I don’t remember when I first heard of Angkor Wat. I think my awareness started not with the actual temple of Angkor Wat, or the location, or anything like that, but with an image in the final pages of a National Geographic. It probably looked something like this:
That image of heavy tree roots draped over ancient stones stuck in the back of my mind through the years until somewhere along the line I learned its association with THE Angkor Wat.
I know now that the particular temple I kept thinking of is Ta Prohm, what I endlessly heard referred to as the “Tomb Raider Temple” during my time in Cambodia. This is a funny association to make since I have never seen Tomb Raider.
Why go to Angkor Wat?
People asked us why on earth we wanted to go to Cambodia. To this I say, they should probably go check out my Instagram (@nounconformist, shameless plug) for photographic proof of the country’s general appeal.
But to summarize: reasons reasons reasons, on my radar as a budget travel destination, personal significance for my boyfriend, located next to Thailand (a place quite well known for its curry, of which I am a fan). But there was always this image in the back of my mind of heavy tree roots draped over ancient stones.
Angkor is a temple complex that reaches far beyond just the Angkor Wat of the many photos, and the Tomb Raider Temple. The complex is an experience worth the cost that we budget travelers sometimes gripe about ($15 for a tuk tuk? $20 for a day ticket!? What is this highway robbery?) and would be worth quadruple that.
Practicalities of Siem Reap Temples
The casual non-Cambodian tourist visiting the Angkor temple complex has three choices:
One day ticket ($20)
Three day ticket ($40)
One week ticket ($60)
There may be an even longer option, but I’m not sure, and research is hard. (just kidding, I checked, and there does not appear to be a longer pass, although that site is probably not a good source, since it is not correct about using the passes on consecutive days. But more on that later)
We went a little Goldilocks with this one, not too small, not too big, but just right. We came to Siem Reap for the temples, and by Jim we were going to see the temples, so one day wasn’t going to hack it, but seven days seemed a little extreme when we had originally only planned on being there for four to begin with.
A common backpacker hack is to take advantage of getting an extra sunset with the ticket—tickets will not be punched for entry into the complex after 5:00, so if you time it right, you can buy your ticket and get in for an Angkor Wat sunset without using one of your days, leaving the full validity of the ticket remaining. We didn’t do this, as we were completely wiped out by the heat by the time sunset rolled around, and we didn’t feel the urgency since we purchased the three-day tickets.
Purchasing Tickets for Angkor Wat
The road to the ticket selling station branches off to the right before you reach the tree-lined avenue to Angkor. There is a large sign to point you in the right direction if you’re navigating on your own by moto or bike, but if you tell your tuk tuk driver that you don’t already have your ticket, they will take you there.
Caring for Angkor Temple Complex Tickets
Don’t bend them, don’t tear them, don’t get water on them, and keep them handy. You’ll need the ticket for every temple and at the start of every day at the entrance gates. I kept mine in my wallet or in my notebook, protected from condensation on my water bottle and the vortex of things bumping around in my bag.
Getting around Angkor
For the love of all that is holy, take a TukTuk. I talked to a guy who biked the Angkor circuit for sunrise while sick. Sick in the head? No, a stomach bug, but still. Scientifically speaking, the temperatures in Siem Reap average about 1 gazillion degrees (celsius) each day. I had a heat-induced panic attack at one of the last temples on the first day. With TukTuks, you are giving a local entrepreneur a job for the day, spending less than a cross-town Uber ride in New Orleans, and enjoying a beautiful breeze between temples. Okay, sure, it’s $15 rather than $2, but come on. Even budget travelers can enjoy some luxuries.
I could ride around in a tuk tuk all day, just seeing scenery passing by. It is blessed, welcome relief from the oppressive heat that the temples trap in their folds.
Our driver was from the hotel where we stayed, and he even carried chilled water in a cooler under the seats and bought us cold coconuts a couple of times.
Don’t give children money. We bought a book for $10 from a man with one arm. There were kids selling the same books for $1. Feeling like an ogre for refusing to give a little kid a dollar for ten postcards, especially one tearing up, lip quivering, is pretty much unavoidable. I did my best to remember that no, giving them money doesn’t help. There’s a systemic problem that can’t be solved by giving a dollar to a kid outside a temple. Doing that makes it harder for long-term solutions to work, so I put on my stony New Yorker face and didn’t make eye contact.
Other sellers line the entrances to the temples, but do not venture inside.
If you don’t want to buy something, it’s best to never engage with the people. Don’t even say no, just shake your head and keep walking. Sellers outside the temples are persistent. I did wind up buying a shirt from a woman in the jungle hike because she actually wouldn’t take no for an answer. Just by saying no, I got her down from $8 to $3, bargaining like I have never done before, and gave her the $3 finally so she would go away. It’s a fine shirt, I just really really didn’t need more things to carry around.
I had read about this, understood the theory, but the practice was interesting. I wrote a whole post about my outfits of varying comfort at Angkor here. But to give you the gist:
T-shirt, pants or skirt that covers your knees at least.
For the ladies: My personal recommendation are the traditional wrap pants you can pick up at any market, in cotton.
To be able to climb the inner tower of Angkor Wat, you need to have a shirt that covers your shoulders. I was wearing a scarf draped over my shoulders because I was worried that my shirt was too low in back to be respectful, but they actually asked me to take it off because visitors were not allowed up unless they were in sleeves. They were turning away people who weren’t wearing the right clothing, and you couldn’t just drape something over your shoulders. There are clothes vendors right outside the temple if you don’t come prepared, but as I said, the sun shielding properties make t-shirts the best option anyway.
Blah blah blah practicalities and stuff and things. I will admit that I had a tiring day and possibly didn’t put as much effort into editing and fleshing this out as I could have. As in, I did not proofread before I hit publish. Because I like living on the edge. Was this guide helpful? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow!
Hi! This is part six in my month of March daily blogging. Click here to check out my sentimental description of my favorite Angkor temples that aren’t Angkor Wat. To join the betting pool on how long it will take me to miss a day of posting this month click here! Just kidding. That’s my Instagram account, which you should absolutely follow if you enjoy travel porn.