The West of Cambodia

ANGKOR COMPLEX

See Siem Reap for surveys

 

Description :  The most famous & impressive ruins of Asia and the highlights of Cambodia

Comments : On foot, bike, motorbike, car or elephant, explore and enjoy !

What to do ? Say wow ! / Get up, get down, get in, get out, get around and around again, loosing the notion of time / Examine bas relief at Angkor Wat or Bayon / Smile back at Avalokiteshvara faces / Imagine 1 million people living in Angkor Thom / Buy real Police badges & helmet from policemen on duty / Buy a good guide book from kids for around US$7 / Feed monkeys just south of Bayon / Boycott pushy salespersons / Ride an elephant to Bayon ($10) or up the sunset hill ($15) / Enjoy sunset

What you may not like ? 
The "Hello Mister-Madam you buy cold drink ?" at nearly every temple / The very pushy kids well implanted inside the temples : "Sir, you want to buy something, Sir" / The beggars / The continuing looting / The big red ants which get lost in your shoes / Having to care about your bike safety while visiting / Having to insist to get the right prices for snacks & drinks / Not bringing enough photo film / The steep stairs up and the dangerous stairs down / Visiting a temple during peak tourist hour / The crowd & circus at the sunset hill / The heat or afternoon shower in low season, the crowd in high season / Getting up too early for a disappointing sunrise (best time from December to February) / Some big dangerous holes on the road / Paying too much for a guide who did not graduate from the "guide school" (a graduated should cost around US$20 a day) 

How long ? 3 days are a minimum !

Where to stay ?  See our adresses in Siem Reap 

Where to eat ? Plenty of small restaurants and food stalls near the main temples. 


How to visit Angkor ?

At least two free guide books (Siem Reap Visitors Guide & The Free Angkor Complete Guide) have good tips on how to visit the Complex plus descriptions of each temple.

In case you haven't heard before, here comes the bad news : tickets are heavy on a backpacker's budget at $20 for 1 day, $40 for 3 days or $60 for one week. The first sunset is free (beside the transport cost at $2), in the sense that the validity of the ticket you buy in the evening really start the next day only. However, tickets are no longer extendable and are still not refundable. Beside, they now come with a photo so it is no longer possible to buy a second hand ticket at a discount (you are asked for an ID photo but if you say you do not have any, they will take your photograph at no cost). Controls are regular at the entrance of the main temples and, if you get caught without a ticket, there is supposed to be a fine of $30. You also have to show the ticket before accessing the area and signs will remind you everywhere that you must have a ticket. So, in conclusion : buy the ticket and visit Angkor with a clear mind. You should realize really soon that it is a very good bargain anyway. And now for the good news : at the time of writing, Hun Sen was in town to discuss ways to boost the visitors traffic. Those included the improvement of the Poipet-Siem Reap road (agreed) and a decrease of the entrance fees by 50% (still to be agreed)...

Unfortunately, costs for Angkor do not stop at the ticket boots. You also need a mode of transportation. Most local you meet will remind you that motorbike taxi are available but there are other options as well. Prices below are for the day :

- Car rental : $20 / Up to 4 people / The most comfortable, in particular during rain but lack of adventure, lack of view and lack of solitude.

- Motorbike taxi : $5 to $7 for one / $6 to $9 for two / At the cheapest price, the driver usually can not entertain you in English but as they wait for you at the entrance of each temple anyway... / The choice of most people. If no requirements, the driver should follow the normal circuit. Better however to agree on a itinerary. To visit Banteay Srei (about 30km more in the north) should be marginally more expensive. But marginally only ($1 or 2 extra) as the road has been repaired (update Oct 01)

- Rent a motorbike : $5-6 minimum plus petrol at $1 for 2 litters / As the government has relaxed his requirement on guide, it is now possible to feel free in Angkor. Roads are OK and directions are not really a problem if you are not too shy to ask local people. Motorbike thefts is however an issue and it would be essential to use parking (R500) or ask a food stall keeper to have a look on it (and maybe buy something when back : a sugar cane drink for R500 for example...)

- Rent a bicycle : $2 to $4 / If you get a good mountain bike, if you are reasonably fit and if the weather is not too hot, this is a great & ecological way to visit the central temples. As for motorbike, theft do occur (maybe not so much with an old Chinese bike however) so the same rules should apply : show it to someone and lock.

- Walk around : It is of course possible to pay for a ride to the Complex only (or to hitch ?) and then visit at a very slow pace. The roads are nice with lots of shadows and Angkor Wat, Phnom Bokheng (sunset hill) & Angkor Thom are within walking distance of each other (well, sort of : a few kilometers). Motorbike taxis are available between the major temples as well.

Backpacker's Tips : Pia, Philippines(June 06)
« If you aren't very fit, like me, there are electric bikes that you can rent in SiemReap and on the way to Angkor Wat. It's just 4 dollars for the whole day. They're just as environment-friendly as the pedal bikes, but take less effort (and you need all your energy for exploring the sites). The motodup drivers will warn you against them, saying they lose their charge along the way. But this wasn't the case with me. For the mini-route, you can probably survive without charging at all. And besides, there are battery stations in all the major sites, so there should be no problem. My only regret was that taking the electric bike wasn't allowed for further sites like Banteay Srei or the Roulous group. » 

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
 
« Exploring Angkor: the best place I´ve ever seen in my life. If you aren´t into archaeology the 3-day-pass is sufficient. One day is definitely not enough. Don´t visit more than 5-6 temples per day.
Sunrise: recommend go once to Angkor Wat but go also once to Pre Rup, our driver proposed this the first day, we were the only people at Pre Rup, a unique experience. Another advantage is that you can be at Banteay Srei before the crowds arrive.
Sunset: go once to Phnom Bakheng, be there in time if you want a good photo spot (impossible if you go on the first afternoon, it´s free from 5pm only)
Go once to Phnom Khrom, too, this place is the hill next to Chong Kneas.

Transport: we had a tuk-tuk every day (8 $ small circle,15 $ Banteay Srei +Banteay Samre, 5 $ Angkor Wat/Bayon 2nd visit) though originally planned to
go by bike once it´s possible to do at least the small circle by bike, but I wouldn´t recommend it, because:
- renting a bike for two persons is almost as expensive as a tuk-tuk,
- exploring the temples is exhausting enough,
- at least on the small circle there´s almost nothing to see between the temples [except the atmosphere! Note from Passplanet]
- with a tuk-tuk it´s easier to escape the crowds because you´re more flexible with the route »

Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous (Oct 01)
« Foreigners on a motorbike may be a rare sight for a couple of months since the government has reestablished the law prohibiting foreign visitors to drive around. How long will it last ? »

Backpacker's Tips :  Lynn Lee, Singapore (July 01)
« Please note that Angkor Wat (the temple) is opened to tourists ( meaning foreigners) from 6am to 6pm. Thereafter, it is closed to them but opened to the public ( meaning the locals) from 7pm to 10pm. When my friend and I wanted to go in, a security guard stopped us. There was also a movable sign stating this new rule. »


My visit of Angkor ?

Day 1 :
Mountain bike, $2

I started with the 5km ride toward the Complex, stopping on the way to buy good sandwiches (K500) and have my photo taken then plastified on my 3 days' ticket ($40).

I headed straight for the most impressive of all Temples : Angkor Wat. Some guides do not recommend to make your first visit there in the morning as the sun will be in the back and therefore your first impression won't apparently be as good but it was a bit cloudy and I felt my first impressions would not be that good either shall I visit with tons of tourists. I usually visit rather fast but it took me a good three hours to check this great sight out. So when I left, the sun was no longer in the back and I got a good second impression...

After a good rain shower and a light synchronized lunch, I went back toward Siem Reap Road but continued east in the direction of Ta Prohm. On the way, I stopped at Banteay Kdei. 

Ta Prohm is on top of quite a few people's list and it does not make long to understand why : it remains in the same condition as when it was found (less the shameful looting) and you may feel like some kind of Indiana Jones. It would be easy to spend a few hours there to let the jungle charm & tree roots take possession of your body as it did with the ruins but it is also possible to visit in less than an hour.

From there, I headed west toward Angkor Thom. On the way, Ta Keo was not really worth the climb up but small Thommanon was charming enough. I soon arrived at the Complex and turned south to smiling Bayon. 

This is one of the most popular place and, facing east, it is mostly visited in the morning. A good reason to visit in the afternoon ! All those friendly faces of Avalokiteshvara certainly makes you feel good but, as in Angkor Wat, there are also great Bas Relief to check out. Allow therefore at least one hour. 

Having some time left (so I thought), I went 2km north to Proh Khan : it was nice (but which Temple around Angkor is not ?) and slightly original with its columns but, globally, I thought it was not worth bothering on a busy schedule. Maybe spend more time in Ta Prohm or Angkor Thom instead.

On the way back, I stopped at the complex of Angkor Thom again but found The Baphuon closed for restoration. A good reason to come back to Angkor !

It was now 17:45 so I had to speed up toward Phnom Bakheng for the sunset show. But, having forgotten to make a reservation, I missed the sun by ten minutes. The place was packed with visitors and the alley of cars & minibus indicated that they were not all backpackers. But the view from the hill toward the lake or Angkor Wat was great. For a more relaxing experience as well as a good photos session, it would therefore be a good idea to climb the hill & the stairs during the day (maybe just after visiting Angkor)

I went down at 18:15 and rushed back to Siem Reap. This was a bad time as all the vehicles seen before were going the same way but, without lights on the bike nor on the road, there was little choice... I reached the shower at 18:45 and, believe it or not, this was not luxury !

 << Discover Angkor Wat
 << Discover The Bayon
 << Discover Ta Prohm



Day 2 : Shared motorbike ($3) plus shared petrol ($1)

It took us some time to find a suitable motorbike. The Belgium guy we had been recommended to somehow scared us by saying that a/ it was illegal for foreigners to ride a motorbike b/ the road could be very slippy after yesterday's rain c/ if any accident happen, it will be our fault. Conclusion : he would not rent us anything but bicycles.

We found one decent bike for $6 at the moneychanger around the corner with Pokambor Avenue but we had to wait half an hour for availability. After leaving a passport as a deposit, we were told the safety rules : a/ lock the bike b/ tell a local to keep a look at it. I would add c / bring also your own lock in case the owner decide to steal it himself to get your $1000 (no cases in Seam Reap so far but it happened in Phnom Penh) 

After filling up the tank ($1 for 2 liters), we were finally off ! The main reason we took a motorbike was to visit Banteay Srei, about 30km north of Angkor. Definitively too far for biking and rather expensive with a taxi-taxi ($10 the day tour for one person, $13 for two). 

On the way, we followed the tradition : stop to fill up the bags with sandwiches (still K500) and to have the ticket inspected. We had tried to avoid the latest but had been called back. The policemen looked at us, the officials looked at our tickets but none raised an issue about the lack of a guide on our motorbike. Actually, nobody seem to care anymore on how you visit around as long as you have a proper ticket.

The road toward the famous temple was rather easy to find (turn east at the Ta Prohm intersection, east again opposite Eastern Mebon, and north once deep inside the village), rather good (though dusty after any big vehicle) rather beautiful and rather safe nowadays. We where on the road at about 10:00 and saw quite a few tourist buses coming back. 

The temple was a disappointment at first sight : rather small and crowded with pushy kids & beggars. But at close range, it delivered well above our expectations as offering the most delicate carvings seen on a temple so far. We were not alone visiting but it was bearable. Due to its size, visiting with a tour group would however be a real nuisance. The afternoon was reported to be the most quiet period. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous (Oct 01)
« With the new road leading to Banteay Srei, it is now crowded with tourists most of the time. To protect the delicate statues, the authorities have found nothing better but to block the access to the towers with ropes. Difficult to appreciate the temple in those circumstances. Very frustrating ! »

We then had the good idea to get a flat tire when approaching the village again. This was fixed in no time with little air and R500. We then proceeded toward Banteay Samre, passing the village on the east, on the way toward the hill hosting Phnom Bok. After some paddy fields, soon after the last houses, there is a small sand path on the right leading to the beautiful and rather unvisited small structure. 

On the way back, we realized that our tire was flat again. Back to the garage, it took us some time to convince the guy to start working, to continue working and then to reduce his demand from $4 to $2. For this price, we also got a local-type invoice and the old tube. A future offering to the bike shop... 

We then followed the main circular road going north, visiting nice Ta Som & the pool of Neak Pean along the way and getting a second glance at all the other architectural wonders before heading back to Siem Reap. 

There, we took the east road of the Central Market (worth a look or some spending as it is big & ugly but cheap) and continued for around 5km toward the Roluos Group. The scenery along the way was beautiful but the road was rather bad (means lots of holes plus dust) and with no shade, making it very unpleasant if on bicycle. After two bridges, we turned right on a red-earth road (just after an house) and then left toward Bakong, the most interesting temple of the area (it is nice & original from the other but there would be no reason to loose sleep if you can not visit it). Preah Ko just in the north was just worth a quick look on the way to the main road. 

We had originally planned to also head south of Siem Reap toward Phnom Krom, a small temple on the top of a hill, about 7km away, to enjoy a peaceful sunset (few visitors) but we were too late (17:30), running out of petrol and both tired with eyes irritations thanks to the sun & dust. At least two good reasons to bring the bike back to the shop. 

I had expected some arguments about the flat tire's cost but everything went smooth (those mishaps must be frequent around here) so we paid only $4 for the bike. A fair deal for a great day !

 << Discover Banteay Srei



Day 3 : mountain bike, $2

This should be a day of more relaxed exploration and second visit to the favorites...

I reached Angkor Wat via a longer but certainly more beautiful way : it took me 40mn to reach Baray Occidental via National Route 6, then a lovely concrete road alongside a water canal (first road on the right after the airport). The reservoir has got tiny beaches and it is possible to rent inner tube & swim but the water did not look really inviting. 

Just before reaching the reservoir, a small road on the right (opposite a tiny bridge) lead to Angkor Wat via a charming village, a modern temple and the airport field (turn left at the yellow gate). 

 << Discover a few sights aound Angkor



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