Temples in Cambodia: Angkor Wat Away(ish) from the Crowds
Visiting Angkor Wat armed with a plan can pay off as an increasing number of visitors explore the world’s largest religious site. Here are our top tips on how to make the most out of a visit to Angkor Archaeological Park on your Cambodia travel.
As mentioned previously, one-, three- and seven-day passes are available and can be bought at the new ticket office. Here, you will receive a photographed pass – they take a headshot when you pay the fee. You will be required to show this at each temple so keep it handy and don’t lose it. Note, the office opens at 5am, by which time the sunrise queues have already started to snake out of the building.
There are several ways to tour Angkor, with tuk tuk being the most popular. And there is no shortage of drivers waiting to ferry visitors around the site, with tuk tuks touting for your tourist dollar from the moment you step foot in Siem Reap. A tuk tuk for the day costs about US$20-25, depending on your bartering skills, with a further $5 for the evening. Alternatively, guesthouses and hotels can organise your trip, and most will pack you a breakfast if you’re heading there for sunrise.
Navigating Angkor Wat can easily be done alone, but without the help of a knowledgeable guide, the fine details of its history can easily be missed
Private vehicles and taxis can also take guests around the park and can be booked through the many travel agents that dot Siem Reap, or at your hotel. For an environmentally-friendly alternative, electric cars and bicycles now operate in the park. Bicycle is another option, with many shops renting a range of bikes. Several tour operators, such as Grasshopper Adventures, run day-long bike trips through the temples.
Navigating Angkor Wat can easily be done alone, but without the help of a knowledgeable guide, the fine details of its history can easily be missed. This means hiring a guide is a sound investment. These cost about US$30 and can be booked through a tour operator in Siem Reap or at the site itself. Make sure they are registered with the Ministry of Tourism – they will wear the uniform and carry their license. Tips are also appreciated as wages are relatively low.
To lose the masses after sunrise, skip spending the next two hours wondering around Angkor Wat … and head straight to Ta Prohm
There’s no avoiding the crowds at Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm these days. However, by slightly shaking up your itinerary, there are ways to escape the masses. Yet, you can’t beat the rush if you want to catch sunrise as the lotus lakes that sit in front of the temple are where the majority head. All wanting to capture that iconic shot of the sun rising behind the spires reflected in the still water.
To lose the masses after sunrise, skip spending the next two hours wondering around Angkor Wat like everyone else and head straight to Ta Prohm. Here, you’ll have about an hour to enjoy the root-riddled temple complex with just a handful of fellow explorers, as opposed to jostling the self-stick wielding crowds that will descend mid-morning. After this, head to Bayon temple, leaving Angkor Wat for last.
Phnom Bakheng is a popular sunset spot, again attracting huge crowds but not on the scale of sunrise. A quieter location is Pre Rup. Quick tip: if you buy a one-day pass after 4.30pm you can use it for sunset that day as well as the whole following day.
Our Top 5 Temples in Cambodia
Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati
(read on for more details)
Temples in Cambodia
Thousands of ancient temples and religious structures dot Cambodia away from Angkor Wat, and they come without the thronging crowds. If you fancy having a UNESCO World Heritage temple pretty much all to yourself, then include the northern province of Preah Vihear in your Cambodia travel plans.
Prasat Preah Vihear (temple of the sacred mountain) sat at the centre of conflict for decades. Located on the edge of the Cambodian-Thai border, ferocious fighting between the two countries over ownership of the sacred site raged until recent years. In 2015, the destination was deemed safe and taken off many foreign offices’ watch lists.
Dating back to the late 12th Century, this is another of Jayarvarman VII’s stunning creations
Military presence remains strong today, with soldiers poised to protect the temple if needs be. This also means the site is closed to visitors at sunrise and sunset – a real shame as the top tier of the temple is perched atop a 525-metre cliff in the Dangrek Mountains and offers unparalleled 360-degree sweeping views that would be great for enjoying dawn and dusk. The complex comprises a series of impressive structures, built between the 9th and 12th century by several kings wanting to out-impress their predecessors.
About an hour south of Phnom Penh sits Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati – not to be confused with Angkor’s Tomb Raider Ta Prohm. This intimate Angkorian site contains many impressive features, including pristine carvings, few tourists and stunning views of the adjacent Tonle Bati lake. Dating back to the late 12th Century, this is another of Jayarvarman VII’s stunning creations. He was the mastermind behind Bayon and Ta Prohm temples and Angkor Thom city at Angkor.
Another really impressive temple that is way off-the-beaten track is Koh Ker. Serving as the capital of the Angkorian empire from 928 to 944, the remote site, which sits about 127km northeast of Siem Reap, boasts 42 religious structures and monuments sprinkled throughout jungle. The main temple is Prasat Krahom, a 50-metre-wide sandstone pyramid that stretches 40 metres to the sky. Visitors can climb to the top and enjoy the delightful views. Again, visitors are unlikely to encounter more than a handful of locals and even fewer foreigners.