The Khmer empire’s powerful reign lasted from the 9th to the 15th century and spanned from Vietnam to Myanmar. Today, Angkor still stands tall and proud as the ancient empire’s capital.
Angkor is by far the biggest tourist attraction in Cambodia. It is a must-see that also comes with a lot of planning. During this pandemic, Cambodia is one of the countries that is open to US travelers right now, but it comes with a lot of extra costs. Read up on our latest article to learn more about the extra travel precautions that you must take before travelling to Cambodia. To make things even easier for your trip I laid out everything you need to know before you journey out to the Cambodian jungles.
HOW TO GET THERE
It is safest and easiest to fly into the Siem Reap airport, whether that is from Phnom Penh or your last layover. To visit Cambodia you do need a tourist visa, so before your trip be sure to check your country’s requirements. I got my tourist visa when I arrived at the airport (as a US citizen), but it can be different depending on your home country and the current pandemic circumstances. Siem Reap is only four miles from the temples and the Angkor Wat temple opens as early as 5am so that visitors can see the sunrise. Start your day as early as you can because it gets HOT and HUMID. For under 30 $ USD you can rent a tuk-tuk driver for the day who can bring you to the temples and transport you between each one. You can also hire a private tour and van for a higher price. Before you arrive make sure you have the proper dress (covered knees and shoulders) because the temples have an important religious significance. Guards are strict about dress code so you must comply in order to enter. There is a 1 day pass for 37 USD, a 3 day pass for 62 USD, and a 7 day pass for 72 USD. You can only purchase your pass at the Angkor Enterprise ticket office in person.
There are a slew of hotels to choose from. If you are looking for a place that is in the heart of Siem Reap, I would recommend FCC Angkor for a chic and modern feel in an old French mansion. It is also across the street from the royal residence. If you prefer a quieter place that is closer to the temples, look at the Mysteres D’Angkor. This boutique hotel is surrounded by nature, and is an intimate romantic getaway. I love their quaint hut-like rooms with balconies overlooking the beautiful courtyard. Lastly, the Udaya Angkor Bed and Breakfast, is a cheaper option with unique decor and a great location. This place is located only 2.6 km from Pub Street and 4.2 km from Angkor Wat.
Once you arrive at the entrance of the Angkor temples and spot the grand and majestic Angkor Wat, I would highly recommend getting a tour guide. They are fairly priced and will tell you all about the history of the Khmer Empire. I loved how they point out the unique details of each temple that I would usually gloss over. Our guide also knew the best photo op spot, so even just this one picture was worth the price.
If you have a 1 day pass, you should prioritize these three temples:
This temple is displayed on the center of the Cambodian flag and is the largest and most famous temple in the park. I love this temple the most because of all of the hidden details in the wall carvings that tell fascinating stories of the Hindu tradition. Scholars concluded that the temple also served as a tomb for the Khmer king, Suryavarman II because of its west facing direction. If you are an early riser I would recommend visiting this temple for sunrise. It is such a holy and incredible place and a sunrise would only triple that effect.
This temple was constructed by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. It was built in the center of his new capital, Angkor Thom, and designated as the king’s official Buddhist temple. I absolutely love this temple for the grand Buddha faces on the towers that are so kind and welcoming. A picture does not do this temple justice, so you must go in person to see how big the Buddha faces really are.
This incredible Buddhist temple was also consecrated by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. Nowadays, the temple is overtaken by spong trees which grapple onto the ruins, creating a very romantic setting. The temple really blends in with the Cambodian rainforest and adds an adventurous feel. Fun fact! This temple was the backdrop for Angelina Jolie’s 2001 film, Tomb Raider.
If you have more than 1 day available at Angkor Wat, be sure to also visit Preah Khan, the Bakheng Temple, and Koh Kher. Several of these are a bit farther from the main hub of temples, but definitely worth a visit.
Right next to Angkor Wat there are also a collection of small outdoor restaurants where you can eat authentic Khmer food. The Angkor Archaeological Park is just 4 miles from Siem Reap’s downtown where you can find all of the best fine-dining options. The touristy hot spot is Pub Street which is home to a lot of clubs and nightlife in the city. Some of the best Khmer restaurants in the city, however, are past that street, such as Malis, Chanrey Tree, and Sokkhak River Restaurant and all of these options are also located in a beautiful and relaxing dining setting. If you are just looking for a snack during the day or a meal to go, check out our article on Cambodian street food to help guide your choice.
Wear lots of sunscreen and bug repellent and you are sure to have the most magical and spiritual trip of a lifetime!