Siem Reap & Angkor Wat Travel guide (Part 1)
Angkor and its numerous wats formed the seat of power for the Khmer people for much of what corresponded to the Middle Ages and early Renaissance years in Europe. From the beginning of the ninth century until well into the 13th century, this was the place to go in Asia – for learning, culture, and the arts. Even the destructive Khmer Rouge left the area largely alone.
As an “upriver” city with few roads, Angkor’s inaccessibility was both its source of power and the reason for its ultimate demise (read Cambodia history).
As outsiders accessed the Angkor complex, they took away ideas for their own architecture and arts, but nothing copied ever came close to the glories of the Angkor temple complex.
The buildings are incredibly detailed, constructed on a massive scale, yet retaining an impressive delicacy, despite the ravages of time, war, and people.
Banteay Srei Temple
See a large picture of Banteay Srei Temple.
Now the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top destinations in Southeast Asia. The hassles of getting there are far out-weighed by the sight of Angkor Wat.
Note: When you walk through the Angkor complex, consider this. It was built in large part at the same time as Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, but with far fewer resources in a remote location. Even so, it is much larger and just as intricately carved.
To truly appreciate the complex, you need to see it in many lights and moods. Take time to see the temples at sunrise, at sunset, on your own, with a guide, under the full moon, on foot, and by bicycle. Note the detailed carving, the fig trees slowly shattering the facades of many buildings, the peaceful atmosphere of the less-touristed temples, and take time to absorb the other-worldly feeling that surrounds you
Tip: You can buy one- , three- , or five-day passes. One day is not quite enough, so I advise spending the extra bit of money to get the three-day pass. You can always chill out in Siem Reap and explore the nearby countryside - the break allows you to reflect on the sights of Angkor and gain some additional perpective.
The Angkor complex is too far (about seven km, 4½ miles) from town to walk to, so you should consider catching a ride on a scooter – many times the driver is a decent guide (for an additional fee). Expect to pay $7-$10 for the ride, and more if you want the driver to actually do more than drop you off and pick you up at the entrance. Don’t pay the driver the full amount until he returns to take you to your hotel. You can also hire a car for about $25, and the same again for a guide. Hotels can arrange the car and guide. It really is worth having a trained guide for at least one day, and you need a car to see the “best” temples at sunset or sunrise. Finally, you can hire a bicycle for $5-$7 per day, or arrange a ride in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk-style vehicle for $10 or so.
How to get to Siem Reap & Angkor
Getting to Siem Reap is much improved over just a few years ago.
By Air/From the Airport. From Thailand you can fly in on Bangkok Airways or Siem Reap Airways, several times a day. Lao Aviation may fly from Vientiane in Laos, and Vietnam Airlines flies from both Hô Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
You can also fly from Phnom Penh – a short hop on Siem Reap Airlines – and given the poor condition of many roads this may be well-spent. There are few taxis but lots of scooters to give rides to your hotel. Scooters only cost a few dollars. If you are staying at a higher-end hotel you may well have a car picking you up at the airport.
Overland. There are so-called express mini-buses between Khao San Road in Bangkok and Siem Reap, with a change of buses at the border. The limiting factor is the roads, which are still terrible (especially in the rainy season). Allow at least seven-eight hours for the trip. You can also come by bus from Ho Chi Minh City, via Phnom Penh in many cases. Allow six-eight hours for this trip.
See also How to get to Cambodia
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Travel Guide
Part 2: Angkor Temples
Part 3 : Visiting Angkor Temples
Part 4 : Visiting Angkor Wat
Angkor Temples map
Pictures of Banteay Srei Temple
City and region guide homepage
Cambodia travel guide homepage