10 Things to Know Before You Go to Angkor Wat
Indiana Jones shaped the majority of my childhood. Watching the unbelievably attractive Harrison Ford save the archaeological world with just a whip and his professorial knowledge, I became extremely influenced by his adventures. At the age of 6, I decided that I would grow up to become an archaeologist just like him. While I didn't fulfill that youthful fantasy, I did hold onto an affinity for ancient places and history you can physically explore and stand in awe of.
When it came time to plan a trip to Southeast Asia, there was one spot I would not be skipping, no matter what: Angkor Wat. This temple park in Cambodia has been on my mind for the majority of my life, and I was ready to get my Indiana Jones on when I finally arrived at this feat of architectural engineering. Unfortunately, expectations differed from reality, as I ended up extremely sick, dehydrated, and bitten by mosquitoes. As hardcore of a traveler as I envision myself to be — and I thought I was prepared as can be — even I couldn't handle the journey. I don't wish my follies on anyone. Therefore, I hope my tips can assist anyone who shares my dream of exploring this architectural destination.
So how does one even get to these ruins in the middle of Cambodia? You'll have to fly into Siem Reap, the main city nearest the temple park. You can easily fly here out of most cities across Southeast Asia. For most travelers, you must obtain a visa in order to enter the country. Bring passport-size photos and $30, and you're good to go for up to one month. If you don't arrive by air, you can take a bus from most cities in the region and undergo the same process at the border. Siem Reap is a fairly inexpensive city to stay in, with hostels costing as little as $10 a night for a private room that sleeps two. You can grab a tuk tuk from the airport for a small fee. Many shops accept American dollars in addition to local currency.
Tuk Tuk and Chill
Most hostels and hotels will offer a tuk-tuk service to explore the Angkor, a World Heritage site. For $20, you can get a ride to the ruins as well as around the entire park, which is not recommended on foot. You also have the option of taking the sunrise tour, which will get you to the park at about five a.m. to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It's best to choose a guide rather than attempt it on your own, as the ticket office is in a completely different location than the park itself. Your guide will likely wait for you at each temple for as long as you wish to explore before taking you to the next spot.
Sunrise Over Angkor Wat
Be aware that watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat may be a bust. Not every morning has clear skies, and many result in a cloudy view that feels like it wasn't worth waking up at 4 a.m. to experience. Nonetheless, it's better to start your day at the park early while the sun isn't high in the sky yet, so you can avoid as much direct heat as possible. Near an area where you can watch the sunrise is a small area with food carts, where the vendors will tempt you to eat while you enjoy the ruins. There are also children who will try to sell you trinkets.
Cover Yourself With Bug Spray
I don't know how to make this more clear, but if you are prone to being bitten by anything airborne that enjoys chewing on human skin, take every precaution and cover yourself with bug repellent and clothes in order to protect your sanity. I thought I had done enough by wearing long pants and using a heavy repelling lotion I had bought on Amazon. However, I was not safe from the bites. Even through my pants, they got to my legs and the lotion did nothing it was supposed to. I should have gotten the highest level of DEET possible and bathed myself in it. If you don't want to leave the park with a million bites, heavily prepare your skin.
Watch Out For Monkeys
Monkeys look cute, until they're attacking you. Apparently it's happened quite a lot to unsuspecting tourists, so make sure you watch them from afar and avoid getting too close. Other than just being rude to wildlife by touching them or feeding them food that isn't appropriate, it's just a best practice to let them be and admire them from a safe distance.
Prep For the Heat
No matter what time of the year you go, it's likely to be extremely hot. In order to avoid heat stroke, make sure to bring tons of water with you and possibly a hat to keep the sun off your face. It's also smart to just take your time. Go slow, sit down, and rest every so often so you're not pushing yourself too hard in the environment. And whatever you do, make sure not to drink from any water bottles with a broken seal. Vendors are known to save money by reusing bottles and filling them with tap water, which most Western tourists are not used to and proceed to fall ill from. One trick to make you think you're safe is putting plastic over the cap to make an old bottle appear new. I ended up sick for over a week because of it. It will ruin your trip if you're ducking into the bathroom at all times, so learn from my mistake.
Angkor Is Huge
Most people don't realize that the Angkor Archaeological Park is more than just the famous Angkor Wat temple. With over 1,000 temples in all, this vast area calls for more than one day to explore. A one-day ticket is $37, while a three-day pass is $62 and packs more value in that you have more time to come see the entirety of the grounds. You can even opt for a seven-day ticket for $72 if you're staying for a while and would prefer to spread out your time. But if you only have one day, opt for the two most popular ruins: Angkor Wat and nearby Angkor Thom.
Your Driver Is Just Doing Their Job
After each temple, your tuk-tuk driver will park and wait for you to do your thing before taking you to the next temple. At first, I felt bad that they were taking their whole day to just sit in their cart and be our chauffeur, but apparently, they don't mind and really enjoy the income. It's likely your driver can also answer questions about the park and make your day much easier by not making you trek between areas.
Siem Reap Life
There's more to Siem Reap than just Angkor Wat. This city has a thriving daytime and nightlife that should be experienced while there. Pub Street is a popular area to go out at night where you'll find many other adventurers. There are markets where you can buy souvenirs and even fish foot massages that will make you giggle from the sensation. It's a nice town to be in after a long day of exploring the ruins.
As with any place you are visiting, it's important to be respectful of the culture and the location. For visitors to Angkor, making sure your knees are covered will ensure you can even gain entry into the park in the first place. Make sure you're not touching artifacts or climbing on things you shouldn't be. It's best not to be loud, and it's always a good thing to ask a monk if you may take their photo first before shooting away. You are a guest in Cambodia and should act accordingly. In doing this, you can ensure the experience is one to remember.