While not actually listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, must surely be the eighth. Set across 402 acres of land, this sprawling temple complex holds the Guinness World Record as the largest religious structure in the world.
I had the chance a few years back to visit this giant wonder. I spent 4 days exploring all of the ruins. Here are my tips for getting the most out of your visit to Angkor Wat.
1. Hire A Tuk-Tuk Driver
Chances are you are staying at one of the many hotels or hostels in Siem Reap proper. This will mean that you need transportation to the actual temples. Enter one of hundreds of tuk-tuks usually lined up outside of the hotels and hostels.
These drivers don’t just provide you with transportation; they are actually a wealth of knowledge about everything you will be seeing. While they cannot enter the temples with you (this is reserved for registered tour guides only, which you will find inside the entrance), they can give you the low-down on each temple during the ride there so that you are prepared with valuable information upon entering.
For about $20–$25 a day (and I’m talking full days), you will get transportation from your hotel to the entrance of the ruins. The entrance fee is separate and costs $37 for a 1-day pass and $62 for a 3-day pass (valid for 1 week). The guide will also ride you around to all the different temple areas.
You will also get a personable and knowledgeable driver who will provide a cooler with cold water and towels. (You are also free to place whatever goodies you have in the cooler for lunch and such.) Trust me, you will be grateful for these basic but necessary perks after a few hours roaming outside in the hot sun of Cambodia. That’s not to mention the relief of the shade from the roof of the tuk-tuk on the ride between temples.
Pro Tips: If you would like a guide to be with you as you roam the grounds, plenty will be waiting for you at the entrance after you’ve paid your fee. These usually cost between $40 and $50. This is usually per group, not per person. Alternatively, you could opt to buy or download a guided tour on your phone to listen to as you explore the ruins. However, given the size of the grounds, this can get confusing and hard to follow after a while.
2. Consider How Many Days You Want To Spend Exploring
The number of days you decide to spend visiting the temples at Angkor Wat will surely depend on the amount of time you have in the country, so this will be an entirely personal decision. Most people seem to recommend at least 3 days and I would too. I would actually recommend 4 days, if you can, to ensure you see all of the top sites.
However, if you only have 1 day to visit, your tuk-tuk driver will likely tour you around what is known as the “small loop” or “small circuit.” This route will take you to the three major highlights of the grounds — Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. They are highlights for good reason as they are truly spectacular and will give you a sense of the wonder.
If you have longer than 1 day, your driver will likely take you on the grand circuit. This includes the three temples on the small circuit as well as many of the smaller temples outside the central cluster. With 3 days, you will also have time to do a sunset or sunrise visit, or both.
3. Sunset And Sunrise At The Temples
One of the biggest advantages of spending more than 1 day at the site is that you can include a day in which you get to see either the sunrise or sunset at the temples. This is a very popular thing to do, so be aware that you will definitely not be the only one there.
If you want great pictures, plan to be there well ahead of time to stake your spot. Then be prepared for latecomers to budge their way in; such is the way of tourists these days.
If you hope to go for sunrise, the park entrance opens at 5 a.m. This means, depending on the location of your hotel, you will want to leave at about 4:45 a.m. Your tuk-tuk driver will be able to help you determine this.
The best spot to view the sunrise is at the reflection pool located right in front of the main temple. This reflection allows for some spectacular pictures of the Sun rising in the water with the temple in the background. Be sure to walk around and get pictures from several angles.
If you’re hoping to go for a sunset, the most popular spot to do this is at the temple of Phnom Bakheng. This temple is located on top of a hill allowing for a spectacular view. Be sure to check times of sunrise and sunset to ensure you are there with plenty of time to catch either.
4. The Dinosaur
Maybe you’ve heard of it, or maybe, like me, you hadn’t. On my travels, I overheard someone else’s guide talking about it and then wandered around to find it. Either way, now you know.
If you’d like to see this dinosaur — a stegosaurus to be precise — you will need to visit the temple of Ta Prohm. This temple was made famous when the movie Tomb Raider hit theaters. Parts of the adventure movie are filmed in it. And while this may be the reason many tourists visit this temple, do not forget to also look for the tiny dinosaur carved into a temple wall.
The carving is located in a corner of the courtyard. You must look to the left of the central exit. Once you find it, create your own theories as to how a dinosaur was carved into a temple nearly 900 years old.
Regardless of how many days you have to spend in the awe-inspiring archaeological site of Angkor Wat, you are sure to enjoy your time if you keep these tips in mind. As well, be sure to wear good walking shoes; light clothes that cover your arms, shoulders, and knees; perhaps a hat; sunglasses; and sunscreen. Enjoy it and take all the pictures you can!