Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park – Our Insider’s Guide
Our Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park is an insider’s guide. We live in Siem Reap and visit the temples regularly, making this one of the most comprehensive and up to date guides you’ll find online. It covers how to get to Angkor, opening hours, dress code, new 2017 ticket prices, and more.
Updated February 2017: Note that the prices to Angkor Archaeological Park increased this month to: US$37 for 1 day, US$62 for 3 days, and US$72 for 7 days. The 3-day pass can be used over seven days and the 7-day pass over a month. Prices for more remote temples stay the same (for now), starting from US$5 — all the more reason to venture beyond Angkor and visit some off the beaten track temples.
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
Angkor Wat in Cambodia is captivating. The breathtaking temple city and other archaeological wonders at Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap are some of the world’s most spellbinding temple ruins.
Some temples stand alluringly, like majestic Angkor Wat and beguiling Bayon, begging to be explored. Others lie buried deep within jungle, waiting to be discovered, like the dilapidated towers of the remote ‘lost city’ of Mahendraparvata on Mount Kulen. While yet other temples are held captive by vegetation, like moss-covered Ta Prohm and Beng Mealea, strangled by the tree root systems that have grown around them.
Sprawling some 400 square kilometres, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor Archaeological Park is more than a collection of stupendous temples. They are the remains of the capital cities of the Khmer Empire, built between the 9th and 15th century by some fifteen kings, each of whom oversaw the construction of at least one but often many more magnificent temple cities.
The Khmer Empire archaeological sites are important for their architecture, which evolved from that of the Indian subcontinent, and for their art – bas reliefs, carvings, sculptures – which represented a new direction in Oriental art. Among other things, they are also significant for their complex irrigation systems, evident in the many reservoirs, moats and ponds, which make your photos look pretty.
We’re lucky in that we live in Siem Reap and it’s just 6.5 kms from our home to the entrance of Angkor Wat. We moved here in mid-2013 but had visited the city before that to write stories and became smitten with the place. We’ve scrambled Angkor Wat and the other temples countless times, for work, for pleasure, on our own, on tours, with guides, and escorting friends.
This is our insider’s guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park based on our experience here. We’ll update it whenever anything changes. We also welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments below.
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
Our comprehensive guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park covers everything from when to visit (taking into account tourist seasons, weather, time of day) and how to visit (the many modes of transport available) to what to pack and wear and how to behave (it’s a religious site, after all).
When to Visit Angkor Wat and Siem Reap
Siem Reap, the third largest city in Cambodia, is your departure point for any Angkor exploration. The ‘winter’ is lovely from December through February, when temperatures are moderate, the sky is clear and blue, and the sun is shining. However, this is also high season, so the price you’ll pay will be battling crowds.
March and April are very hot, humid and dry. They call it ‘summer’ here. The bonus is that the tourist numbers are starting to reduce, although it gets busy during Khmer New Year, Easter, and the southern hemisphere autumn and northern hemisphere spring school holidays.
As sultry as they are, I absolutely love May, June and July, the start of the monsoon or wet season. Numbers are lower in May (except during those school holiday periods) and by June-July the countryside starts to look pretty and green again.
In the past, it generally only rained during these months in the afternoon and overnight, although these days it can rain morning, noon or night. Or not at all. Like much of the region, Cambodia is currently in the midst of its worst drought, and it’s been predicted that it won’t rain properly until July. When it does rain, however, it’s not usually for very long at this time of year and it does cool things down.
The countryside is truly gorgeous, lush and green by September and October, which are usually the wettest months, and there are few tourists around. At some temples you’ll be quite alone. As long as you don’t get your camera wet, this can be a great time for photography as there is so much water around. In the past, a risk at this time of year was that it might flood, however, the last two years have been fairly dry due to the drought. (See our post on the myths about monsoon season.) Pchum Ben or Ancestors Festival is also on in October.
By November, things are beginning to dry out and visitors are starting to return, although it can still rain. This is Water Festival time, when the city is buzzing with Cambodian tourists here to celebrate the end of monsoon.
A Transport Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
We could almost write a standalone transport guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park as the options are increasing all the time including a few we haven’t covered here in any depth yet, such as e-bikes and tours on horseback and by vesper. One ancient form of transport we ask you NOT to use is elephant.
How to Explore Angkor Archaeological Park by Tuk Tuk (Remork)
If you stay in the centre of Siem Reap you’ll probably do a lot of exploring in town on foot, though tuk tuks (or remorks/remorques, as they were called by the French) are terrific in the hottest part of the day and for heading out to dinner at night. A short tuk tuk ride costs US$1-1.50 around the old town and commercial centre, along Sivutha Boulevard. Double that for longer rides from one end of town to the other, for example, if you’re staying in a hotel on the edge of town.
Breezy tuk tuks are also the best way to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. They’re not only cooler than riding a bike, but they’re better for photography, without the glass windows of an air-conditioned car, getting you up close to the action, whether it be temples, monkeys or elephants.
Most people do a tour on their first day (see our guide to the best tours in Siem Reap), and after that explore independently by tuk tuk. Expect to pay from $12-$20; $12 for a standard 8-hour day to $15 for a longer day if you’re starting out early for sunrise, and $20 for a whole day if you’re going to go from sunrise to sunset. These are very fair prices considering the distance and time. Don’t be a cheapskate and try to bargain these down.
Hotel staff can book tuk tuks for you, however, most will give you higher rates than these or they’ll quote the same rates but either way they’ll take a commission. We recommend that you negotiate directly with the tuk tuk driver yourself when you find one you like using our suggested fees.
We strongly recommend waking in the darkness for sunrise, scrambling the temples until about 10-11am, taking a break of a few hours in the middle of the day to return for lunch, a swim at your hotel, and a rest, and then returning in the afternoon until sunset. If you choose to do this, make sure your driver is very clear about the hours and that you want to return to town in the middle of the day.
Hiring a Driver and Car to Explore Angkor Archaeological Park
We prefer to explore Angkor Archaeological Park in a breezy tuk tuk, which is best for photography and gets you up close to the action, whether it be temples or monkeys. But if you really can’t stand the heat, you’re ill or elderly, you’re here in the hottest part of the hot season, the wettest part of the wet season, or you want to do a day trip to more remote, lesser-visited temples such as Koh Ker or Preah Vihear, you will want to hire an air-conditioned car and driver.
Siem Reap Shuttle, which offers a basic US$13 mini-van tour of the most popular temples, also has drivers with cars that start at US$30 for the day. Most drivers can be negotiated to around US$30-40 a day. Your airport taxi driver will also suggest a temple tour and provide you with his rate sheet. If he’s a nice guy and speaks your language, hang on to it.
Using a Motorcycle Taxi to Visit Angkor Archaeological Park
Once the main form of transport for visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park, the motorcycle taxi or motodup — or ‘moto’ for short —isn’t used as much as it used to be. Essentially, it involves you riding pillion behind a motorbike driver, making it more popular with solo travellers more than couples or families.
These days, motodups are mostly used by budget travellers because they’re cheap. Motodups start at US$8 for a full day tour of Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park. One big advantage is that they’re brilliant in the sunrise/sunset traffic jams as they can zip around the buses, cars and tuk tuks and go off road when necessary. They’re not so comfortable in the rain.
Hiring a Bike to Explore Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
Some travellers opt to hire a bike and cycle to and around Angkor Archaeological Park, which, if you count the start as Angkor Wat (rather than the ticket office), is 6.5 kilometres from Siem Reap’s centre. While the ride is straightforward, keep in mind that it is chaotic competing for bitumen on the way to sunrise; it is a hot, sweaty slog in heavy traffic on the return in the late afternoon; and it is madness once again after sunset when you have to dodge hundreds of tour buses, tuk tuks, motorbikes, and other bicycles.
Riding around the park itself, where the roads are flat and less trafficked, is more pleasant. While it isn’t much fun in the hottest part of the day (or the hottest months of the year), there are plenty of shady areas and quiet paths, and if you time your visits right you can have lunch and a snooze on a stretch of grass by one of the sites in the middle of the day.
Go prepared — wear a light, long-sleeved cotton shirt, hat, and take plenty of sun block, and drink lots of water. Bike hire starts at as little as $2-3 a day for something basic, more for a mountain bike. There are also some excellent bike tours around, which has the added bonus of a support vehicle for when the heat gets to you. See our Cycling around Siem Reap guide for more information.
Using a Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park or DIY?
One of the most common questions we get asked by travellers is where they should hire a guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park or go it alone. It’s a tricky question to answer as it really depends on your style of travel.
Due to the colossal size of the Angkor Archaeological Park and the number of archaeological sites, a visit can be overwhelming with lots of decisions to be made — what sites should you visit, when should you visit them, do you only focus on the sites near Siem Reap or is it worth doing day trips to remote, lesser visited sites, and so on.
Doing a tour or hiring a guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park for the first day to help you get orientated and make those decisions is a good idea. Guides can also help you identify the important bas-reliefs, simplify what is a long and complicated history, and explain the symbolism. Once you’ve had that introduction, then you can return on your own to visit different sites or revisit sites you loved. What I like about guides when they’re good is that it keeps my head out of a guidebook.
Hotels and tour companies can organise licensed guides for you. You can book a temple guide through the Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association or one of the guide collectives, such as Angkor Temples Guide(s) or Angkor Tour Guides, or you can arrange guides as you go.
Prices vary but expect to pay US$25-40 for a short/long day for the guide only. Guides generally spruik their services at the entrance to temples. The price for one temple typically starts at US$10 but can be a lot higher if you’re in a group and a lot less (I’ve heard as little as US$1 per person) in low season if they’re having a slow day. Official guides, who are trained by the Ministry of Tourism and the APSARA Authority, which administers the temples, must study and sit for an exam. They wear a pale apricot shirt with official badges and have an ID card.
If you opt for one of the collectives, Angkor Tour Guides offers a one-day package of guide, air-conditioned transport and driver, and icy water for US$70 while Khmer Angkor Tour Guide lists packages that include the guide, air-conditioned vehicle and driver, entrance fees, water, cold towels, and lunch, starting from US$269 for a two-day tour for 1-2 people. We’ve not yet tested these out so aren’t in a position to recommend them, but on the maths alone it’s cheaper to arrange your own guide and tuk tuk/vehicle and driver, pay for your own entrance tickets, buy your own lunch/water, etc, and you maintain control.
If you’re hiring a guide at a temple, negotiate two rates. Ask the guide for the rate just to see that temple, and then ask what the rate is for the rest of the day. You then know what you’re getting yourself in for, and if you didn’t like the guide, you can politely say goodbye, and if you do like the guide then you know what it’s ultimately going to cost and you’re not in for a shock.
Tour Companies Visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
If you prefer to do a tour, we love Siem Reap-based Beyond Unique Escapes for temple tours and day trips to both the star attractions and more remote, off the beaten track archaeological sites like Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. We also did an overnight trip to Preah Vihear with Beyond and their fabulous guide Lim and it was wonderful.
For longer trips of a few days or more, we have used Asia-based Backyard Travel a number of times, including trips to Mount Kulen, as well as our first trip to Battambang. Like Beyond Unique Escapes, Backyard Travel is focused on local travel, insider experiences, and connecting with people as much as places. Both are responsible tour companies. Many companies make those claims but the reality is very different.
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park Opening Hours
From 1st January 2016, Angkor Archaeological Park’s opening hours were reduced (not increased as The Telegraph UK and other newspapers reported) to 7.30am to 5.30pm.
Visitors can only buy an Angkor Pass from the Angkor Archaeological Park ticket office, operated by the APSARA Authority. Opening hours are 5am to 5.30pm. The new ticket office is located on the corner of Apsara Road and Road 60. Note that Apsara Road is not the most direct route to the entrance (West Gate) to Angkor Wat if you are starting your day with sunrise at Angkor Wat (though it’s handing if you’re visiting in the afternoon and entering by the ‘back door’ (East Gate), so you will need to allow 15 minutes to get to the ticket office from the centre of town and then another 15-20 minutes to get to Angkor Wat.
The exceptions to the overall Angkor Archaeological Park opening hours, to cater for visitors who want to savour sunrise and sunset, are:
- Angkor Wat, 5am to 5.30pm, except the Central Tower, which doesn’t open until 7.30am
- Srah Srang, 5am to 5.30pm
- Phnom Bakheng, 5am to 7pm
- Pre Rup, 5am to 7pm.
And further afield:
- Banteay Srei, 7am to 5pm
- Kbal Spean, which closes at 3pm
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket Prices
Since the February 2017 price rise, your Angkor Archaeological Park ticket, called an Angkor Pass, now costs:
- US$37 for one day
- US$62 for three days (to be used within seven days)
- US$72 for seven days (to be used within one month)
Note: if you buy your Angkor Pass at 5pm (or even a little before; I’ve bought them as early as 4.30-4.5pm), you can watch the sunset for free that day and the ticket is valid the next day. Do confirm this when you buy them.
Despite what the outdated Tourism of Cambodia website says, the passes do not have to be used within consecutive days at all. The whole idea of these passes is to encourage tourists to stay longer in Siem Reap.
Tickets are not valid after the expiry date, they are not transferable (they have photos), and you must keep them in good condition and handy at all times. Tickets are checked at the entrance to most temples and there are fines if you’re caught within the Angkor Archaeological Park without a pass.
You’ll need to buy separate tickets at Beng Mealea (US$5), Koh Ker (US$10) and Phnom Kulen (US$20). The Angkor Pass does not cover these sights.
What Temples to See at Angkor Archaeological Park
You’ll undoubtedly have the monumental Angkor Wat at the top of your list, and after that, The Bayon, with its towers of serene smiling faces, which is in the temple-city of Angkor Thom, also home to the Elephant Terraces and pyramid-like Baphuon with its pretty causeway. Last but not least, like everyone, the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, made famous by Angelina Jolie/Lara Croft and The Tomb Raider movie, will be on your must-see list. These can all be visited on the ‘petit circuit‘ (see below). I also love the dilapidated yet sprawling temple city of Preah Khan, set within towering forest, which sees fewer visitors than Ta Prohm and makes a great alternative if you’re not coping with the crowds.
For most people who start out at sunrise these are enough to visit for one day. How many other sites you visit during your trip depends on how interested you are in archaeology, history, architecture, and art, and how much time you have. There are some 200 sites that have been restored — there were originally over 1,000 ruins, although most are no longer standing. One day is definitely not enough, and you probably won’t want to see more than a handful in any single day, so aim for at least three days.
We recommend getting out to some of the sites in the countryside, such as the petite pink-stone Banteay Srei, 25 kms north of Angkor and about 30 minutes from Siem Reap, which boasts exquisite carvings. Atmospheric, moss-dappled Beng Mealea, 40 kms east of Angkor Wat, and strangled by vegetation, is one of our favourites. The sprawling temple-city of Koh Ker, 90 kms away, is home to many ruins, including an impressive pyramid-like state temple, Prasat Thom.
If you don’t want to travel too far, closer to Siem Reap is the Roluos Group of three compact temples, the highlight of which is Bakong, surrounded by a lovely moat. There are also a couple of lesser visited temples we recommend, including ramshackle Banteay Kdei, a mini Ta Prohm with face towers and without the crowds, and beautifully restored and very peaceful Banteay Samre.
See our guide to visiting the more remote Cambodian archaeological sites for more information.
The Tourism Cambodia website also has a handy list of 54 sites, with links to information and photos, and the new APSARA Authority’s Angkor website has lots of detailed information, even if it needs a good edit.
The Petit Circuit and the Grand Circuit
When discussing your itinerary with tuk tuk drivers they will talk in terms of the ‘petit circuit‘ (small tour) or ‘grand circuit‘ (grand tour). These are the most obvious routes around Angkor Archaeological Park and are marked on all the maps and in the guidebooks.
The 17 km petit circuit starts at Angkor Wat, passes Phnom Bakheng (a popular hilltop-temple sunset spot) on the way to Angkor Thom and the Bayon, and then heads east to Ta Prohm via Takeo, before returning to Angkor Wat and onto Siem Reap. This tour takes in ‘the big three’: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom/Bayon, and Ta Prohm (‘the Angelina Jolie/Tomb Raider temple’, as the guides like to call it), which are the must-see highlights for most visitors.
This route is easily done in a day, including a break back in town or at the hotel for lunch/nap, and is the most popular route if you only have one day, as it takes in the main attractions.
The 26 km grand circuit continues through the north gate of Angkor Thom and heads east, passing Preah Khan and Neak Pean, before turning south at Ta Som and passing East Mebon and Pre Rup, before turning west by Sras Srang and then south at Banteay Kdei for Angkor Wat. This is the route to do if you want to spend time at more lesser-visited temples.
Keep in mind that while the tuk tuk drivers might prefer you do these routes, especially the petit circuit, as it keeps things simple for them and saves them money on fuel compared to if you were bouncing back and forth, and these routes are logical — if you’re riding a bicycle they will probably be the routes you follow — the circuits were created by the French a hundred years ago, well before mass tourism.
If you follow these circuits now you are going to be doing the same itinerary everybody else is doing and will have little chance of seeing any temples, let alone Angkor, without the crowds.
What Time Should You Start and End Your Days at the Temples
What time you start out in the morning depends upon how much time you have, how crazy you are about archaeology, how important it is to you to get great photos, whether you’re a ‘morning person’ or not, and how you handle the heat.
Dawn Starts and Dusk Finishes Are Always Best
We always recommend pre-dawn starts (we typically leave at 4.15am to arrive in the dark for sunrise), dusk finishes, and either a picnic and nap in the shade or a retreat to your hotel swimming pool or a cafe for lunch in the middle of the day.
Why? It’s coolest in the early morning and relatively cooler (compared to the middle of the day) in the late afternoon. The early mornings and late afternoons are best for photography, when the light is soft and golden and there’s less contrast and fewer ugly shadows.
Strangely enough, there are fewer people around in the early morning and late afternoon. People are on holidays. Most people don’t want to get up early as they do for work everyday, they want to sleep in. So most tourits are arriving at the temples when Terence and I are heading home. And by the time we like to head out again, people are already returning to Siem Reap because they’ve been out all day in the hottest part of the day, and they are shattered.
Having said that, in late 2015 the APSARA Authority, which manages Angkor Archaeological Park, announced reduced opening hours: Angkor Archaeological Park now opens from 7.30am to 5.30pm. See above for more details on times.
Is Sunrise at Angkor Wat a Must?
We believe sunrise at Angkor Wat is a must. It’s sublime, regardless of the crowds. For those who no longer appreciate a sunrise, then maybe it’s time to stop travelling?
However, there will be crowds. Even during the quietest period of the wettest month of low season, there will be people gathered in front of the reflecting pond waiting for the sun to rise behind Angkor Wat, it will just be a small crowd of a few hundred compared to a few thousand.
As long as you’re not standing near a bunch of chattering backpackers with selfie sticks and can focus on the scene itself, it’s a very special experience, which you can read about on the link above.
We like to set out from home in the darkness so that we’re at the temple for the astronomical twilight and we like to stay until the sun sneaks just above the temple, then we stroll down the northern side and enter through the ‘back door’ (East Gate).
After sunrise, most tourists, especially those in tour groups, are herded back to their buses and back to their hotels for breakfast and don’t return until around 9am, so that early morning period is by far the best time for exploring Angkor Wat, and any other temples.
In the wettest months of low season, the temples are practically empty at this time. If you stay on after sunrise to explore Angkor Wat, you’ll be leaving as the hoards arrive.
What Time Is Sunrise and Sunset?
We often get asked what the sunrise and sunset times are in Siem Reap, but — and, we’d hope most of our readers would know this — sunrise and sunset times vary throughout the year due to Earth’s orbit and the tilt of its axis. In late winter and spring, sunrise starts to occur earlier and earlier each morning, reaching its earliest around summer solstice.
Simultaneously, the days begin to get longer and sunset occurs later and later each day, with the latest occurring around summer solstice. After this, sunrise starts later each morning and is at its latest around winter solstice, while the sunset occurs earlier each day and is at its earliest just before winter solstice.
For accurate times for sunrise, sunset and the twilight phases of dawn and dusk throughout the year see timeanddate.com.
Alternative Spots for Sunrise and Sunset
Until the Angkor Archaeological Park hours were shortened in late 2015, you could watch sunrise and sunset wherever you wanted. Now, you’re restricted to a handful of spots. With these shorter hours in mind…
Sunrise is possible from the temple mountain of Bakheng, which is open from 5am to 7pm, which is where the vast majority of people go for sunset. It’s also possible to see both sunrise and sunset at the pyramid temple of Pre Rup (open from 5am to 7pm).
The royal reservoir or baray of Srah Srang is also a nice spot for sunrise and sunset, although the reduced hours (5am to 5.30pm) mean you’ll miss the sun sinking during summer. The lawns around the moat are a popular picnic spot with the locals, especially on weekends, so even if you miss the actual sunset it’s still a nice place to linger in the very late afternoon.
The late afternoon light and sunset is beautiful at Angkor Wat and it’s virtually empty as most people make their way up to the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng to watch the sun set over Angkor Wat. Keep in mind that the temple itself shuts at 5.30pm, so you’ll be watching the actual sunset from the edge of the moat. This is where Cambodians love to watch it too, generally on a picnic mat while sharing some food.
With its sweeping views, sunset is special up at Bakheng, however, it has become just as much a ritual as sunrise at Angkor Wat, attracting a crazy number of people and gets ridiculously crowd. You need to make your ascent by 4pm, preferably earlier. It’s a steep climb up, so take care. Some do it by elephant, which we don’t recommend. If you’re staying for sunset, watch your step on the way down.
Tip: for both sunrise and sunset, we recommend taking a torch or headlamp if you’re not good in the dark.
Eating and Drinking Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
If you’re going to the temples for sunrise ask your hotel if you can order breakfast boxes the evening before. (I’ve never known of a Siem Reap hotel not to do this.) At minimum, they usually consist of a piece of fruit, a pastry/bread, maybe a boiled egg. Boutique and luxury hotels naturally provide something fancier and maybe even a thermos of coffee.
The stalls dotted around the temples, especially near Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Prohm, are perfectly fine for a breakfast or lunch of Cambodian street food, including noodle soups, such as kuy teav and nom banh chok, pork and rice, barbecued chicken, and the like, along with Cambodian iced coffee and fresh coconuts. My idea of perfect temple meals!
Go to the stalls where you see the tuk tuk drivers eating as they are here everyday; even better, invite your tuk tuk driver for a meal and ask him to take you to his favourite street food spot. Expect to pay a little more, but not much more, than you would in town. We’ve never been ill from any of these.
I have been horrendously ill from the coffee cart in front of Angkor Wat, so ill that I couldn’t leave bed for three days (except to go to the bathroom) and had to cancel a trip to Laos. If you don’t have a thermos to take your own coffee (these can be purchased for very little from the markets and supermarkets) I recommend taking cans of iced coffee.
I also discourage you from eating at the tourist restaurants where the food is overpriced and very mediocre. Some guides take tourists to these because they get free meals and/or commissions.
If you’ve only just arrived in Cambodia and you’re stomach is still adjusting, or you’re only here for a few days and are worried about eating street food, you may want to take your own picnic lunch and snacks. You can buy bread and nibbles at Angkor Market on Sivutha Boulevard and fresh and dried fruit and nuts at Old Market (Psar Chas) in the colonial centre of Siem Reap. See our guide to Siem Reap markets and Price Check Siem Reap post for info on supermarkets.
There are shady spots to picnic by the moat overlooking Angkor Wat and Sras Srang. Just watch out for the cheeky monkeys at the southern end of the Angkor Wat moat where the locals like to go and drink beers and picnic in the afternoon.
We also recommend taking electrolytes as well as water. Good tuk tuk drivers will take water in a cooler for you. You can also buy cold water in the Park, but obviously it’s more expensive, however, you are supporting the locals by doing so. If you’re a backpacker on a tight budget, you may prefer to buy it in town.
If you’re heading back to town for lunch, which we highly recommend, see our Culinary Guide to Siem Reap, which covers markets, cafes, street food, Khmer desserts, and more, and our guides to Siem reap’s best Cambodian restaurants and best cafes.
If you’re looking for a post-temple watering hole where you can quench your thirst and discuss your day, see our guide to the best Siem Reap bars (soon to be updated).
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park Dress Code
For protection from the sun, wear loose, light-weight cotton or linen clothes, slap on plenty of sun block, take a hat and sunglasses.
Keep in mind that Angkor Wat and the other temples are also religious monuments, so dress as you would to visit a pagoda. Cover up and wear modest clothing, preferably a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a long skirt or light trousers.
In July 2016, the APSARA Authority announced a new dress code and regulations forbidding the showing of knees and shoulders and revealing other bits. This applies to men and women, local and foreign. That means no shorts, shoe-string straps, halter-neck tops, bikinis, and no going shirt-less. If you aren’t dressed appropriately will be turned away at the ticket office.
This is an elaboration of the Angkor Code of Conduct, launched in late 2015, which addressed clothing among other issues (see below). It states that “revealing clothes such as shorts and skirts above the knee and showing bare shoulders are prohibited in sacred places.” It also says that “exposing sex organs and nudity in public area is a crime punishable by law”.
This follows a bizarre phenomenon of tourists posing naked for photos at the temples, which they then share on social media. APSARA first threatened to take legal action after Facebook images were discovered on a Chinese site of female Asian tourists posing in nothing but harem pants and headscarves back in 2013. But earlier this year there was a spate of incidents resulting in arrests and deportations, including two American sisters who took photos of their bare buttocks at Preah Khan, three French tourists at Banteay Kdei, and an Italian, Argentine and Dutch guy who let their pants drop at Ta Prohm.
Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park Code of Conduct
The new Angkor Code of Conduct is detailed in pamphlets handed out on planes and distributed around Siem Reap (including hotels), and is outlined on posters and sign boards at the Angkor ticket office and in the park. It is intended to remind visitors that Angkor is still a living spiritual site with over 130,000 inhabitants who have resided there for generations, and that the temples are still an active religious place for Buddhists where people engage in daily worship, prayer and meditation.
It explains that one of APSARA’s goals is to “harmonise tourist experiences with public safety and respect towards our community” and then outlines the new Code. Aside from clothing, the Code covers:
- Monuments: visitors are prohibited from “touching carvings, sitting on fragile structures, leaning on temple structures, moving archaeological artifacts and graffiti”. Backpacks, umbrellas with sharp tips and tripods are discouraged from being taken into the temples.
- Sacred sites: tourists are informed that loud conversation, noise, and other inappropriate behaviour are offensive and are asked to “keep calm and be respectful”.
- Restricted Areas: visitors are asked to comply with all signs for their “own safety and the sustainability of Angkor” and not climb on loose stones.
- Smoking: Angkor has been a smoke free zone since 2012 and smoking is not allowed.
- Candy or Money to Children: tourists are asked to donate to a recognized charity rather than give candy or money to children, which encourages them to beg and not go to school.
- Monks: people should ask monks for permission to take photos first and women are reminded not to touch, stand nor sit close to monks.
How to Get the Most Out of Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
I frequently overhear conversations between travellers in Siem Reap, complaining about getting “templed-out” after just a day at the temples, and that they can’t face seeing “another pile of rocks”. If they’re looking at Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples merely as a pile of rocks then they’re not engaged with the experience, probably haven’t prepared well enough, and don’t know enough about what it is they’re actually seeing.
So how do you prepare for a visit so that you are more fully engaged with the experience? Some quick tips:
- Buy a good guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park, and this case I mean ‘guidebook.’ Do some background reading before you arrive and during your stay. We love Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques’ Ancient Angkor; Michael Coe’s Angkor and the Khmer Civilization; and David Chandler’s History of Cambodia. All of these are available online and at bookshops here, such as Monument Books in Siem Reap.
- Visit Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap for an overview and to see the relics, art and sculpture found at the temples.
- Hire a good temple guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park and/or do a tour on your first day with a reputable tour company, such as Beyond Unique Escapes (link above). We’ll be posting a guide to more of our favourite tour companies and temple tours soon.
- See our Archaeologist’s Guide to Angkor Archaeological Park, and part 2 of that interview with Dr Damian Evans, How to Get the Most Out of the Angkor Archaeological Sites.
Packing Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
This is by no means a detailed packing guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park, which we are working on, however, this is the important stuff you need to know. Protection from the heat, sun and mosquitoes should be your first priorities. After that, it’s about comfort.
If you’re spending more than a few days in Cambodia, are visiting during the hottest months (March, April, May) or during monsoon (May to September/October), or are venturing to very remote areas where there may be malaria or dengue fever, then it’s worth investing in some quality products ahead of your trip and coming prepared. While you can buy a lot of things at pharmacies, outlet shops and the markets in Siem Reap, much of the stuff is fake.
Here’s what you need to pack:
- Sun protection – strong sunscreen, quality sunglasses and a hat are essential. Cover up in super lightweight long-sleeved cotton shirts and pants. High-tech long-sleeved shirts and lightweight travel pants with UV protection are a brilliant idea.
- Mosquito protection – malaria and dengue fever, carried by mosquitoes, are an issue at remote villages and temples, where I strongly recommend you wear long-lasting insect repellant, mosquito repellant bracelets or anti-bug balm, and take towelettes. Long-sleeved shirts and long trousers with insect shield, bug-free hats and long-sleeved t-shirts are also brilliant.
- Rain protection – quality, hi-tech light-weight waterproof rain jackets are a must in monsoon. A well ventilated breathable jacket is far more comfortable than a $1 plastic poncho, believe me. A small, fold-up, quality travel umbrella is enough for light rain. (The cheap ones from the markets here break after one or two days.) A waterproof daypack is a must to protect your stuff. If you get caught in a heavy rain, you and everything your carrying will be absolutely drenched. A small micro-fibre travel hand-towel is also handy.
- Foot protection – if you’re going to be scrambling a lot of temples or doing some hiking, definitely invest in top quality waterproof walking shoes, hiking boots if you need the extra support, and cushioned socks. Flip flops and sandals just don’t cut it. Your feet will be aching after a few days.
- Protect your Angkor Pass and valuables – Bring a protective, waterproof plastic pouch to hold your Angkor Pass (if it’s damaged or lost you’ll have to buy a new one), money, and phone, etc.
- Bring zip-lock bags – these are also handy for keeping small things such as your money, phone, and camera dry and are also available locally from Angkor Market and Lucky supermarkets.
Shopping Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
Like many other areas here, I could certainly write a shopping guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park, but for now let’s just cover the essentials.
One of the worst things about the Angkor Wat sunrise experience, which we otherwise love, is being hassled by the vendors trying to sell scarves, postcards, fridge magnets, and the like. It’s our opinion that they should be prohibited from selling within the grounds of archaeological sites and that a market should be established near the car park.
The Code of Conduct also warns visitors against buying souvenirs from kids in Angkor Archaeological Park as earning an income discourages them from attending school. However, you can buy from adults and we encourage you to buy handicrafts you see for sale, which supports local residents. Definitely stop at the stalls selling handmade baskets in the village or Padak/Preah Dak on your way to Banteay Srei.
We don’t recommend shopping at the various Siem Reap night markets where the elephant pants and other tourist tat have come from highly suspect factories in certain neighbouring countries. Instead, we encourage you to be a responsible traveller and buy ethically produced Cambodian made souvenirs to take back home. Here’s where to shop for Angkor souvenirs:
- The Made in Cambodia market in the grounds of the Kings Road Angkor complex should be your first point of call. There you’ll find stalls ran by NGOs and local artisans and artists selling beautiful handmade and handcrafted gifts, fashion, jewellery, accessories, interior decor, design objects, art, crafts, and artisanal liqueurs, jams, honey, and so on. It’s held daily from noon-10pm.
- Kandal Village, which includes hip Hap Guan Street and the parallel streets, is the address of some of the most idiosyncratic and stylish boutiques and concept stores in Siem Reap, such as Trunkh, Louise Loubatieres, Sirivan, Saarti, Sramay, and Weaves of Cambodia. It’s also home to Siem Reap’s best coffee at Little Red Fox Espresso, authentic pasta at Mama Shop, and good cafes and bars, including The Hive and Blossom.
- Beautiful independently owned boutiques and shops offering original, Cambodian-made fashion, jewellery, accessories, arts, and crafts are scattered all over Siem Reap, hidden down laneways (Garden of Desire, Smateria, Graines de Cambodge), up stairs (Christine’s), in arcades (Eric Raisina, Wa Gallery, Jasmine), in hotels (Khmer Attitude, Galerie Cambodge), and down dusty tracks (Theam’s House). See our Local Guide to Shopping Siem Reap and Eric Raisina’s Guide to Siem Reap Style.
Responsible Travel Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
Aside from respecting the local culture and religion by dressing appropriately, as outlined in the new Code of Conduct, there are many other things you can do and choices you can make as a responsible traveller to Angkor, such as not to ride elephants. We could easily write a Responsible Travel Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park alone, and probably should, but in the meantime we encourage you to read our post on why travelling responsibly in Cambodia matters and our Guide to Responsible Travel in Cambodia.
If you have any suggestions for updates to our Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park or tips you’d love to share with our readers, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Also check our Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Frequently Asked Questions.
UPDATED: February 2017
Planning a trip to Cambodia? I craft bespoke itineraries and we host culinary tours and food and travel writing and photography retreats. More details on our Siem Reap Retreats and Tours site.