Visiting The Ancient Temples of Angkor Wat
10 Jan 2023
Every year, nearly 2.6 million tourists visit Angkor Wat. It’s typically the number one reason people go to Siem Reap, and one of the main reasons tourism is consistently booming in Cambodia.
Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple, and the largest religious monument in the world. Obviously, with that high number of tourists, you don’t need to be a Buddhist to appreciate the structure, beauty, and history of this unique and awe-inspiring place.
Whether you’ve heard of Angkor Wat and you want to make a special trip to see it, or you’re looking for things to do as you prepare for a trip to Siem Reap, it’s certainly a location that can’t be missed.
Let this serve as your introductory guide to visiting Angkor Wat. We’ll cover a bit of background information, how to effectively plan your trip, as well as other things you can enjoy while in Siem Reap.
An Introduction to Angkor Wat
When you think of famous religious sites across the world, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many people, it’s the Vatican in Italy. However, that might change when you realize that Angkor Wat is four times the size of Vatican City.
It was built during the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple. By the end of the 12th century, it became a Buddhist temple, and is now considered the heart and soul of Cambodia.
Constructing the massive site was no easy or quick task. The temple took 30 years to build. While there have been restoration efforts since then, the site was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
What’s interesting about this attraction today is that it allows you to feel as though you’ve taken a step back in time. Siem Reap is known as a modern town. It has comfortable hotels, a lively night scene, and plenty of marketplaces that make it an ideal tourist location. However, making the trek to Angkor Wat – whether you take a day trip or spread it out – will give you an incredible appreciation for the work that went into it so long ago, when things like technology and modern-day tools weren’t available.
Angkor was once a large city, hosting not just this religious temple, but several others, including Ta Prohm. If you’re a Tomb Raider fan, you’ll recognize that particular temple from the 2001 film.
Even if you can only go for a day, this site is filled with so much rich history, it’s worth it to see and experience as much as you can. Many people travel to this temple because of its religious background. Buddhism is a religion often associated with enlightenment, peace, and self-compassion. Studies have shown that self-compassion can actually improve your health, lowering your risk of things like:
• Certain physical illnesses
Going on any kind of trip is a wonderful way to practice self-care and be more compassionate with yourself. However, visiting a place like Angkor Wat, where you can take the time to self-reflect and appreciate the natural wonders around you, is even better.
Planning and Preparing for Your Trip
Cambodia is known for being hot and humid, so it’s essential to plan, prepare, and pack accordingly for your trip. Even if you’re only visiting the temple for a day or two, you’ll probably be in Cambodia a bit longer, and you definitely don’t want to feel uncomfortable the entire time.
Additionally, it’s important to keep your tourist sites in mind. Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple, and you might want to visit other temples in Siem Reap, too. While most of these temples have become so popular with tourists that there isn’t a real “dress code,” it’s a good rule of thumb to pack appropriate clothing – including pieces that cover your knees and shoulders.
In addition to appropriate clothing for the climate and culture, make sure to keep the following in your travel bag to keep yourself safe and comfortable:
• Mosquito spray
• A first-aid kit
• A rain jacket
• A universal charger
It’s also important to think ahead about your activities while you’re packing for your trip. If you’re going to spend hours walking around Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, you’ll need to keep your energy levels up all day. You can do that by staying hydrated, eating healthily and carrying energy-boosting snacks with you, taking supplements like vitamin D and magnesium, and getting enough sleep the night before your big adventure.
Packing is only part of the equation when you’re getting ready to embark on a trip to a different country. Not only should you educate yourself on the customs, expectations, and history, but you should make sure you have the right travel documents in order so you won’t run into any trouble. One of the most important things to find out is whether you need a travel visa for the country you’re visiting. For Cambodia, the answer is yes. Thankfully, tourist visas can be obtained online or upon arrival. You’ll likely experience less stress if you get the visa ahead of time, and you can have peace of mind knowing it’s in your possession, rather than worrying about what you’ll have to deal with at the Cambodian border to get one.
Now is also the time to make sure your passport is valid and will be for a minimum period of six months.
For now, you don’t have to worry about COVID-19 vaccinations. All travelers are welcome into the country regardless of their vaccination status.
Visiting the Temple
There’s so much to do and see at Angkor Wat, and while it might not seem like you can do it all in one day, if you plan the proper itinerary, you can cover a lot of ground – starting at sunrise.
The temple itself opens at 5:00 am. While that might seem incredibly early, the sunrises and sunsets should not be missed. You’ll get some incredible photo opportunities of the sun coming up over two reflecting ponds near the temple.
If you get hungry after exploring for a couple of hours, there are plenty of places in Angkor to grab a bite to eat. The rest of the temples will start to open up throughout the morning – most of them at 7:30 am. In one day, you should be able to hit most of the famous sites, including:
• Ta Prohm
• Banteay Kdei
• Pre Rup
• East Mebon
• Ta Sohm
You can end your day the same way you started, watching the sunset at Angkor Wat.
If you’re not comfortable exploring Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples yourself, there are plenty of opportunities to tour different areas with a guide. While these experiences typically cost money, they’re often worth it if you want the full experience and you’re interested in learning as much information and history as possible while on your trip.
What If You Spend Longer Than a Day There?
While many people choose to make a day trip out of visiting Angkor Wat, there’s no reason why you can’t fill up a few days with sights and experiences while you’re there. Experiencing that sense of human history and connection will make you want to stay longer.
One of the best ways to see as much as possible is to purchase an Angkor pass. It’s a little pricey, but the pass is valid at all Angkor temples – not just Angkor Wat. While you can visit multiple temples in one day, many people would rather take their time.
Many of the temples feature different things, so you might want to stay longer in certain areas. For example, Bayon Temple is one of the largest in the area, and you really need to see it up close to experience the 216 faces carved into it. There are also plenty of mischievous monkeys often “hanging around” Bayon, and while you should keep your belongings safely tucked away, they are fun to watch!
Where to Stay and What to Do Nearby
There is so much more to do, see, and experience in Siem Reap if you plan on staying longer than a day or two. While people flock to the area to witness Angkor Wat in person, don’t cut your trip short and head home without taking in the full experience of the area.
When it comes to where you should stay, there are a few unique options. However, a lot of where you stay has to do with the kind of experience you’re looking for. If you want to come back from Angkor Wat each day and enjoy something luxurious and modern, the Somadevi Residence is one of the best hotels in the area. If you want to stay in a hostel, try Lub d Cambodia Siem Reap. It’s very close to trendy bars and restaurants, so you can enjoy a bit of nightlife and relaxation after exploring ancient temples.
Don’t be afraid to travel outside the main vicinity of Siem Reap if you have some extra time. There are plenty of things to do in the area, whether you love an adventure or you want to make the most of your relaxing trip. Some of the best things to do in the area include:
• Visiting the Landmine Museum to learn more about Cambodian history
• Take in local life at the floating village of Kampong Phluk
• Visiting the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
• Walking through the Angkor National Museum
If you’re planning on exploring different areas in and around Siem Reap, make sure to hop on a tuk-tuk! You’re likely used to taxis looking a certain way, but a tuk-tuk is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Tuk-tuks are local taxis that are fairly inexpensive. If you don’t know your way around the area, they’re the easiest way to get around. If you can, negotiate a price with your driver before you get on board. Obviously, not everyone is a scammer, but it’s also not uncommon for drivers to want to charge more than what’s fair. That’s often the case with any marketplace purchasing. If you plan on heading to a local market, don’t be afraid to haggle. Most vendors will give you a deal if you know what you’re doing and you don’t back down from a fair price.
We could go on for days about the history, beauty, and amazement of Angkor Wat, and we still couldn’t do it justice. It’s one of those incredible locations that truly needs to be seen and experienced in order to fully understand how majestic it really is.
But, we do hope this guide has given you an idea of why you should book a trip to Siem Reap as soon as possible. Start planning and preparing now, and you’ll experience one of the most amazing trips of your life.