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With over 1000 temples in the 400 square kilometre area that comprises Angkor Wat, trying to plan how to spend your time most effectively can feel overwhelming. In this Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat, I will attempt to provide everything you need to know when planning that once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit one of UNESCO’s most incredible heritage sites.
For quick reference, this ultimate guide has been broken down into pertinent need-to-know sections.
For help planning your trip, I encourage you to check out my guides for the best 1-day or 3-day itinerary. If you are interested in photography and have three days you may also benefit from reading our guide on The Best Way to Visit Angkor Wat; How to Beat the Crowds and Heat. If you need a break from all the temples, then check out our Top 5 things to do in Siem Reap besides temples!
A brief history of Angkor Wat and Cambodia
Angkor Wat is a dream destination for many. However, I feel anyone planning a trip to Angkor Wat will find a deeper connection to the people and the sites if they arrive with a basic understanding of when (and how) the temples were built, and the recent tragedies that still haunt many Cambodians today.
This will be just a brief overview with some of the more pertinent need-to-know information to allow you to truly appreciate what you will experience on your visit. This guide to ethical travel in Cambodia is also a great resource to help you travel this beautiful country responsibly.
History of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple and is considered the largest religious monument in the world, but, ironically, it was originally built as a Hindu temple!
The name Angkor Wat translates to “Temple City,” which makes sense as it was built in the 12th century when it served not only as a religious facility but as the political centre of the Khmer empire.
In 1992, Angkor Wat was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This critical distinction caused the annual number of visitors to sky-rocket from thousands to millions! It also ended a decades-long span of unregulated tourism and looting.
While it has not been a practising religious site since the 1800s, it has become the icon of Cambodia and the primary source of income for the country.
Other interesting facts about Angkor Wat
- In 1850, Cambodia added Angkor Wat to their national flag; they are one of only two countries in the world to feature a national monument on their flag (the other being Afghanistan).
- The Khmer had developed a unique style of architecture for their time using sandstone blocks. To build Angkor Wat, they had to carry 5 MILLION TONS of material from quarries 25 miles away!
- Rather than mortar, the Khmer used a vegetable compound to bond the sandstone blocks together.
- An honour usually reserved for the king, Angkor Wat is unique in that it was instead dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu.
- Contrary to popular belief, Angkor Wat is NOT officially recognised as one of the “7 Wonders of the World”; nor did it make 2007s “New 7 Wonders of the World” list.
- While the ticket prices continue to increase dramatically year by year, only 28% of sales go back to the temples. Most of the restoration money comes from foreign aid.
Want to know more? For a thorough, detailed history of Angkor Wat, check out Tourism of Cambodia (a great resource despite the insistence on its 7-Wonders status).
Recent history of Cambodia
If you learn only one thing about the recent history in Cambodia, you NEED to know about the 3-year genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79), from which Cambodia is still recovering. During this time at least 1.7 million people (21% of the country’s population), including infants, were killed in one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and killed in special centres, while others died from disease, starvation or exhaustion.
Even if you are not too interested in history as a generality, I would advise you to skim through the highlights covered in this section to understand why things are the way they are in present-day Cambodia.
Things to know before you visit Angkor Wat
If I’ve learnt anything from my travels, it’s the value in researching the place I am visiting BEFORE I go so that I do not lose time or money once I have arrived. The information below about travelling to Cambodia and Angkor Wat will save you a lot of both.
When to visit Angkor Wat
It is possible to visit Angkor Wat all year round, and there are pros and cons to different times.
High season is from November to March.
- Pros: Cooler, dry days.
- Cons: LOTS of people, particularly over the Christmas holidays in late December and the Lunar New Year in January or February.
Low season is from June to October
- Pros: Avoid the crowds.
- Cons: This is monsoon season so expect very hot, potentially wet weather, and more mosquitoes.
You may find that the shoulder seasons, late February to March and late November to early December, provide the best balance between weather and crowds if you have flexibility with your dates.
Many guides recommend avoiding visits in April and May as these are the hottest months of the year. However, you’ll have smaller crowds during these months (except at Khmer New Year in mid-April). We visited towards the end of April and think it’s a great time if you plan carefully; check out our guide to avoiding the crowds and midday heat.
To avoid the crowds at any time of year, I’d recommend getting a 3-day pass to give yourself more time and plan your 3-day itinerary carefully to be at temples during less popular times. This also allows you to explore the temples early in the mornings and later in the afternoons, avoiding the harsh midday heat.
Visa requirements for Cambodia
- All visitors require a 30-day tourist visa to enter Cambodia.
- Visas can be easily obtained at any of the borders for $30. Waiting times may vary.
- You will require a passport-sized photo.
It is possible to get an e-visa which will speed up your entry. These take 3 days to process and have an additional $6 processing fee. These are available through the Cambodian government website. It is worth noting that not all land borders support e-visas, so check their website first to ensure your entry point supports e-visas.
Citizens of ASEAN nations are eligible for a free 30-day Cambodia visa on arrival.
Border scams on arrival in Cambodia
There are numerous scams that occur at the land borders. I recommend that you check an official website prior to going as to the latest visa price and be aware that you are not legally obligated to pay anything beyond this. As of Jan 2021, that price is $30 USD.
We crossed into Cambodia from Thailand at Poi Pet and had only Thai baht on us. We faced being ripped off in two ways!
Safety in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Cambodia is a very safe place to travel for the most part. The most common type of crime in Cambodia is petty theft, including bag snatching. It is therefore important, like in any big city, to be aware of your surroundings and keep belongings close to you at all times. This is particularly important when riding in tuk-tuks as it’s not unheard of for bags to be snatched from tuk-tuks by passing motorbikes.
On that note, the most successful thieves are ones most people wouldn’t consider; the cheeky monkeys! They WILL grab your food bags, rip them from your hands, and snarl in the process. They WILL grab your sunglasses and shiny things They will even unzip your bag to get to them, if able. As cute as they are, be VERY on guard when photographing or interacting with the monkeys; they are strategic and clever, using tactics to separate you from your things that almost leave you wondering if you should be mad or impressed; the answer is mostly determined by the value of their loot.
One additional, very important note on safety in Cambodia regards the land mines that remain silently engaged from a darker time. If you are a fan of bush hikes and walkabouts in rural settings, this is absolutely NOT the place for it. While unlikely, the threat of land mines is a very real one in rural parts of Cambodia.
The last words of wisdom I always like to offer when addressing safety in your travels is the absolute necessity of having good travel insurance! Scooter accidents, heatstroke, a misstep in the temples… there are so many ways things can go wrong even when you have prepared carefully for your trip. My personal choice and the choice of 90% of the travellers we’ve met is World Nomads. The rates are reasonable and the coverage is excellent!
Angkor Wat Tickets
The shorter your visit, the more aware you will need to be of the opening times and ticket options for Angkor Wat. All foreigners are required to purchase an entrance ticket to Angkor Archaeological Park and your pass will allow you to visit all the temples within Angkor, except Beng Mealea and Phnom Kulen. An additional fee is charged for those two temples.
There are three types of tickets available (prices correct as of Jan 2021):
- 1-Day Pass: $37 (valid the day of purchase)
- 3-Day Pass: $62 (valid for 10 days from the issue date)
- 7-day pass: $72 (valid for one month from the issue date)
Tickets MUST be purchased at the ticket office (Angkor Enterprise, Street 60, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia), located about 5km from Angkor Wat. Tickets purchased from a third party are not valid!
Your ticket will have your photo printed on it, which will be taken at the time you purchase your ticket. You must have your shoulders and knees covered when buying your ticket, otherwise, they will not sell it to you!
The ticket office is open 7-days a week, from 5am – 5pm.
- Entry tickets for a one-day pass are issued up to 5pm.
- Entry tickets issued after 5pm are valid for the next day. In other words, you cannot buy a one-day ticket for the NEXT DAY until after 5pm.
Angkor Wat Opening Times
Visiting times for the temples are as follows:
- Angkor Wat Temple and Srassrang – from 5am to 5:30pm
- Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup Temple – from 5am to 7pm
- Other temples – 7:30am to 5:30pm
Be aware, the lines for purchasing your entry ticket for Angkor Wat can be VERY long, especially for the 1-day pass. Therefore, I strongly advise you to arrive the day BEFORE you intend to visit the temples.
Your pass will be punched for any day you visit the temples, but you are welcome (and encouraged!) to take a day or two in-between to avoid “temple fatigue” if you have the 3-day or 7-day pass. You will be required to show your ticket at every temple, so make sure to keep it somewhere safe and easily accessible.
All information was checked and updated as of Jan 2021. However, check Angkor Enterprise for the most up to date information regarding ticketing and opening hours.
Language in Cambodia
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, often referred to as Cambodian. Over 90% of the population speak Khmer, although the dialect may vary regionally. Due to an increase in tourism, English has become widely spoken in Siem Reap. It is still unlikely that someone in a small or rural village will speak English, however.
Plugs, power, & electricity in Cambodia
Cambodia uses both plugs with two flat pins (such as in the US) and two round pins (such as in Europe). I’ve also read that they use three-pronged plugs, such as those in the UK, but never personally saw any of these outlets. The standard voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50Hz. I’d highly recommend getting a Universal Travel Adapter prior to travelling to ensure you always have the right adapter.
It’s also worth noting that Siem Reap is prone to power outages. We found these rarely lasted more than 30 minutes and didn’t cause any inconvenience. If you’re going to require reliable power then it’s worth checking if your hotel has a backup generator.
ATMS & currency in Cambodia; USD or Riel?
Cambodia is one of the cheapest travel destinations in the world so you won’t need too much money! Interestingly, while Cambodia’s official currency is the Cambodian Riel, US dollars are more commonly used. In fact, many ATMs will not even provide Cambodian Riel!
If you have access to USD, just bring that and life will be easy. If you do not have access to USD, there will be opportunities to exchange at either the border or airport.
The exchange rate, as of Jan 2021 is roughly 4000 Cambodian Riel to 1 US Dollar. While most things are paid for in USD, you may receive your change in a mix of USD and Riel. For example, I bought a beer for $2.50 USD at a convenience store (Kingdom makes a killer Mango IPA!) and used a $5 bill. I received two $1 USD notes and a 2000 Riel note.
4000 Cambodian Riel = 1 US Dollar
It’s also worth knowing that you will NOT save money or be charged less by locals by using Riel at restaurants and such; the prices are fixed regardless of which currency you are spending.
ATMs are readily available in Siem Reap. Some will allow you to choose to withdraw in either Cambodian or US currency, while some will only provide USD. I recommend just withdrawing USD for the reasons mentioned above.
Angkor Wat Dress Code
There is a strict dress code for Angkor Wat and if you do not adhere to it, it is likely you will be refused entry. The dress code has been more strictly enforced in recent years after multiple incidents of nude photography.
It is important to remember that Angkor is a sacred, religious site, and one of which Cambodians are extremely proud of. Failing to dress appropriately is extremely disrespectful to the people.
The Angkor visitor code of conduct states “revealing clothing such as shorts and skirts above the knees and bare shoulders are prohibited in sacred places.” These rules apply to both men and women, although they are more likely to be enforced for women.
Unlike many other Asian temples, you do not have to remove your footwear in the Angkor temples, and photography is allowed.
You will want to wear light, breathable clothing as it will get very hot, no matter what time of year. You will also be doing a lot of walking, so make sure you have comfortable footwear. I loved being in a long, loose-fitting skirt and t-shirt; not only is it cooler and more comfortable, but also creates some great shapes for photography purposes. With this in mind, I’d also recommend choosing brightly-coloured clothes as they will contrast best against the grey and orange stone backgrounds. For more ideas for photographing Angkor Wat, check out our in-depth Guide to beating the crowds at Angkor Wat.
What to pack for Angkor Wat
- Your tickets!
- Camera (check out all our camera gear here)
- Snacks/Lunch (food and drinks are readily available at Angkor but are a lot more expensive)
- Insect repellent
- Cash (to buy lunch/snacks/souvenirs/anything you’ve forgotten!)
Responsible tourism in Angkor Wat
Responsible tourism is one of the elements of travel I care most deeply about. A discussion of ethics always leaves room for debate, but the following sections provide some tips for ensuring you leave Angkor Wat as a respectful ambassador of your country, not as an “ugly tourist.”
Negotiating prices, or haggling, can be a tricky thing in places as impoverished as Cambodia. It is important to note that outside of clothing and souvenir stalls, Cambodia does not have a haggle culture as strong as many other countries. There are many instances where you can play hardball and appeal to a vendor’s desperation, but at the end of the day, you save a dollar and leave a scar. Some things, however, are EXPECTED to be negotiated. This section will help educate you on when to barter and when to accept a price.
Animals at Angkor Wat
Do not feed the monkeys at Angkor Wat!
You will come across monkeys around the temple grounds and in some of the temples, the most we saw being at Bayon. They are very cute, but can also be extremely mischievous. They will steal your food given the chance, and they have become increasingly aggressive due to being fed by tourists.
Please never intentionally feed monkeys (or any other wildlife)! You may think you are being kind, but this causes a lot more harm than good, from spreading disease to aiding poaching. For more information click here.
Do not ride elephants!
Elephant riding is at the top of the World Animal Protection’s list of cruellest animal attractions, and understandably so. There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides! Any elephant being ridden has been brutally beaten to make it docile enough to allow riders. Additionally, these elephants are over-worked in harsh conditions, with very little veterinary care. Paying to ride these animals or having pictures taken with them is ensuring this business continues. What is a “once in a lifetime” for you, means a lifetime of misery for an elephant.
I do whole-heartedly recommend having an interaction with these amazing animals, however, by supporting an ethical animal sanctuary such as Elephant Valley Project. This way, you can still have that once in a lifetime experience, while ensuring these animals are given a better life and encouraging further ethical animal tourism.
Children and orphanages
Please do NOT give children money or candy! You will come across many children selling small souvenirs or begging for money. They are very charming, and many have been trained to give you a remarkable list of facts about your country after guessing where you’re from. They will then usually ask you to buy something from them or give them money to help them buy supplies for school… the irony of this is that giving them money actually perpetuates begging as a more lucrative option for them than getting an education. This keeps them stuck in a cycle of poverty.
I recommend reading Child Safe Movement’s tips for travelers to help find better ways to support children.
If you intend on visiting an orphanage during your time in Cambodia, I would also urge you to read the information in the articles below. Though our intentions are of course for the best, short-term visits and volunteering can cause more harm than good. These quick visits and short-term volunteers perpetuate abandonment issues in children. Worse yet, some have established “for-profit” orphanages that intentionally create visually appalling conditions to play at your emotional response for financial support, going so far as to make commercial agreements with parents to “borrow” their children as props.
For these reasons and many others not mentioned, I urge you to only visit an orphanage if you are fully informed of its practices, and only after you have read some of the literature for smarter voluntourism. This post is a great place to start!
Temple etiquette for Angkor Wat
The Angkor complex is a religious and sacred site, and you will find the Visitor Code of Conduct displayed at each temple.
You will likely see monks at some of the temples; they are revered in Cambodian culture. You should ask them prior to taking their photos, or in our case, they asked us to take photos with them! What a pleasantly surprising change of roles! Monks are not allowed to touch women, so take care when walking or standing near them and do not put your arms around them, even for photos.
Cambodians have a more conservative culture and public displays of affection are often considered offensive. While holding hands or linking arms between friends is common, it is not acceptable if it involves members of the opposite sex, regardless of marital status.
Angkor is also an entirely smoke-free site, this is not only for the protection of people’s health, but also to prevent bush fires.
Getting to Angkor Wat
Regardless of how you are arriving in Cambodia, you will require a visa. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you’ve read this section on visa requirements for Cambodia.
The best way to get to Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, will depend on where you are visiting from. Unless you are in a neighbouring country, you will be arriving at Siem Reap Airport (REP). Many hotels offer a shuttle and nearly all will arrange for transport for you if requested. However, as always, there will be plenty of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers ready to take you to your hotel. Taxis offer a fixed rate of $10 from the airport to town. Tuk tuks are usually $9, although you can get this down to $4-6 by walking to the exit of the airport to catch a driver going back into town.
If you like your driver and already know your itinerary, you may as well throw your temple plans in the discussion and settle on a set price for your entire visit! While we didn’t save any money by doing this, it did allow us to form a bond with our driver throughout our stay and feel a bit more invested in his well-being, as well as the country in general.
If you are visiting from Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, the cheapest way in will likely be via bus. We booked our ticket from Bangkok with Koh Life as we know we can get a human being on the phone in an instant to help if there are issues. The ride is air-conditioned and easy enough, but it’s worth being prepared for your border crossing! Many companies also include transfer from the bus stop to your hotel.
Where to stay near Angkor Wat
Siem Reap provides your gateway to Angkor Wat and is where you will stay to access the temples. It is located only 5km from Angkor Wat and has a variety of accommodations available; from party hostels to upscale and everything in between,
If there for an overnight trip, accommodation is less important, if you’re there for longer to take advantage of 3-day pass, then your accommodation choice will have a much greater impact on your experience.
- Budget: Hostels start from around $2 for a bed in a dorm to $5 for a private room, with a fan and cold shower.
- Mid-range: Guesthouses will start from around $20 for a double room with private bathroom and air-conditioning.
- High-end: Luxury hotels will range from $50 upwards, most of which will include breakfast and feature a pool area
The biggest advantage to staying at higher-end hotels is having a comfortable, air-conditioned room to come back to for lunch, and/or to relax after a long, hot day of exploring the temples.
We stayed at Templation and Shinta Mani (both at their Angkor and Shack properties). We would highly recommend any of these hotels and each has its own highlights.
I would encourage you to travel responsibly and support an accommodation choice that is doing something to better the quality of life for Cambodians. This could be staying at a homestay where the money goes directly to the local people or choosing a hotel that supports the community or environment. Whether you are on a shoestring backpacker or luxury vacation budget, there are many options with worthy causes for accommodation. Even some of the hostels are becoming more socially responsible, such as Mad Monkey, who have funds set up to support clean water, education, and the arts.
For up-to-date hotel prices and availability click here.
Getting around Angkor Wat
For those who prefer pre-arranged group tours then I’d recommend checking out Get Your Guide, for those who prefer self-guided tours then read on…
You will NOT be able to explore the many temples of Angkor Wat solely by foot. Scooters are available for rent, but the roads can be quite hectic. Below are the safest and most popular options for getting around.
Angkor Wat by tuk-tuk
For most of us, the best way to get around Angkor Wat is going to be a tuk-tuk; not only is this generally the cheapest option, but your money goes directly into the pockets of the locals. Rates are very reasonable, and the drivers tend to be very knowledgeable. Most will speak English, providing a great way to ask some questions and learn a bit about the country and temples without an official guide.
As for finding a driver, that’s the easiest part! Literally, walk ANYWHERE and “shop” around for the person who seems friendliest. Rates tend to be consistent with any driver and can usually be negotiated further, though I strongly urge you not to take on the challenge of playing hardball. You may win and save a buck, but you’ll have tarnished the relationship.
General rates are as follows:
Half-Day / Small Loop: $15
Full-Day / Big Loop: $18
Trips around Siem Reap: <$5 per trip.
Hotel to Angkor Ticket Office: $5
For visiting the temples, you will generally hire one driver who waits for you while you explore. Don’t be afraid to look to them for insight as they know these places very well!
If you have not already, please read the section on SAFETY in Cambodia and Angkor Wat, especially if you have decided to travel by tuk-tuk.
Angkor Wat by car
Of course, there are also options for procuring a driver for the day who will take you by car, which does offer a few advantages. First, being able to spend 10-15 minutes between temples with air-conditioning may provide the respite periods you need to extend your day a bit. Second, you will not have to worry about bag snatching while you commute (though that is easily avoidable with any amount of caution). You will also shave a couple of minutes off each commute, which could add up if you are on a one-day itinerary.
You should expect to pay about $25-$30 for the day as the lowest starting point, with increases for greater distances, sunrise, and other considerations.
Angkor Wat with a guide
In front of the entrance to Angkor Wat, you can find your own personal tour guide who will join you in exploring the temples for the day. All speak very good English, and some even speak French. If you aren’t approached by one, you can find them wearing yellow shirts near the entrance.
I have heard some locals will put on a friendly face and pretend to be a tour guide; if you do not arrange your guide through a verified source before-hand, just make sure that they are wearing a yellow shirt and are at the entrance where they congregate.
Due to our focus on photography, we opted not to have a guide with us as we are more interested in compositions and details than history. However, I would recommend you hire a guide for the day if you have any interest in the history of Angkor Wat or Cambodia in general, or even if you just want to connect with a local during your time. Their rates are very reasonable, generally starting around $30 for the day. You may be able to hardball someone at $25, but this is probably not the best way to begin a relationship with someone you’ll spend the day with!
What to do in Angkor Wat
Of course, which temples you visit and when you see them depends massively on what element of the temples you enjoy. For me, I am much more connected to them as a subject for photography, while others may connect to them historically or spiritually.
Maximise your time by planning your trip ahead of time using our guides below for insight.
How to beat the crowds (and heat) at Angkor Wat; the BEST way to visit Angkor Wat
There is nothing wrong with planning your visit with photography or Instagram in mind! Let’s face it, you’re going to want to capture this once in a lifetime visit! This is nothing new, the only thing that’s different with this generation is that rather than putting together photo albums, we upload our precious memories to Instagram.
Whether you are looking to actually put your photos up on the Gram or just want some inspiration for amazing vacation photos to share when you go home, check out our photography guide on how to beat the crowds (and heat) at Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat 1-Day itinerary
Only have one day to visit Angkor Wat? Don’t worry, it’s possible to see a lot in a day. The first time I went to Angkor, I only had a 1-day pass. You will, however, need to prepare in advance to make the most of a short amount of time in a very impressive place.
I have put together what I consider to be the perfect 1-day itinerary for visiting Angkor Wat in this guide. While it will be a long and tiring day, the pace is reasonable and ensures that you will see at least the highlights, with a bonus tip on squeezing in some extra time at Angkor Wat and getting some photos with no one in them!
Angkor Wat 3-Day itinerary
While we spent a week in Siem Reap, we actually elected to get the 3-day pass for Angkor Wat. The reason is simple; with very high temperatures and ridiculous mid-day crowds, it is easy to get “temple fatigue” if you attempt to explore them with too much pace.
This itinerary is perfect for anyone who wants to see the most beautiful and popular temples, but also have some time to enjoy Siem Reap and/or their accommodation. Want to beat the crowds and the heat? Check out my 3-day itinerary and learn how we were able to get all of our photos with no one else in them without breaking a sweat (or using photoshop)!