Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. The temples were originally Hindu but were transformed into Buddhist temples as the Kings of Cambodia changed. Most of the temples were built in the 12th century and they are huge. The fact that in the 12th century we have the capability of building and carving such huge temples is astounding. I can’t image the man power and time it took to create the temples. Angkor Wat was the primary reason my family and I decided to go to Cambodia during their trip here, and while I wasn’t too convinced on why this place is so cool before I went, I left with a huge appreciate for what these temples stand for.
After reading many travel blog articles about how you “have to spend at least 3 days” at Angkor Wat, I decided that one day was enough for me. Not to down play the beauty in these temples but as a non-history person and someone who didn’t feel they needed to see EVERY last temple, one day seemed like enough. And I stand by the statement. You can easily see a large portion of the temples in a day and I think I left still feeling appreciated of their beauty without feeling exhausted from too many temples.
The biggest advice that I could give to someone that wants to see the temples is to get a guide. Honestly. Just pay for a guide. You’ve come all this way to appreciate the beauty of the temples and learn about their history and I would have learned very little if it had not been for our excellent guide, Sim. Sim has been giving tours of Angkor Wat for 8 years and works almost every day during the high season. He had to complete 3 months of training to become a guide and had to get a bachelor’s degree, as does all of the guides of Angkor Wat. Sim used to be a literature teacher but he didn’t like it and being a tour guide pays more in Cambodia (Yikes!) Our trip really wouldn’t have been complete without all of the knowledge he had to offer. His contact information is at the bottom of this post. You can also book a guide through your hostel or hotel; almost all of the hostels pull from the same group of trained tour guides. What’s so great about a guide?
1) They know so much about how the temples were built.
2) They know what the inscriptions in the stone stand for.
3) They know where the best places to take pictures are, or the “Money shots” as Sim called it
4) They know when each temple is at its busiest. (For instance Angkor Wat is actually pretty dead between 1-3 pm, because most people go back to their hotels, shower and grab food and then head back for sunset.)
5) They know all about Cambodian culture and traditions and are happy to answer your questions about them.
6) They’ll change their tour best on your preferences. (You want to see the smaller temples? No problem. )
My other tip is to get a car. I initially thought about just renting bicycles for the day, which we did see some people riding along, but if you want to see the most in one day either a car or a tuk tuk is necessary. What was nice about having a car was the brief intermissions of air conditioning between temples. It was so hot! My mom would tell you to wear sunscreen, she didn’t and between the jetlag and the sun she was so done by the end of the day. Having a car also meant unlimited access to cold water, most of the drivers carry a cooler of cold water with them, which is also heavenly after walking around for a few hours.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Our day started around 5am, when we left our hotel. We got to Angkor Wat, after paying for our entry passes, a little bit before 6 to watch the sunrise. It was packed! But beautiful. It was really misty out, and looked like it was going to rain, so we weren’t expecting a great sunrise. In fact at 6:30 when the sun was up and most people were leaving it was still just grey out. Then a little after 7 is when it started to change to an orangeish gold color. Make sure to stay until the sun is actually behind the temple. We almost left too, but luckily hung around after the clouds had lifted.
Instead of going into Angkor Wat after the sunrise, like most people did, we were off to Angkor Thom to walk around Bayon, my favorite temple. Bayon has such beautiful carvings along all of the walls and the top of each temple has 4 faces. When these temples were built they painted completely red while each face stood out in gold. I really want to find an artist’s replication of how these temples looked when they were painted. The faces must have stood out show much more than they do now.
Baphuon Temple and Elephant Terrance
Leaving Bayon just as more people were arriving, we visited other temples in Angkor Thom including Baphuon temple, Elephant Terrance and some smaller ones, that I don’t recall the names of.
We then went to Ta Prohm which was packed full of people. This was the only temple we went to that was literally a headache to walk around in. This one is known as the Tomb Raider temple, as Angelina Jolie filmed here. Overall the Cambodian people love her, she was actually there filming another movie a little bit North of Siem Reap while we were visiting. This is also one of the temples that has undergone the most damage because of the huge trees that are growing through and around it.
After Ta Prohm we stopped to have lunch and then finished up our day with Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was fairly empty around 2pm, which was a great change after Ta Prohm.
We then went back to our hotel exhausted even though it was only about 4pm. After the whole day I felt like I saw plenty of Angkor Wat! And learned a ton about it thanks to Sim.
Everything in Cambodia can be paid for in USD. It’s very strange, especially when you get changes that’s in half Cambodian Riel and half USD.
$20 (per person) for a day pass on to the grounds of Angkor Wat
$40 for a half day guide (You must pay for the driver and the guide separately, the drivers often do not know English and since the driver often picks you up in a different place while the guide walks with you it helps to have both people)
$30 for a driver and the car (much less if you get a tuk tuk or mototaxi)
$10 extra for sunrise
The prices are pretty much the same no matter who you book through if they are using the government trained guides. Other private guides might cost more.
Read Next: 4 Epic Things You Should do in Siem Reap (that aren’t Angkor Wat)