Any one who wants to visit the Angkor Wat and other temples will eventually find themselves in Siem Reap which is the starting point to all the temples.
Here are some tips that I would like to share from my recent trip to Siem Reap:
1. Plan ahead and do some research regarding the temples: A lot of people are under the impression that Angkor Wat is the only temple that is there in Siem Reap. It is completely wrong!!
Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples that has garnered world wide attention thanks to its scale and grandeur. But there are other temples such as Bayon, Ta Nei, Neak Pean and not to mention Banteay Srei that are much more beautiful and have the most delicate carvings on their walls.
I will recommend a minimum of 3 days just to visit a few temples as it really takes time to enjoy and truly appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of each of the temples.
Temples like Neak Pean are easy to miss as a lot of people don’t go there since it is not a part of the main circuit. But it is a beautiful temple and very different from the rest.
Every temple is different and hence it is totally worth spending the extra few days to just soak in the atmosphere.
2.Plan your time of visit: By time of visit I mean both the time of the year and once there the time of the day.
Siem Reap is located in the tropics and hence even during peak winter months while the rest of the world might be freezing it would blazing hot here.
The best time to visit is from November to February with December and January being the ideal months. It does get hot as the day progresses but is definitely not as bad as in other months. Also, December and January are not the rainy months which means you will not have to run for cover or walk into pools of water and this automatically translates to fewer mosquitoes and insects.
The best time to visit the temples is during the early mornings. The advantage of having a 3 day pass is that you can space out the temples and ensure that you visit them only during the early morning.
Early mornings are best for two reasons i.e. the weather is awesome with a cool breeze and the second being less crowds.
Early mornings especially at Bayon, Neak Pean, Ta Prom are the best as the entire world of tourists would be busy awaiting the sun rise at Angkor Wat and hence these temples don’t have crowds.
We visited Bayon, Ta Som and Ta Prom from 6.00 am to 9.00 am and there were only 2 other couples along with us in these temples. This meant that we could walk around and explore the ruins and just soak in the atmosphere completely. Also, the early morning light makes for excellent photographs with not a single soul in sight.
The silence is eerie and can be quite daunting initially but slowly start to feel peaceful.
3.Don’t come on an empty stomach: While there are numerous cafes near each of the temples, spending time to grab breakfast would mean loss of precious time and that would mean competing with a few hundred tourists at the temples and waiting for full 30 mins to get one decent picture without someone’s bald head coming in..
If you are like me and cannot eat breakfast before 9.00 am in the morning then carry energy bars with you or nuts and keep munching them while walking. These are not heavy to carry at the same time provide the necessary energy required to walk.
I used to grab coffee from one of the cafes nearby and then munch on nuts while walking around. There are trash cans everywhere and hence disposing the waste is not a problem.
4.Dress appropriately: The temples are important places of worship and the local people respect them so dressing appropriately is very important.
While I was there I noticed a very disturbing trend where in a lot women would wear pants and full sleeve shirts only to take them off once they entered the premises of the temple and pose half naked in front of the statues and sculptures.
I understand the need to look good in pictures but I never knew that looking good meant being half naked!!! This just creates a very negative impression among the locals and obviously pisses them off!!
I just don’t understand why it is so difficult to walk around in pants and half sleeve shirts for a few hours of the day!!!
Tip: The markets in Siem Reap sell loose printed dhoti pants for less than 3 USD; if you don’t want to carry pants with you then just go to the market and get couple of those pants. They can easily be worn with t- shirts and once you are done with the temple tour the pants can be thrown away or donated. It is really that easy to cover up!!
5.The temples do not have wheelchair access: These temples are about 1000 years old and though various governments have and are still doing their best in trying to restore them, it is almost impossible to make them wheelchair accessible as that would mean changing the plan and structures.
Some temples have close to 100-200 steep steps and require a person to be reasonably fit.
Even when there are no steps, the floor is not smooth and most temples have hundreds of stones scattered around and this makes it difficult.
If traveling with kids then please ensure that they are under close supervision as it is very easy to fall and get hurt.
The rule applies to adults as well. While it is very difficult to take eyes off the trees and sculptures, please pay attention to where you are placing your next step..
6. Ditch the fancy cars and hire a tuk tuk for the entire day: Hiring a car is not really needed as tuk tuks are very convenient and are also a fun way to get around the city. During the mornings the cool breeze is very nice and is best enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee. Hiring a tuk tuk is also very cheap and the tuk tuk drivers know the city very well and are very friendly. Most tuk tuks even have a water cooler.
A car will not provide you with the same level of enjoyment and fun!!
7.Last but not the least, don’t worry about taking a leak at all!!! Almost all the temples have toilets dedicated for men and women outside their premises and the toilets can be used free of cost upon showing the Temple pass. They are neat and clean and have all the amenities required to do the job!!
So keep calm and carry on and enjoy the temples!!!
Of course taking good pictures with the perfect background and lighting is very important but don’t fret if you are unable to get them. Just relax and look at them with your eyes and retain the memories forever!! The beauty of these temples can never be captured in a mere frame and pictures just don’t do justice to them. So might as well enjoy the long walks among ruins more than a 1000 years old and come back with stories to tell. Those stories will make up for the lack of pictures!!
Folks, have you visited Siem Reap?? What are your tips??