low season- and perhaps found a good spot- for I was lucky that there were not many people around as the sun rose. I found it very beautiful and calming.
A benefit to hiring a tuk-tuk driver is that they know their way around. Remember- largest religious monument in the world!
Even if you are good with directions and think you can find your way around all 162 hectares I can guarantee you that you will not want to walk them in the humid, sweltering heat. What is great about hiring a tuk-tuk driver is that you can tell them which temples you want to see and they can take you there. Or you can do what I did and sit back and relax as you let them take you where they like, after all- locals know best.
Another option is to hire a guide. This will be more expensive but you will have a better chance of having someone who can tell you more about each temple and the artwork.
We spent hours exploring many beautiful temples with stone carvings in them and ancient trees growing over them. Even though we driven from temple to temple we still did a lot of walking around within each temple. Aside from being tired from walking up so early and walking around for hours, the hot Cambodian sun was beating down on us- a downfall of visiting during low season. Eventually the heat got to us and we decided to call it a day.
We ended up leaving Angkor Wat at about 11am. This may seem early but since we had arrived at 5 A.M. we had actually spent about 6 hours there. We were exhausted.
When we got back to our hotel in Siem Reap we just relaxed by the pool and fell asleep. It wasn’t until the evening that we had the energy to go out. We headed to Pub Street-a lively area at night with a lot of restaurants, bars and street food and fun alleyways to explore. The name ‘Pub Street’ should make you realize that it targeted towards tourists so if you are wanting a quieter experience you can easily take a walk to other parts of town.
Once you have seen Angkor Wat there isn’t much else in Siem Reap to stick around for. If you want to see more of the temples I would recommend going in the evening the next day so that you can avoid the heat and perhaps watch the sunset. After all of this exploring, you’re going to feel like Laura Croft.