My Journey to Angkor
This year I checked off Angkor from my bucket-list. Frankly, this most important archaeological site in southeast Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly impressive. I wandered through the majestic towers, watched both the sunrise and sunset at the temples.
If you are planning a trip to Angkor, I am sharing some Do’s and Don’ts for a memorable time.
Do’s and Don’ts
♦ Do wake up early for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, it is worth it. Our guide picked us up at 5 am. We waited across the moat and were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise. You could ask your hotel to prepare a boxed breakfast so you can continue touring the temples after sunrise. Or you could drive back to your hotel for a comfortable breakfast and then resume the activities for the day.
♦ Don’t miss the sunset at the temple even if it means a long day for you! My tour guide, Danith, offered some practical advice. Instead of joining the queue of tourists at the popular sunset observation point at Phnom Bakheng Temple, he suggested the less crowded Pre Rup Temple to watch the sunset. At Phnom Bakheng, the park officials limit the number of tourists during sunrise and sunset. After you finally get in, you then need to climb up to find a space among your many compadre travelers to await the sunset. Following our guide’s advice, we went to Pre Rup Temple to explore elephant statues and lintel carvings in the late afternoon and then secured good seats on the upper platform for the sunset. We were fortunate to have a local give us the inside track!
♦ Do obtain an E-Visa for Cambodia before your tour. This will speed your entry through immigration.
♦ Do take good care of your Angkor Pass/photo-id that you purchased for visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes (1-day, 3-day or 7-day) are sold at the official ticket office. Smile when they take your photograph at the ticket office! You may wish to keep the pass/photo-id as a souvenir. You will likely encounter several checkpoints a day where the photo-id is inspected. If you plan for a sunrise experience on the first day of your temple visit then get your pass after 5 pm the day before.
♦ Do get a tour guide. If your budget allows, a tour guide and a private transport save time and make your temple trail more comfortable. The guide provides commentary about the history and details about architecture, etc. that beats any guide book. You just have to listen, and can ask any questions that interest you. Many well-travelled friends warned me that Siem Reap would be hot and humid. Every day our vehicle started with a cooler full of cold bottled water and disposable towels so we could refresh ourselves and rehydrate often.
♦ Do get a supply US dollar bills before your tour. Cambodians, especially those in the tourist trade, accept US dollar notes. Yes, they prefer that! It is common for prices to be listed in both US$ and local currency. Often the change is also in US$, with local currency for amounts less than US$1. US$1 bills are convenient for tips, and US$10 and $20 for general spending.
♦ Do follow the dress code when visiting temples: Women must cover their shoulders, midriff and knees. Men must cover their shoulders and shorts are fine.
♦ Don’t ignore the dress code. The guards will not allow your entry, and they are strict about this. We visited temples in Vietnam prior to Cambodia, and found the dress code in Vietnam more lax.
♦ Don’t cram all your temple visits into one extra long day. The heat and humidity wears everyone down especially if you begin the day with a 5:30 am sunrise visit. Overdoing it is called ‘Templed Out’! Enjoy the pool at hotel to relax and cool down. The temples will still be there the next day.
♦ Do visit the Night Market, it is great for souvenir hunting. Don’t forget to bargain with a smile as prices are negotiable.
♦ Do get a foot massage after a day of exploring Angkor. About US$2 with fragrant massage oil.
♦ Don’t eat or drink anything is not cooked or piping hot. Stick to bottled drinks or hot drinks like hot coffee. No ice, no smoothies. No pre-peeled fruits. Fruits that you peel yourself are OK.
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