If you have managed to brave the journey from Thailand or the south of Laos, you will be rewarded for your efforts in the city of Siem Reap. Home to Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure, the city itself is fairly modern and caters to westernized standards and needs. Accommodations range from basic backpacker digs to 5 star hotels, but for about $10 US a night you can land yourself some fairly descent lodgings.
There are hundreds of temples in the area with about a dozen or so making up the main tour around Angkor Wat. The best way to get around and see the temples is to hire yourself a tuk-tuk driver for the day who will pick you up at the hotel, plot an itinerary with you, and then drop you back off when you’re feet are too tired to see anymore. The standard rate is $15 US for the inner loop of temples and $20 for the outer loop for two people on top of the entry price of $20 US/day or $40 for a 3 day pass. While riding a bike is another option, the temples are almost 20 km outside of the city, and it’s a good distance between temples, so make sure you’re mentally and physically prepared for a long day of cycling.
Day 1 takes us to all the big temples – Ta Prohm the temple featured in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie, Bayon, a temple with over 200 carved faces, through the north and south gate of the complex and a few other sprawling temples before ending our day at Angkor itself. While Angkor is the largest, I didn’t find it to be the most striking. It’s almost so large that you can’t really get a good shot of the structure, and it’s so packed that you aren’t able to enjoy a moments reflections within its walls.
It takes a good 5-6 hours to get through just a handful of the main attractions here. The next day we start our at 5 am to watch the sunrise over central lake before heading into the outer loop of temples for further exploration. The best part about getting to the compound so early is that no one else is around for the first few hours of the day and the sun isn’t beating down on you. It is definitely worth dragging your butt out of bed at 4:30 am for the experience.
After another 5 hours we are starting to feel “templed” out and head back into town to grab a bite to eat. Psar Cha is the main market area that offers a strip of western restaurants mixed in with Khemar food and very cheap shopping. If you’re coming close to the end of your travels this is a great place to start souvenir shopping.
If you are short on time, you could rush through and see the temples in 1 day, however your feet will be killing you and by the end of it you’ll probably be cranky and be sick of seeing the ruins. A 3 day pass will allow you enough time to go back and forth between the temples and your hotel, and let you schedule some time in for shopping and the ever important foot massage.