In this article I have summarized all the best practice tips about Angkor that I have collected over the years. The tips are intended to help you make your visit to the Angkor Temples a wonderful and unforgettable experience. For a better overview the article is divided into three main areas: preparation, temple tours and photography.
1. Preparation for your visit to the Angkor Temple
Cambodia is not really a cold country. The heat can be quite exhausting and sometimes even stressful. The better prepared you are, the more relaxed you can visit the temples.
Which clothes should I wear when visiting the Angkor temples?
Very simple: shoulders and knees must be covered. This applies equally to women and men. It may be that on the extensive terrain some people don’t pay so much attention to it. But I wouldn’t rely on that – the disappointment is immense if you are not allowed to enter a temple because of unsuitable clothing. With a normal T-shirt and calf-length trousers you are definitely on the safe side.
Are there certain rules of conduct in Angkor Archaeological Park?
Yes, because with the increasing popularity of being photographed naked in Angkor Park, Cambodia was obliged to develop a code of conduct. The so-called Code of Conduct regulates not only clothing, but also other points such as touching the reliefs on the temple walls, smoking, money for begging children and more. The code of conduct can be found in many places – especially in hotels and guesthouses. You can also find information about the code of conduct in Angkor Park here in the blog article: What is the code of conduct for Angkor.
You will need sheer amounts of water. It’s best to take a large bottle with you or even better: get yourself a reusable water bottle. The environmental project “Refill not Landfill” has set itself the goal of drastically reducing the consumption of plastic bottles. You can find out where you can get the bottles and where you can also fill them for free(!) in Angkor Park on the website of “Refill not Landfill”.
Breakfast – because with a growling stomach it will be nothing!
A very important point, which is often often forgotten. Because when you get up at four in the morning, you will hardly find the peace and quiet for a proper breakfast. Ask your hotel what it looks like with breakfast packages. As a rule, hotels offer free breakfast packages for Angkor tours.
Tip: Let us show you the breakfast packages in advance. Especially in very cheap (backpacker) hotels it can happen that you just get a dry slice of toast bread and an apple. The whole thing is then packed in tons of disposable plastic. For an extra charge you will surely get a better breakfast. Alternatively, you can go to a baker in the city centre the evening before (there is a very good one directly at the roundabout) and cover yourself with everything you need. Although the baked goods are not quite as fresh the next day, they are still edible and better than a dry slice of toast.
To avoid plastic, you can use your own storage boxes, which you have brought from home.
Meals in the Angkor Park
In Angkor Park there are small streetfood stalls and restaurants in many places. While the streetfood stalls are more frequented by the locals, there are restaurants especially for tourists. For example the new area near the Ta Prohm temple with several restaurants and souvenir shops. Many people who travel by bus also stop here. The suitable parking place directly borders the area.
By the way, don’t be surprised about the prices – especially in the tourist restaurants they are sometimes much higher than in some restaurants in Siem Reap. And: toilets are also available at different places in Angkor Park. Here you have to show your Angkor-Pass, otherwise you pay 1$ for the use.
How do I find an Angkor tour guide?
You can book a tour guide in all hotels directly. Just ask at the reception for the conditions.
Tip: Make sure you have a tour guide before you visit Cambodia. In the high season it can happen that the tour guides are fully booked and you won’t get one at short notice.
Many tour guides meanwhile have their own websites. For example, enter “Angkor Tourguide” or “Angkor Guide” into the Google search and browse the results.
On Tripadvisor you can view the ratings of many Angkor tour guides.
Do I need a tour guide at all?
That depends entirely on your personal preferences. Of course you can conquer the Angkor temples without a guide, but then you are completely on your own. Tuk Tuk drivers will take you from temple to temple but they usually can’t tell you much about the Angkor temples. If you don’t want to know so much about the history of Angkor anyway, but rather just want to look and take pictures, a visit to the Angkor temples is worth it even without a tour guide. Maybe you have already read a lot about the Angkor temples on the net or in books – this will certainly help you with your explorations.
And how do I find a good Tuk Tuk driver for my Angkor Tour?
This is no problem at all – especially in the tourist center of Siem Reap you will be asked at almost every corner by Tuk Tuk drivers whether and when you want to visit the Angkor temples. Angkor tours are popular with the Tuk Tuk drivers because they make good money for them with about 25 $. You can also find many offers here on the net. Here are a few suggestions from me:
Cambodia Golden Tours – behind this is Seam Vutha, where Seam is his last name. I write “hide” because there is no photo of him on the website. But I can assure you that he is great! On the photo above you can see him with me in the “luggage” on his motorbike – he had “unbuckled” his tuk tuk at this time. With him I have already turned around quite a lot. To the website of Cambodia Golden Tours.
Sophal Ouk – he doesn’t have his own website, but I’m really happy that he already got bookings directly through my blog here. Here his business card with all data to book him directly.
visit-angkor.com – My “domain namesake” runs a Tuk Tuk service to the Angkor temples. I don’t know him personally, but I think this namesake is funny :-) To the website of visit-angkor.com.
When is the best time to buy an Angkor ticket and how much does the entrance fee cost?
Basically, you can get your Angkor ticket the same morning before going to Angkor Park. However, waiting times at the ticket counter can be quite long. Especially in the morning hours, when everyone wants to go to Angkor Wat quickly to photograph the sunrise. Unless you want to buy a 7 day pass. It’s always the least crowded place because only a handful of tourists buy this pass.
It is most practical if you buy the ticket the evening before from 5 pm. This has two benefits. On one hand you can see Angkor Park and the sunset on the same evening. On the other hand you have a little more time in the next morning and you can go directly to the temples.
Tip: Visit the Angkor Panorama Museum after buying your Angkor ticket the night before. The museum is located directly next to the Angkor Pass sales point.
Note that you also have to pay the Tuk Tuk driver for the trip to the ticket counter the night before. For me, however, the advantages of buying the ticket the night before outweigh the advantages.
You can choose between three different ticket prices. The following is a brief overview.
Important: You can pay the Angkor ticket in $ with cash or credit card. Further important information about the Angkor ticket, validity period, opening hours of the temples and tips can be found here in the blog in the article Angkor Pass: New prices from 1.2.2017 – full details.
What is the best way to get to the Angkor temples and how long does it take to get there?
By bike – If you are fit, you can conquer the temples by bike. But don’t underestimate the hot and humid climate! Some hotels offer free bicycles. Be sure to check beforehand whether you can cope with the bike. If not, then rent a bicycle. For $5 a day you get a really good mountain bike with helmet and safety lock.
With a Tuk Tuk – For me the most pleasant way to explore the Angkor temples. After each visit of a temple I look forward to the cooling wind in my face.
By car or bus – (Small) groups also like to drive through Angkor Park in such air-conditioned vehicles.
E-Bike – In Siem Reap there are several providers of e-bikes that you can rent for one or more days. Tip: Make sure the batteries are full when you go to the Angkor temples!
Moped – Caution: Even with an international driving license it can happen to you that you are not allowed to continue after a check. However, as a co-driver you can explore the Angkor temples very comfortably. Pay attention to your safety and wear a helmet!
Tip: Ask the Tuk Tuk driver to drive along the Siem Reap River on the right hand side on the way to Angkor Park. The route is so much nicer than through the city along the main road.
The drive from the centre of Siem Reap to the car park in front of Angkor Wat takes about 30 minutes by Tuk Tuk.
When should I be in front of the main temple Angkor Wat to photograph the sunrise?
If you – like many other tourists – would like to photograph Angkor Wat at the water lily pond, you should be there at five o’clock at the latest(!). At this time you share a small piece of the earth with hundreds of other tourists who also want to take their most beautiful Angkor photo with the famous water lily panorama.
So you are not alone on the spot!
From the parking lot to the water lily pond it is about 800 meters, which you have to cover. You also have to take this time into account. It is best to get up at half past three and order your driver for 4.15 or better still 4.00. Then you still have some time – something can always happen. For example, in one year our Tuk Tuk driver simply overslept. We didn’t get too nervous about it – something like that is human and happens to everyone. But due to the buffer we still had enough time and arrived at Angkor Park in time.
Tip: Exchange the phone number with your driver. This is especially helpful when you come back from the main temple Angkor Wat. The parking lot is littered with Tuk Tuks and you are unlikely to find your Tuk Tuk driver. And it’s anything but funny when you have to look for the proverbial pin in a haystack. Well, I admit, it’s not that bad after all. So far it was always(!) the other way round and my Tuk Tuk driver spotted me from afar and waved at me or even approached me. Every time I am amazed. But nevertheless I don’t rely on it and always have the phone number of my Tuk Tuk driver ready.
2. Temple tours in the Angkor Park
In this section you will learn interesting facts about the location of the individual temples and which ones you should visit when. These are recommendations from my own experiences and experiences during my visits to the Angkor temples.
What is the Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit and how do they differ?
The Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit are circular routes that lead through the Angkor Archaeological Park. The small circuit starts at the main temple Angkor Wat and the large circuit follows the small one. On both circular paths the regular direction is clockwise. Here is a map that we developed further in 2012 based on the data from OpenStreetMap. You can also download the map as a PDF file.
The temples along the Small-Circuit
Angkor Wat – the main temple and landmark of Cambodia.
Phnom Bakheng – a small temple hill in front of the south gate of Angkor Thom. There many tourists watch the sunset.
South gate of Angkor Thom – the monumental entrance to the capital Angkor Thom.
Baphuon – high temple in the entrance area of Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom – the royal capital with its temples. Up to and including Preah Pithu all following temples are located within the city walls of Angkor Thom.
Prasat Suor Prat – the towers of the rope dancers, altogether there are 12 towers.
Preah Pithu – with this temple closes the round inside Angkor Thom.
Chau Say Tevoda – small Angkor temple behind the east exit of Angkor Thom.
Thommanon – former Hindu temple as a holy place to pray.
Ta Nei – lies a little off the beaten track in the jungle. But it is worth to visit it!
Ta Keo – one of the largest temples in Angkor Park
Ta Prohm – known for its brickwork strewn with trees and not least for the cinema film Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie.
Banteay Kdei – the citadel of the monks, a small Buddhist temple.
Prasat Kravan – east of Angkor Wat and with unique reliefs.
However, you will hardly be able to visit all these temples in one day. For Angkor Wat alone it’s worth it if you calculate at least 2-3 hours. Further down in the text you will find out which Angkor temples are the most popular – but unfortunately also the most visited.
The temples along the Grand-Circuit
The big circular route (Grand Circuit) in Angkor Park starts like the small circular route. From the Bayon Temple the route leads instead to the east to the Chaus Say Tevoda further north to more distant Angkor Temples. There are comparatively few temples on the curve of the Grand Circuit itself. Please note: Due to the greater distance you have to pay more for the Tuk Tuk, bus or car.
Preah Khan – probably the temporary capital of King Jayavarman VII until the completion of the city of Angkor Thom.
Neak Pean – winding snakes and eight pools in the shape of a lotus blossom surround the temple.
Ta Som – comparatively little is known about this Angkor temple.
East Mebon – particularly impressive are the large and freestanding elephant figures.
Pre Rup – one of the first temples in Angkor wealth.
Srah Srang – this is not a temple, but a small lake surrounded by walls. It is particularly beautiful here in the early morning and in the evening.
Behind the Srah Srang Lake the big circular path joins the small circular path and you pass the Prasat Kravan again.
Which temples are the most important?
The supposedly most important temples are also the most popular and therefore most visited temples. As there were: Angkor Wat, South Gate Angkor Thom, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and Ta Prohm. These temples you can all comfortably visit in one day. You can find out how to avoid the tourist streams in the answer to the next question.
In which order should I visit the temples?
This is not easy to answer and depends mainly on your wishes. Since most tourists visit the Angkor temples clockwise around the small circular path, the way in the opposite direction is worth to escape the tourist masses. Early in the morning it is still quiet at Ta Prohm and in the afternoon again calmer at Angkor Wat. But then you miss the opportunity to photograph the sunrise at the water lily pond in front of Angkor Wat. Only one thing helps here: Set your priorities. Especially if you only have one day for the sightseeing. What is more important for you? A photo taken at a hotspot that has already been photographed millions of times and at the same time crowds of tourists around you or no photo and fewer people. The decision is yours!
It is easier if you visit the Angkor temples on two days. Then you can divide the temples you want to visit between the two days. But keep in mind that for two Angkor days you need a 3 day pass in the best case. Nevertheless, I have put together a tour tip for two Angkor days for you.
Tour tip for one Angkor day
Angkor Wat – Sunrise at the water lily pond. Even if it is overcrowded there: The photo is a must and you will surely regret not having been there.
Then you have several options. For example:
You stay in the tourist stream and visit the most famous temples clockwise along the Small Circuit. That is South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrasse of the Leper King, Ta Prohm, (depending on the schedule you can also make a detour to Ta Nei), Banteay Kdei and Prasat Kravan. Whereby not all temples are completely overcrowded. Mainly at Ta Prohm Temple you will meet many people and have very little time for the photo with the strangler figs on the wall. Or:
After sunrise you drive directly to Ta Prohm to catch the morning mood. From there you continue in the opposite direction around the Small Circuit with the most famous temples.
Main Tower Angkor Wat – Admittedly, you have to walk along the path to Angkor Wat a second time, but now the waiting times are not so long to climb up to the main tower. It’s definitely worth it and you shouldn’t miss the wonderful view!
Then the sunset. Most tourists want to go to Phnom Bakheng, but in the afternoon it is completely overcrowded. In order to be sure to get a place, you should leave at 3 o’clock at the latest (I say without guarantee). My alternative recommendations are:
Srah Srang Lake – it’s quiet and tranquil there. The water reflects an enchanting atmosphere and you can end the day relaxed.
Phnom Krom – a small hill in the south of Siem Reap. The road there leads you over a wide landscape and is beautiful to drive. Also here you will meet only a handful of people.
Due to the price structure for the Angkor ticket, I assume that there are only comparatively few tourists who visit Angkor Park for two days.
Day one – for the first day the stations of the tour tip are recommended for an Angkor day.
Day two – here, for example, you can choose between the two options from my following tour tip for three Angkor days.
Tour tip for three Angkor days
Day one – the classic tour with the most famous temples
Angkor Wat – Sunrise at the water lily pond.
Small Circuit – counterclockwise: Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, (depending on the schedule you can also make a detour to Ta Nei), Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Bayon and the South Gate of Angkor Thom. You can also start directly at Ta Prohm Temple to catch the morning mood.
Angkor Wat – This time with access to the central tower of the temple.
Tip: Tell your driver to pick you up at the east gate of Angkor Wat after sunrise. From there you can continue directly along the circular route.
Day two – begins and ends on a hill and leads to the more distant temples
Phnom Bakheng – beautiful view at sunrise.
Banteay Srei – on the way back you can make a stop at the butterfly farm, which is on the way.
Banteay Samre – this temple is also located outside the circular paths in Angkor Archaeological Park.
Preah Dak Village – a tranquil village that lines the road to Angkor Park. There we met a small hairdresser who cut our hair for 1$.
Roluos group – here the Angkor time began. Some tourguides recommend to start the Angkor tour with the Roluos group.
Phnom Krom – a small mountain with a temple in the south of Siem Reap with a beautiful sunset.
Day three – starts at a lake and ends again at Angkor Wat
Srah Srang Lake – Sunrise in the midst of idyllic tranquility.
Grand Circuit – counterclockwise: Pre Rup, Eastern Mebon, Ta Som, Krol Ko, Neak Pean and Preah Khan. If you haven’t been to Ta Nei yet, you can also “hang on” to your visit here.
Angkor Wat – as a crowning finale and this time capture the evening atmosphere.
3. Taking pictures in the Angkor Park
In this section I give you tips for your photos. I myself do not count myself among the professional photographers. Regardless of exposure, aperture, lens recommendations, etc., I have put together my tips here to help you out.
Sunrise and sunset – what to do when everything is full of clouds?
Of course it can happen that exactly on the day (or days), where you want to visit the Angkor temples, the sky is cloudy or it even rains. Here it is worth taking a look at the weather forecast. If you have planned several days for Angkor, you can change the daily plans at short notice. So you still have the chance to take your ultimate sunrise and sunset photo on the remaining days.
Can I photograph monks?
Of course, monks are popular motifs. Their orange clothes form a beautiful contrast to the masonry of the Angkor Temples. They are used to having cameras pointed at them all the time. Often they go directly into position and look “dreamily” into the distance when they notice that a camera lens is pointed at them. Nevertheless, ask beforehand if you are allowed to take a picture. Remember that female persons are never allowed to touch a monk. Also not the clothes.
Are there Angkor photo tours with professional photographers?
If you are not the professional photographer or you want to improve your techniques and go directly to the best places, you can book special photo tours with a photographer. The selection is large. For example Laurent Dambies, Cambodia Images, the Czech photographer Ota, the photographers of Angkor Wat Photography Tours, a group of several photographers living in Siem Reap or Angkor Travel Photography with their three professional photographers. Further offers can be found in the Google search, e.g. via the search query “Angkor Photo Tour”.
Note: The photographers of an Angkor Photo Tour usually only do what they do best – taking pictures. So don’t expect too much information about the history of the temples.
A smaller budget alternative with temple information
In general, the tour guides know and show you the hotspots for certain photos in Angkor Park. Regardless, you can ask your tour guide if he has a camera and takes photos himself. My favourite tour guide Ratanak Eath offers that. You can give him one of your memory cards. He puts it in his camera, takes photos during the tour and at the end of the day you get the memory card back with all the photos that you are allowed to use completely free. Also nice: There are many photos on which you are pictured, without having noticed in the moments that he photographed you. On top of that, of course, he tells you the stories of the temples and answers your questions. With him you have so to speak a lot together in one package – just not the professional photographer who shows you where and how to take the best Angkor photos. Therefore Ratanak is very creative. Here is an example with Tra Cy. We got to know each other through my blog and even met in Cambodia.
When is the best time to photograph which temple?
Like everywhere else in the world: Angkor temples are usually not well photographed by the glistening midday light. So if you want to photograph certain temples as optimally as possible and with soft light, you should visit these temples in the early morning or evening hours.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing for your visit of the Angkor temples
With all planning: Take your time. Even though you might not have been able to visit all the temples, and you might not have been able to take the photo you longed for, this is not a disaster. There is absolutely no point in rushing from one temple to another. On the contrary, you run the risk of getting a real temple overkill. It’s much nicer to just sit down and observe the surroundings. You will be surprised how relaxing this is and how much faster you dive into the atmosphere and experience magical moments.
Above all, don’t underestimate the heat. Especially in the midday sun you are well advised to take a longer break. This will be unavoidable anyway. Because: You can be sure that your tour guide and Tuk Tuk driver will always point you out in a Cambodian gentle way when it is time for lunch. This for the simple reason that they themselves are also hungry :-)
Now I wish you a lot of fun with your visit to the Angkor Temples!
These were my tips for your stay in the archaeological Angkor Park. I would be very happy if they would help you to really enjoy your time there. Maybe you also have a tip. Write me, I’m looking forward to it and will answer for sure!
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