As I walked along the bridge to Angkor Wat I saw the flickering light of these flames.
By John Lechner
The Temples of Angkor near Siem Reap
The majority of tourists hit Siem Reap in Cambodia for 2-3 days to see the temples. The majority of tourists are Korean, by far, my guess would be 60-70%. When travelling to the temples the Koreans are easy to pick. They are either in large buses speeding past your tuk tuk, this is especially fun in the dark, or they are in private vehicles usually a large Lexus, again speeding past your tuk tuk. When you arrive at the temples these tour groups move as an organic mass. Avoid them where possible and try to keep ahead or around any pack.
The vast majority of the remaining tourists use tuk tuks or bicycles. There are plenty of tourists you will see every day on a push bike riding out to the temples. Bikes are cheap, $2 a day, the price is crazy. But IMHO you have to be crazy to ride a bicycle out to the temples, for two reasons. Firstly the aforementioned fast big buses and SUVs. Secondly, it is bloody hot. After spending time exploring a temple and being soaked with sweat, I relished chilling in the back of my tuk tuk, drinking a bottle of water and having a few minutes as my driver Lean, took me on to the next temple. For this luxury I shelled out $20-$25 a day. To me this is still a crazy cheap price but not crazy.
Angkor Wat Sunrise, no further explanation needed.
Is 2-3 days in Siem Reap enough? Honestly no. You need 4-5 days to really get an appreciation for the temples, to set your own pace and to avoid the large groups of tourists. Hire your own tuk tuk and take your time. As I mentioned in my last post I was out early most mornings before 6am, I had a break from around 11am until about 3:30pm then headed out again til 6-7pm. I rested in the hottest part of the day and used this as a chance to write in my travel diary, edit photos, maybe a nap and to have a cold shower. No reason why you can't do similar or even better a long lunch, cocktails by the pool or just a big nap.
Hitting the temples for a few days also requires a little planning. Which temples do you want to see at the ends of the day, sunrise or sunset? Which ones are better early when the crowds are lower and which ones can you visit in between? The temples are spread out over a massive area, even those that are part of the Angkor Park are spread out. Plus at certain times some temples become a traffic jam. For instance stay away from "The Hill" Phnom Bakheng near sunset and just after sunset, there are hundreds if not thousands that make the climb up the hill to witness sunset. Traffic at the bottom after sunset is worse than Sydney traffic during peak hour.
If you are planning to do the Angkor Wat sunrise as your first stop then definitely get your tickets the day before. The ticket booth doesn't open until 5am and if you want a decent spot at Angkor Wat you don't want to waste 1/2 hour at the ticket booth in the morning. Also, don't worry there is plenty of food and drink available early so you won't starve. In fact, at Angkor Wat, the restaurants will bring the food and drink to you (at inflated but still cheap prices), while you wait for the sun to rise.
One of the many shrines, this one in Bayon.
So my suggested day one itinerary is:
- Angkor Wat sunrise, yes worth the effort
- Bayon (grab a "Cambodian Sandwich after you leave Angkor Wat in the carpark, they are usually $1 and fantastic. Similar to a Vietnamese Pork Roll)
- Elephant Terrace
- Phimeanakas & The Royal Palace (definitely worth the effort to climb to the top)
Take your time and explore these temples, walk around them, through them and when you can, climb to the top. Some of these staircases are mind boggling and certainly wouldn't be considered safe in most of the developed world but you only live once, just take your time and be careful.
After a morning exploring these temples you will be hot, sweaty and ready for a break. There is free wifi in almost any restaurant or massage place in Siem Reap. I recommend an icy cold 'Cambodian Coffee'. It is a fantastic tonic, strong espresso, on sweetened condensed milk in a glassful of crushed ice. Sugar, caffeine and icy cold, what more can you ask for? Make sure you have a massage too. A half hour foot massage for $3 hits the spot after a lot of walking or even better I can thoroughly recommend a four hand Cambodian oil massage. The place I went to was close to my hotel but they are almost all good and legit. I paid $13 for a four hand massage for 1 hour!! Even with a $2 tip each for the masseuses that was still a fantastic treat for under $20.
For my afternoon shoot I actually just headed to the south gate of Angkor Thom to catch the sun setting over the moat and the jungle but I can also recommend heading to Bayon again to enjoy it in the late afternoon light.