My first visit to Siem Reap was in June 2018. Whilst we did have a bad experience with a floating village trip (read more here) the temples were absolutely breathtaking. I will never forget how I felt when I walked into that first temple, and it just got better and better! Siem Reap makes an excellent weekend trip for those living in South East Asia, and I picked up a few tips during my visit which should help your planning go more smoothly. Here are my top ten tips to get the most out of a short stay visiting these ancient wonders.
Read up on the history first
Before you go to Angkor Wat, reading up on the history of the complex and the main temples is essential to ensure you fully enjoy your visit. There are some information plaques, but not many, and you can also get a tour guide if you wish. I don't think this is essential unless you are really into your history. Reading some background info online before visiting will give you a good base and enhance your experience.
Hire a tuk tuk driver
This has to be my number one tip. There are tuk tuk drivers everywhere, ours was linked to our hotel so we found him outside. Hiring them for the day is the best, inexpensive way of squeezing as many temples in as possible. We paid US$30 for a full day rate and hired the same driver for two days. Make sure you are clear where you will meet your driver after you've explored each temple as sometimes the exit is far from the entrance. I've read blogs which suggest hiring a car for the air-con but the tuk tuks are open so you get a wonderful breeze as you drive between temples and it's an experience in itself.
Don't try to fit too much in
We managed to see the main temples in two days but bear in mind that it is very hot and you might need longer or may need to cut some temples out of your route. The hotel or tuk tuk driver can recommend a good route for your day but factor in some rest time. The temples generally have stands outside selling water and soft drinks, take your time to refresh after visiting each one to ensure you truly enjoy the experience.
Don't just visit the main temples
Whilst many come to this part of the world to see Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, you would be missing out if you didn't visit the many other amazing temples in the Angkor complex. My favourites had to be these two.
Banteay Srei (nicknamed 'the pink temple'):
Phnom Bakheng (constructed two centuries before Angkor Wat!):
Whilst Banteay Srei is a little further out, we asked our tuk tuk driver to make this the first stop as we knew if we were tired later we wouldn't make the effort to visit. I'd highly recommend you do the same as this was so worth seeing and a little different from the other temples due to its unique colouring.
Watch out for local scams
You will see signs everywhere telling you not to give money to local children. It's heartbreaking when you have children as young as 3 or 4 trying to sell you small items but if you buy them this will encourage parents to keep using them to earn money. Also be wary of giving children food who beg at Angkor Wat: we gave some kids our breakfast and they basically threw it in the water for the birds. I noticed they seem to carry carrier bags stuffed with food that people give them and it must make its way back to their parents. This is another situation where I am not sure giving them our food was the right thing to do for their well-being.
You need to be covered up for the temples so long trousers or a skirt is a must as well as covering your shoulders. If you don't have the right clothes with you some of the temples have stalls where you can buy typical tourist elephant T-shirts and baggy pants so you will be ok. It's extremely hot so make sure the clothes you bring are as light as possible. I had a simple pair of thin black trousers and a white T-shirt, whilst it wasn't my most glamorous look I was really comfortable. A hat is also good to bring with you to protect your head from the sun as there isn't much shelter.
I didn't realise how muddy some of the ground would be and there was often a tricky climb to get up to see some parts of the temples, so trainers which are easy to walk about in are a must to protect your feet.
Research Angkor sunrise before deciding
We got up at 4.00am to see the sunrise, leaving at the time advised by our tuk tuk driver which was spot on. However, the sunrise we were greeted with was not as spectacular as photos we had seen on Instagram, and we found out from locals that there is only one day a year where there is a really full perfect sunrise behind the temple. If this is important to you, consider planning the timing of your trip around it, or if you aren't sure about getting up for sunrise then check how clear it will be before you make the commitment. We still thought it was amazing (see below) but this is worth noting to manage your expectations!
Try and visit early
To experience more pleasant temperatures and less crowds, starting your day early is a must. Whilst our Angkor Wat sunrise was not quite what we expected, visiting so early meant that we could explore the temple in the lovely mild morning temperatures and there were far less crowds.
Take photos of everything
There is so much to see here you start to experience a little 'temple blindness' after a while. This is why I love to look back on the photos now to remember every little detail of this magical experience, something which I know will stay with me forever.
Do you have any other tips for visiting the Angkor temples? Please let me know in the comments!