Visiting Angkor Wat is like going to Disneyland: it’s expensive, it’s hot, there’s a lot of walking, and there’s people everywhere.
We tried to think of strategies to escape it, but alas, they just don’t exist. And we’re usually pretty good at avoiding the crowds. Here are some tips to make the most out of your experience, even when there will always be 1000 people around you at any given point.
1. Buy a multi-day pass. I don’t know if anyone goes to Siem Reap for just one day. Highly unlikely. If you buy a 3 day pass or a weeklong pass it’ll be less expensive in the long run. Also consider that if you visit for sunset after 5pm, the ticket does not need to be validated for the day, but instead will get stamped on the next.
2. Eat cheap. There are a ton of restaurants in Siem Reap, almost all of them catering to tourists. That means that most of them are more expensive because, well, they can get away with it. There are some restaurants that aren’t too bad, most of them around the old market area. These will only set you back $2-$3 a meal as opposed to $5-$7 which may not be much, but over a few days it adds up to something.
3. Shop around for a tuk tuk driver. There are tuk tuk drivers everywhere in Siem Reap, and while they may be easy to find, they put up a pretty hard bargain. We managed $15 for the small circuit (day 1), $23 to Banteray Srei along with a few others in the small circuit (day 2), and $35 to Beng Melea, the Roulos Group, and Phnom Bakeng (day 3). That is compared to probably $20, $30, and $40 some people (or cars) were trying to charge for the same things, respectively. Do keep in mind – these guys work hard for their money; they work to put a roof over their head, food on the table, and to send their kids to school. Ask your hotel for rates, ask drivers on the streets for rates, and come up with a number that works for you. Don’t get ripped off, but please don’t get worked up over a dollar or two.
4. Pack breakfast or lunch. There are small shops around most temples offering food, drinks, hats, etc. but the temples are also less busy around lunch so if you pack your own it’ll probably be less expensive and maybe a little less crowded. Same for breakfast if you want to see sunrise at Angkor Wat or any other temple for that matter. Bring some apples and peanut butter or muesli and yogurt and eat your breakfast while watching a beautiful sunrise over Angkor Wat.
5. If you want to go to Phnom Bakeng and not be in the midst of hundreds try going around 2-3. We went at this time and we were there with only six other people. It may not be sunset, but I prefer less people to explore than the sun going down.
6. Banteay Srei is absolutely worth the drive. Hands down my favorite temple. Go.
7. Beng Melea is far. Two hours by tuk tuk each way. I really wanted to go but Nick hemmed and hawed over the price. On top of the tuk tuk you pay $5 each for entry and then have to tip a guide once they show you around. We got there very early. 8AM. And while this a less travelled to temple, as we were leaving there were busloads of people, probably at least six huge tour buses, a dozen minibuses, and a handful of cars and tuk tuks, dropping people off. If you go when there are tons of people there it’s definitely not worth it. If you go, go in the morning when you basically have the place to yourself.