First Timer’s Guide to Angkor Wat

There’s no doubt that Angkor Wat is one for the travel bucket list! Sprawling across over 500 acres of lush jungle, ‘The Lost City’ attracts over two million visitors every year. It’s one of the world’s most popular tourist spots, but for good reason! It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen pictures of this iconic temple, nothing quite prepares you for when you experience it for yourself in person. The complex is huge, which makes it both incredible to explore but can also be overwhelming at the same time! So here’s a little guide to prepare you for everything you need to know before you go.

About Angkor Wat:

First thing’s first before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s a few basic things you should know about Angkor Wat before you visit:

Location | Siem Reap, Cambodia

Built | 12th century 

Religion | Hindu initially, then Buddhist

Size | 163 hectares 

Best time to visit | November – February

Recommended visit length in Siem Reap | 2-3 days 

  • Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world
  • Angkor Wat means “City of Temples” in Khmer.
  • The entire Angkor Wat complex is made up of 72 major temples, with the remains of several hundred minor temples also scattered throughout this landscape. 
  • The construction of Angkor Wat is thought to have taken 35 years with over 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants used to build it.
  • 5 million tons of sandstone were used to build it.
Inside Angkor Wat

When to go:

Ok now that we’ve covered the bases, let’s get into the details! In terms of when to go, Cambodia has a tropical warm climate year round, although monsoon season tends to be from May until October. Don’t fret though, monsoon season isn’t as bad as you may think! Usually you’ll only experience short, quick showers, rather than days of downpour. Throughout these months it tends to be an off-peak season for travellers to Cambodia. Although you can still expect many tourists, this is the best time to go if you don’t want to experience as many tourists at Angkor Wat.

You’ll find the majority of tourists are in Cambodia between November to February. December and January mark the cooler, drier months but are definitely the most popular so be sure to plan ahead and book in advance! Prepare to find the Angkor Wat temples swarming with visitors.  The hottest month is usually in April with a daily average of 33°C. Try to avoid going to the temples this time of the year, it makes for an incredibly hot experience when you’re spending hours in the heat wandering the temples. Definitely the last thing you want for your first time experiencing Angkor in all its glory! Regardless of what time of year you go, one thing is for sure, you’ll want to set your alarms early and be there for sunrise around 5am (sorry night owls).

Tourists watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat

Where to go:

Angkor Wat isn’t just made up of the one iconic temple you may know of and always see in pictures. It’s actually an entire ancient city made up of 72 major temples, with even hundreds more remains of minor temples also scattered throughout the landscape. Of course the main Angkor Wat temple is a given and completely unmissable! As the single largest religious monument in the world, you’ll want to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise to avoid the heat and crowds and allow yourself around 2 hours to explore the incredible temple. You can even climb up to the upper levels which rise to 55m above ground! 

After experiencing this striking temple, it’s worth visiting another few within the complex! Ta Prohm, also known as the Tomb Raider temple, is often regarded as the most beautiful out of the bunch. It’s been left unrestored and claimed by the jungle, making it look like a temple right out of the Jungle Book. It’s no wonder this temple was used for various scenes in the film Tomb Raider! 

Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple

Bayon is also worth adding to your list, as this incredible unique temple is made up of 54 towers and 216 Buddha faces which gaze over the jungle. 

Bayon Temple

Ta Som is a similar style and structure to Ta Prohm, but the feature that sets it apart is the huge tree that grows atop it! Although it’s unfortunately slowing deteriorating the temple, it makes for a great pic! 

Ta Som Temple

How to explore Angkor Wat:

If you’re not exploring Angkor Wat on one of our Cambodia tours, then the next best way to see the sites are either by tuk tuk or moto-taxi and paying the driver for the day. This will cost between $20-30 USD, which you can negotiate prices with the drivers on the side of the street in Siem Reap. You’ll find most of the drivers are very knowledgeable about the temples and you’ll have the added bonus of having a local guide who is likely to be glad to share their inside knowledge. Be sure to give them a little tip as well! 

If you’re feeling up to the exercise, you can also cycle and explore for yourself. Don’t even think about walking though! The distance between temples is will make for a long walk and that hot sun won’t make it any more enjoyable! 

Tuk tuk enroute to Angkor Wat

Cost:

Unless you are a Cambodian, you will need to purchase an Angkor Wat permit which gives you access to all the temples on the grounds. This will set you back $37 USD for a day pass or $62 for a 3 day pass.

Other tips to keep in mind:

Dress appropriately: It is a religious site that is still used to this day for worship, you’ll likely see Buddhist monks throughout the temples. Be sure to have your shoulders and knees covered, otherwise you’re likely to not even gain access into the grounds. Overall, just be mindful and respectful of where you are. 

Shoes: Wear comfortable walking shoes. You’re guaranteed to be doing lots of walking throughout the day, also through slippery surfaces and uneven surfaces so the last thing you’ll want is blisters ruining your day!

Bring lots of water!! The heat is no joke here and can be relentless! After spending hours walking and climbing the temples, you don’t want to find yourself getting dehydrated and taking away from the experience!

Don’t ride the elephants: Yes it may look great, but the reality is, it’s not! The elephants are treated poorly and no ride is ethical, just avoid it all together. 

Food and drink: Food and drink isn’t available within the temples, however there are many stalls located around the grounds. Just be prepared to pay 4 times the price than you usually would in Siem Reap town!

 

Well, there you have it! Now you’ll be ready to take on the incredible Angkor Wat in all it’s glory! Experience it for yourself on one of our Cambodia tours.

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