One of the great things about the three day pass is that you have a week to use your three days. We gave ourselves six days in Siem Reap, which meant we could have one day on and one day off for each of our three days at Angkor. If you’re going to pack your days full of touring, those days off are essential. Especially if you go when it’s very hot.
The Day Before Day 1
We were told you could buy your ticket the day before you intend to use it and enter to watch the sunset for free. So we headed into the park on bikes and when we got to the entrance, the ticket counters were completely shut. They stop selling tickets promptly at 5:30pm. The guard told us we could still enter without a ticket and watch the sunset.
We rode to the Angkor Wat temple as people were pouring out of the main entrance. We walked in the opposite direction. No one told us we couldn’t. We walked into a shrine to the right of the entrance and a man gave us incense to say a prayer. We gave him a dollar and he let us go through to the temple.
We stood in awe of the famous facade of Angkor Wat. There wasn’t another human being in site. I get the chills even thinking about that moment again. If you want to see Angkor Wat without any people there, go for sunset and have patience.
We decided we wanted to see the sunrise each and every damn morning. I don’t recommend this unless you too are slightly insane. We rented bikes to get around on our first day. They cost $2/day as we promised to rent them for two days. Otherwise they would have been $3/day.
At around 4:30 we wheeled our bikes out of the hostel and pedaled out little hearts out. We wanted to get to the park before the sun came up. The road to the park is really well lit. We bought our tickets (the ticket offices open around 5am). Everyone then turned left towards Angkor Wat and we turned right. There weren’t any street lamps at this point and the road was bumpy, but after a few more minutes of cycling, we finally got to our intended spot: Prasat Kravan.
We chose this 10th century temple because it was the start of a loop. We got a map of the Angkor Park from a local tourist agency and used it to plan our three days out. We tried to group places together based on their location and made routes we could take by bike.
The sunrise changed the temple from deep red to orange to pink. We setup our tripod and took loads of photos. We had the place all to ourselves.
From there we rode to Banteay Kdei where we still wandered without any other people around. It made us feel like adventurers discovering little corners of quiet ruins all alone. We cross over to Srah Srang where a little boy tried to sell us breakfast. We bought some fruit and rode on.
We explore Ta Prohm where Tomb Raider was filmed. We rode our bikes down a bumpy path to Ta Keo and Ta Nei. There simply didn’t seem to be any people around. It seemed because we started our early morning elsewhere, we were slightly ahead of the crowds for most of the day.
Around 10 AM it started to get quite busy around the park. We finished the day with lunch at a local food stall and photos at Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon.
From there we retraced our path back away from the main walls of Angkor Thom. We wanted to keep it a surprise for the day we had dedicated to that area.
After a day off and a long sleep we were up early again to meet the tuk-tuk driver we had hired for the day. We were in Siem Reap at the start of the wet season in July, so it’s generally cheaper and easier to get a reliable driver. We paid $20 for him to drive us for the entire day. Do be careful with who you choose. There have been stories of people being left at Angkor Wat when the driver starts demanding a higher fee. Ask your accommodation for recommendations if you’re nervous.
We arrived at Pre Rup for our second sunrise. Luke and I were there all by ourselves. We climbed the steps in the dark and reached the very top of the temple just as the sun was coming over the horizon. There was something incredibly spiritual about being there as the sun came up. You couldn’t help but feel like you were somewhere of significance.
From there we visited East Mebon, Banteay Samré (perhaps one of my favorites of the entire park), and the distant Banteay Srei. It’s a fair journey, almost an hour away, so a tuk-tuk is really the only option for getting there unless you sign up for a bus tour. Banteay Srei is known for it’s pink stone and intricate carvings. It’s in impeccable condition and is heavily touristed because of that.
After Banteay Srei our driver took us to a little place to eat. There were a few options and we chose the cheapest (they were all doing the same food). As a thank you for bringing custom to them, our driver received his lunch for free. It was $2 each for Luke and I to have a bowl of noodle soup or rice with meat.
We spent the afternoon at Ta Som, Neak Pean, Krol Ko, and Preah Khan. Each more incredible than the last, each blurring as we visited more temples. We did our best to upload the photos at the end of each night so that we could keep each one clear for years to come when we look back at them.
The finale, the day we’d been waiting for. Again we rented bikes and pedaled to Angkor Wat for Sunrise. Of all the days we got up for sunrise, this was the worst weather. We didn’t get to see the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat, but seeing the crowds there waiting for this infamous moment was worth getting up for. It was quite a sight to behold, all these people.
We spent most of our day there. By the time we left we looked at our watches – almost four hours had passed. It’s that large, there is so much to take in, so much to see in that one temple. I could have gone back and slept after that, but there was more to see!
Bayon is a wonderful temple with all the faces. The temples around this area are so photogenic and are by far the busiest. There are temples on the East and West side, statues and an old palace, balconies with intricate carvings, elephant lookouts, and plenty of places to grab food and drink, too.
By the end of day three I was utterly exhausted. I don’t think I could have done a 7 day pass. Although we left having missed a few temples, I don’t think I could have visited more and still enjoyed myself.
- Wake up Early. It will be hard at first, but so worth it. Seeing the temples in the morning light is so magical, never mind the fact that it’s the best time of day to photograph, it’s also much quieter than mid morning when everyone else has woken up.
- Start in a different place. If you really want to beat the crowds, start somewhere different. It’s always going to be busy, no matter the time of year, but if you can get a few moments to yourself it will make it all worth it.
- Don’t do too much. Make sure you take a day off, don’t try to pack the entire park into one day. You’ll be exhausted and you’ll forget what you even saw. Appreciate what you can see while you’re there and promise yourself you’ll come back again.
- Rent a bike. Seeing the temples by bike was one of my favorite parts about exploring. It allowed us to stop whenever we wanted, go down little paths and find tiny little ruins that aren’t on the map. Tuk-tuk drivers will only take you to the big places and if you see something that interests you, it’s hard to shout over the sound of the engine to get them to stop.
- Don’t save Angkor Wat until the end. By the third day I was incredibly exhausted and probably didn’t appreciate this monolith headliner as much as I should have. I was pretty cranky and it was raining a little bit. I wish I had gone to Angkor Wat on the first day of our ticket.
- Cover Up. In order to go into some of the temples you need your legs to be covered and your arms to be covered (this is only enforced with women). They will not accept you covering up with a sarong. I know it’s hot and it’s certainly frustrating to be told that your boyfriend can go in wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but you need to be covered from head to toe, but it’s not your culture. Please be respectful.
Have you ever been to Angkor Archaeological Park? What advice would you give for visiting Angkor Wat?