Tips for Visiting Angkor Wat
Decide between a driver and a guide
You can negotiate with the men on the streets of Siem Reap, but tuk-tuk drivers will only drive you around to all the temples—they won’t act as guides. If you want to have a guide—which can be worth the money—inquire through your hotel for recommendations. However, if you have a guidebook, and prefer independence, simply hiring a tuk-tuk is a good option, as you can go at your own pace. When negotiating with a potential driver, consider that the HI Hostel behind the Art Centre Night Market offers approved drivers at $12 US a day, with a $5 charge for sunrise, and free water provided.
Get a three-day pass
It costs $20 for a single-day ticket, a three-day ticket is $40, and seven days is $60. You can see most of Angkor in three days, and a good representation of it in two days. If you have the time, you may want to spread out your days (the three-day and seven-day passes are not consecutive)—a day exploring Angkor can really zap your energy. On day one, your tuk-tuk driver will stop at the ticket office on the way to the complex. Your pass will have your photo on it, so it is non-transferable. Keep your pass handy on-site, as you will be asked to show it whenever you enter a temple.
Prepare for the sun
It’s Cambodia, it’s hot, and many of the temples bask in the glorious sun. You must protect yourself. Sunscreen is a must, and a hat is recommended. And of course, drink plenty of water. It seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning, especially if you plan a three-day marathon. The heat can really wear you out. Your tuk-tuk will likely have some beverages in a cooler, and at many locations within the complex there are market stalls that sell water, often cold.
Long, loose-fitting clothes are a good idea to guard against the sun and heat. But you should also note that to climb to the upper gallery of Angkor Wat, you must have pants or skirts past your knees and shirts that cover your shoulders completely. Capped sleeves are a risk, and the sarong or scarf trick won’t work—merely covering your shoulders isn’t good enough for the guards at Angkor. Don’t be one of the disappointed sightseers who sit along the bottom in shorts and tanks while their modestly dressed friends climb to the pinnacle of the temple.
Resist the cries of “One dollar!”
At the entry to most of the temples, there will be locals selling you exactly the same products you can get in any market in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. It’s all lovely stuff, handmade in Cambodia. But the sellers outside the temples, many of them children, are relentless. Don’t stop to admire the pretty colours, don’t promise to look when you come back, and don’t even make eye contact, or the vendors will hound you going in and out. If a little girl tries to give you a bracelet, know that it’s an implied promise to come to (and spend money in) the shop or stall she’s touting for. She’ll have a bracelet quota, so sometimes it’s easier to take the bracelet and then try to avoid walking by the shops upon your return. And try to withstand the children’s plaintive cries of “one dollar” for trinkets and postcards. It seems harsh, but if you give a micro inch, they will never leave you alone; as it is they will follow you as far as they can, telling you that the capital of Canada is Ottawa and counting to 10 in both English and French. (Remember that these kids should be in school. If you want to help them, don’t feed the machine that exploits them—donate money to one of the many NGOs or social enterprises that operate in Cambodia).
Prepare to be amazed
Everyone talks about Angkor Wat, but really the Angkor complex is much more than Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest temple, to be sure, but it’s not the only sight to be seen. That’s why at least two days are needed and three days are recommended to see it all. The current situation of the complex adds to its romance—many sites were overgrown by the jungle after being abandoned by the Khmer and have only just been reclaimed—trees and stone intermingle. Restoration efforts were put on hold during the conflicts of the last century, but now international preservation teams are slowly restoring the sites. The international community is trying to get the Cambodian authorities to introduce more sustainable policies, but at the moment, the sites are open for free exploration in and around the ruins.
Stock up on Greenbacks
Cambodia uses US dollars, and that’s what you get from the ATMs. The Cambodia Reil is roughly 4,000 to 1 USD, making it a convenient replacement for cents when making change. The ATMs distribute large US denominations and, like most of the developing world, change is hard to come by. So, if you are travelling straight from Canada, order a large number of US $1, $5, and $10 bills from your bank before you go. If you can only get large bills, make sure they are part of the new series, and don’t let a foreign exchange office in another country give you $2 bills—they won’t be accepted.
Bonus Tip: If you go for sunrise at Angkor Wat, think twice about the breakfast offerings at the food stalls. I became violently ill 12 hours later. As I was the only one of my party who was sick, it may have been the ice in my iced tea at breakfast or lunch (I forgot I wasn’t in Thailand anymore!).
This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape.