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How To Explore The Temples of Angkor

7 years ago, this week (start of June 2011) we arrived in Thailand for the start of our first backpacking adventure. This week we thought we would reflect on one of our most outstanding moments of our trip- when we crossed the border into Cambodia and visited Angkor Wat and temples. However as so many years have passed we have included an updated version of how to sightsee the famous Angkor Wat complex as well as some information on what we got up to in June 2011.

This post includes:

What is Angkor Wat?

When to go?

How to get to Siem Reap

Where to stay?


How to get around?

How much is entry?

The other temples of Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom

How long to spend


What to wear

Our experience


What is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is an ancient city in Cambodia that was the center of the Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. This civilization went extinct, but not before building amazing temples and buildings that were reclaimed by the jungle for hundreds of years.

The temple was constructed in the early 12th century as a Hindu monument, before being converted to one of Buddhism in the late 13th century.

When to go?

You can visit Angkor Wat at any time of the year, but peak season is from November to February, when the weather is dry and cooler, although it’s still hot for most.

The best time of day is sunrise when it’s cooler but crowded, or lunchtime when most of the tour groups are in town.

How to get to Siem Reap

Take the 0555 train from Bangkok Hualamphong station to Aranyaprathet (arriving Aranyaprathet 1135). There is a later train but you will not make it across the Cambodian border before it shuts for the day.

The train is less than £2. It is only 3rd class but it is clean and comfortable, and you will be guaranteed a seat. Just purchase tickets at the station on the day.

From Aranyaprathet take a tuk- tuk to Poipet (plenty of tuk- tuks waiting) and take the 10-minute ride to the border (80- 100 Baht). Keep enforcing the driver to take you to an official border post then a visa will cost $30 USD.

A taxi or mini van will then be able to take you the 3-hour journey to Siem Reap. Prices between $12 and $40 depending if you want to share vehicle.

You can also fly into Siem Reap from Phnom Penh.

Where to stay?

Siem Reap is just 7km from Angkor Wat and is the base for exploring the temples.

Budget Hostels £5- £10 per night

3* Hotel / Guesthouse £11- £15 per night

Villa / Hotel £16 + per night

Siem Reap is a town that is dependent on Angkor’s tourist pull, so hostels, hotels and guesthouses are everywhere. Don’t expect a quaint Cambodian atmosphere in Siem Reap, as markets, bars and restaurants are extremely tourist-orientated, the main street is called ‘Pub Street’.


Cambodia uses US Dollars and their own currency the Cambodian Riel. US Dollar is more welcomed by the locals.

Exchange rate as of June 18-

£1 GBP = 5,444.29 Cambodian Riel

$1 USD = 4,074.69 Cambodian Riel

How to get around?

It’s best to rent a tuk-tuk for an entire day to get around. The drivers know how to get you in and out of each temple and know the best routes for the complex. It will let you see more places in a day and is very affordable, generally around $25 USD for the day

Private cars or minivans for families or small groups- prices may be more but more enjoyable with cool air-con.

Ecofriendly options include mountain bikes or electric bicycles. Guided tours can also be arranged in Siem Reap

How much is entry?

Everyone needs a permit to enter the Angkor temples unless you are Cambodian or related to a Cambodian.

An entry pass to the temples of Angkor costs US$37 for one day, US$62 for three days (which can be used over one week) and US$72 for one week (which can be used over one month).

The process is easy and hassle free- your driver will stop at the entry point, where you will queue and have your photograph taken on their webcam. Your pass is then instantly printed on a small slip of paper, which you will have to keep handy as guards will check at entry points.

Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom

Angkor Thom occupies a much larger area than Angkor Wat. That’s because it is in fact a city by itself, the last capital of the Khmer empire.

The Bayon is by far my most favourite temple in Cambodia. From afar, it looks just like another massive pile of ruins. But as you draw closer, faces start appearing amidst the stone towers.

Perhaps Angkor’s most infamous temple is Ta Prohm where nature has truly taken over. It was used as a location in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and it’s easy to see why. Huge trees climb all over the temple’s remains, and roots break through its 900-year-old corridors. Ta Prohm is a clear reminder of just how old and impressive Angkor is.

It should be noted there are around 200 temples complexes, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom and some of the most facinating but also the easiest to reach, especially in a day trip.

How long to spend

You will need to allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in. Plan at least three hours to explore the whole complex, but more like half a day if you want to explore it all in depth. This will be sufficient if on a tight time scale but ideally spend at least 3 days seeing the temples.

Opening hours: Angkor Wat opens at 5am for visitors who want to see the sunrise from this iconic spot. The upper level (Bakan Sanctuary) is only open from 7.30am. Angkor Wat closes at 5.30pm


-When arriving into Siem Reap your taxi driver may try take you to his ‘uncles hotel’ etc. but say you have already booked somewhere (even if you haven’t).

-Inside the temples you will find locals asking for money and not letting you pass until you pay, which of course, you don’t pay.

-If in a hired car, don’t be tricked into thinking you also need to pay for fuel, the driver might pull over at ‘petrol station’ (a vodka bottle filled with fuel) but stand your ground and say you have already paid for everything.

What to wear

It has become stricter of late on how to dress appropriately, you are compelled to cover your knees and shoulders whilst exploring the ruins. This is for both male and female.

Our experience

After a night in a cute bamboo wallpapered room at the Green Banana (can’t seem to find it on the internet now), our alarm went off at 4am, as we were heading to Angkor Wat for sunrise. We got picked up at the hotel by taxi who would wait on us all day. We got our tickets which cost £15 for whole day visit round Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Bayon and other temples. We walked across the moat and down to the pond opposite the magnificent Angkor Wat.

It was still dark when we arrived, and we got a very good spot and set up our tripod. The sun came up and even though it was unfortunately a cloudy morning so didn't get to experience the vivid colours it was still beautiful to watch the sky light up and the temple come in to full glory and the wonderful reflection in the water. We took lots of photographs as you can imagine, then went for breakfast in cafe overlooking the Wat.

We then walked through the Wat and explored every piece of the dramatic surroundings. We both found it all very fascinating and interesting.

3 hours later we left and headed for Angkor Thom which was spectacular, everything has something carved on it, the stone Walls, pillars, doors- faces and pictures etched depicting stories.

We loved exploring the ruins and the trees which were reclaiming the land. It was a hot, sweaty and tiring day but oh the memories we have!

Have you visited the temples of Angkor?

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