So you bought your ticket. Packed your stuffs and ready to explore the Angkor like Lara Croft. Have you prepare your game plan? Where to and how to start Angkor? It’s bigger than you can imagine. Stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world (http://wikitravel.org/en/Angkor_Archaeological_Park).
Now the headache! Where do we start?
Honestly, I really don’t think there’s one way to do it. A general guideline of how most Tuk Tuk drivers do it was to get you to do the Small Circuit the first day followed by the Grand Circuit when you are done with the smaller one.
How many day/s:
You need a pass to enter the Angkor area. Passes can be bought at the front gate for 1-day ($20), 3-day ($40), or 7-day ($60).
The 3-day pass is valid for any 3 days within a week.
The 7-day pass is valid for any 7 days within a month.
You can use this 3 or 7 day pass on non consecutive days which is a great way to take a break in between so you don’t get Wat-Out.
Remember not to buy your park pass from anyone except the park authorities at the front gate.
We did 3-days. I have to say it’s hardly enough. I would have stayed longer if I could.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat seem to be on everyone’s to do list. So expect a jam-packed elbow to elbow sea of people trying to get a good spot. If you are short like me, be prepared to wish you are a tall person. But I utilised my petite size to my advantage by moving swiftly among the giants to get to the front.
I highly recommend to watch the sunrise despite having to wake up at 5am and fight with the crowd. It’s well worth it. The illuminating Angkor Wat was just amazing.
If you missed the sunrise, try the sunset. Although I think the sunset in Angkor Archaeological Park is overrated and again a fight with the sea of people all waiting for that one perfect sunset.
I however was lucky enough again to witness another most amazing sunset I have seen in this lifetime. The first was seen in Queen Charlotte Sound and this time at Lake Tonle Sap.
Most Amazing Wat:
How can one not be amaze with the Bayon? I did. Standing in the middle of the Bayon, I stared at the faces in awe. Unfortunately it was also here that my camera’s battery decided to die on me. Sigh! I really did not have much photos of Bayon but I tried to mentally absorb everything of the beautiful Bayon in my memory. Something that I will carry with me for a long long time to come.
Most Beautiful Architecture:
I find Banteay Srei beautiful in its own right. Unique, small and perfect. It is built from sandstone and we were informed that it glows pink in the morning which we missed for waking up and starting the day late. Yet Banteay Srei did not disappoint.
Beng Mealea (means “Lotus Pond”)
There’s just something about these two places that attracts me. It’s mysterious, lost, mystifying and pretty much untouched. It’s like a big unsolved jigsaw puzzle that you can only imagine how it was once like.
I have a love hate relationship with this one. I have seen much more impressive temple than Ta Phrom but somehow, something about Ta Phrom that holds on to you. I sure hope it’s not just about Tomb Raider. LOL! However it’s a struggle to be here. You constantly have to fight your way through with the amount of tourists that are visiting here.
A Guide or not:
Hard to say. I guess in the end it’s up to personal preference. I do see both the pros and cons for having a guide. However, choosing one that is good and suitable can be a tough job. As you will find hundred of guides wanting the job including the police (Will explain further below).
If you are like me, I find carrying a guide book with me is more than sufficient while others may prefer having someone escorting them through the temples explaining things as they go along. Another option is to consider hiring a guide for one day only and spending your other days on your own.
P/S: You will find the official guides of Angkor are expert of languages. They range from speaking the language of English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese and many more.
Why I did not use a guide – mainly because I am a super slow visitor/explorer. I like to take my time seeing, feeling, observing, photographing, stop when I pleased, see what I pleased and absorb in the environment slowly. Plus I hate it when guide tried teaching and telling me what photo to take. A lot of guide do that in the Angkor.
Can your driver be your guide? To my understanding, by local regulation drivers cannot guide and guides cannot drive. Drivers (car, tuk tuk, van), no matter how knowledgeable are they on the temples or proficient in English, cannot walk around the temples explaining things but must wait in the parking areas outside each one. Only licensed tour guides may accompany you inside each temple.
However, we still noticed illegal guide hanging around temple compound trying to offer tourist that are without guide some intro and asking for money. This sort of illegal guide includes POLICE. Yes, police. They were acting all nice, showing tourist a good spot for photo opportunity and then openly asked for money. When Riel (local currency) was offered, they refused and asked for USD. Hmmmppfff!
Best Mode of Transportation:
Hands down – Tuk Tuk. I think if you skipped using Tuk Tuk, you are missing out a big part of Cambodia/Asia. It’s not only fun, airy, as close as you can get to the people and experience the Cambodian’s traffic. It’s super fun.
Please avoid –
1. Illegal Guide
2. Policeman in Angkor Park trying to show you around. Please don’t encourage them. Give once, they will keep doing it to other future tourists.
3. Please, please, please DO NOT BUY from children. If you do, you are not helping them. You are just sending the message that it’s better to work than going to school. They should be in school not selling stuffs on the street to help their family. They will attempt to tell you that they need money to go to school. But buying things just encourage them to stay off school even more. No matter how bad their situation are, I still think it’s better for the child to be in school so that one day, they can break the vicious circle and make something for themselves. If they don’t, their children, then grandchildren will continue being a child seller trying to sell to yet another tourist. It will not help them nor the Cambodian’s economy.
My best advice:
See the temples on alternate day. Do not overwhelmed yourself. Don’t get “WAT-OUT” (temple fatigue).
The reason for me to do this is because I want to constantly be at awe when seeing these beautiful temples. Pushing yourself to see all the temples just mean bad news and you will get irritable, and bored. In the end, you just go home saying,” I am so tired of temples” or ” They are all the same” or” Enough already!”. It will be such a shame to be in such magnificent place and be feeling that way.
Thus I think we had made a good choice in alternating it between temples visiting and other sight-seeing such as experiencing the floating village.
My Secret Find:
Aren’t they an awesome find? One of my few highlights of Angkor. We were speculating that probably a bored sculptor of that time decided to carve these to express his/her frustration. LOL!
Anyway, that is all for this post. I hope that you have probably found some useful information or just an interesting read. Looking forward to your kind comments or questions if you have any.
- Our Highly Recommended Tuk Tuk Driver in Siem Reap (theorientnomad.wordpress.com)
- Where I’ve Stayed: Happy Angkor Guesthouse, Siem Reap (theorientnomad.wordpress.com)