enter tomb raider
Ever since you’ve dreamed of traveling Southeast Asia, you’ve envisioned yourself walking around the ruins of the temples, grazing through the remains and relics. You would look forward to surrounding yourself, lost in the staggering and sensational buildings of what made Angkor Wat. Or maybe, you just really want to star in your own Tomb Raider movie. Those sought curiosities would lead to the planning of an itinerary including a few, some, if not many of the jaw-dropping amount of temples. That’s how it was for us, anyway.
We searched and investigated blog posts and online articles regarding such an itinerary. We googled expectations, favorite temples, distances, average time spent, best order, etc. The results were overwhelming. It was too much to think about!
Some Tips and Experiences of Planning an Angkor Wat Itinerary
- As soon as you arrive in Cambodia, check the weather. When we went, the weather forecast called for one day of sun and two days of rain. This convinced us to do the sunrise viewing on the sunny day and get our favorites out of the way on that day-just in case! As it turned out, it barely rained and when it did, it was only for about 20-30 minutes. I wouldn’t even recommend bringing an umbrella- it’s so hot, you’ll invite the rain!
- Pick your top favorites, do them first. We knew that we would be “templed out” by the end of our touring, so to avoid feeling underwhelmed, do your favorites first. We chose: sunrise at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon. Do a little google search to see what best interests you. Also, talk to your hotel about what is possible or recommended to do per day. They’ll know best and (most likely) provide a detailed map. [See below for our sunrise experience.]
- Hire a tuk-tuk driver. There is no award given to those that rent bikes instead. Believe us, this will make your trip SO much better. You could go ahead and be active and cheap by renting a bike…but, it is much farther away from town than you think. Plus, with the heat and adding walking and finding your way around the temples, who wants to endure that? Seems more like work than enjoying the splendor of what is Cambodia. Spend the $20/day for a personal driver to take you wherever you want. We hired ours through our hotel, Diamond D’Angkor Boutique.
- Include temples that are “off the beaten path.” We really enjoyed that the last day was spent visiting the farther temples. Our driver drove us through the countryside, which we ABSOLUTELY LOVED. There was a massive lack of tourists. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was our driver. But we made it to two different temples that were near-empty (minus the workers). We could finally take our time, inspecting the details of these remarkable ruins. We even fit in a short photo-shoot.
Yes, the ride in a tuk-tuk was long, but this was honestly one of our highlights of Southeast Asia! We felt like we were in a parade at times, smiling and waving back to all the people on the side of the road. Children would stop and turn to us, enthusiastically waving, paired with a giant grin. Everyone just seemed so genuinely happy. It was incredible seeing how they actually lived, much more authentic and real than what we saw inside most cities. We saw boys of all ages and men working hard in the fields. We saw kids playing, climbing trees and chasing each other. We saw women and younger girls cooking road-side, stirring pots that resembled earth-grown cauldrons. The ride was long, but definitely kept us captivated observing the daily lives of the Cambodian people. Vans of tourists passed us, probably content in the a/c and comfort of leather seating, but we determined that a tuk-tuk ride was better. It added so much to our overall experience in Cambodia.
- Sunscreen. Bug spray.
- Bring some extra cash when you do visit because you might want to purchase water or snacks along the way. At every temple we visited, there were stands of coconuts, fruit and other goodies. The coconut water is a great for rehydration! Also, if you are feeling giving, there are musicians at many of the temples, playing Cambodian music. What’s unique is that they are all victims of UXO and are raising money for the families and those affected. Throw them a couple dollars for some good music and making a horrible situation, a little better.
** Also, to warn you, there are kids and people trying to sell you souvenirs or other things. In our opinion, if you plan on purchasing post cards anyway, might as well buy it from them. If not, a polite no thank you is usually good enough. On the plus side, you might even get a few compliments like we did, “pretty lady, handsome man.” We were suckered into buying a book about one of Cambodia’s orphans– the man selling the books was extremely fluent in English, seemed well-rehearsed in Cambodian history and definitely pulled on some heart-strings practically begging for $3 USD. Ryann read it later in Thailand and LOVED it.
- You have to purchase a ticket in order to visit the temples. The temples are maintained and supervised much like a State Park would be. We bought our tickets the morning of the sunrise and the line was horrendous. If you go, try to go EARLY or the evening before you plan on going. We felt really rushed the morning of the sunrise and worried we were going to miss the sunrise after waiting in line for so long. Also, rumors state that if you purchase your ticket(s) at 4:00 pm for the following day(s), you’re allowed to visit the temples additionally that night for free. You could make a sunset for free! We had purchased a 3 day pass ($40 USD/pp). You have to keep the ticket with you because it’s checked at every temple. The temple hours are 5:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- Lastly, wear temple-appropriate, respectful clothing. Anyone who claims “they didn’t know,” is lying or too oblivious to even be allowed to leave their house. We saw far too many people who chose to do otherwise, and it really bothered us (mostly Ryann). If she could, she’d write up a full blog post ranting about how ill-mannered and vulgar some women dressed. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it’s not comfortable wearing sleeves or long-skirt/dresses. Believe me, she sweat and cursed in her head the whole time. But you are the visitors, and it’s only fair and respectable to follow the local and cultural expectations. It just further proved why tourists get a bad rep, grrrrrrr!
Attention Cambodia: Why don’t you have your workers turn away anyone who is inappropriately dressed? They already bought the ticket, so you won’t lose money. Ryann thinks it’s fair and more than justified. Devin has no comment, being the peacemaker that he is.
We hope that our tips help! Happy exploring!