Visiting Angkor Wat, Cambodia – Tips and Pics

Wall carvings of elephants at the Elephant Terrace in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, the most visited site in all of Cambodia and possibly in all of Southeast Asia, had been on our bucket list for quite some time. So when in northern Cambodia doing some volunteer work at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, we simply had to include a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated only 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) north of Siem Reap, it is easy to plan a trip there via bicycle or tuk tuk. We opted for the freedom of a bicycle but measuring approximately 400-square-kilometers (160-square-miles) bicycling the Angkor Wat complex, considered the largest religious monument in the world, was quite the workout.

Orange-clothed monks walking away from the main temple of Angkor Wat

Idyllic Angkor Wat

We began our Angkor Wat adventure by riding our rickety $1-a-day rental bicycles to the ticket office, which is on the right hand side of the main road leaving the city to the north, the afternoon before our intended day of visit. With our limited time, we opted for the $20 per person one-day ticket, but had we had more time, the 3-day ($40) or even 7-day ($60) tickets would have been worth it, especially since they do not have to be used over consecutive days. We were surprised when they took our pictures and printed them on the actual ticket itself. If we had wanted to, we could have really made the most out of our day pass by spending that evening at Angkor Wat, watching the sunset perhaps. But we were already tired, so decided to save our exploration solely for the next day.

We began our day in the darkness of 3:30am, when we retraced our route from the day before, riding our uncomfortable bicycles on the main road heading north past the ticket office. The dim light the street lamps offered became increasingly lower as we got further from town. Reaching the southern moat wall of the Angkor Wat temple, we turned left and pitch darkness swallowed us completely. To match the condition of our bicycles, the pathetic headlights did little to light our way. In all fairness, though, the lights were pedal-powered, and our legs weren’t pedaling too powerfully.

Ligeia and Mindy with our rickety, rented bicycles in front of Angkor Wat

Our rickety bicycles!

The adventure of riding bicycles beside ancient ruins, barely visible in the pale moonlight, was certainly not lost on us. We eventually made out the shape of a man in the middle of the street who told us to park near the tree on the left and cross the street to Angkor Wat. Although it was 4:30am, employees with flashlights approached us immediately upon crossing the street to check our tickets. Heading back into the darkness, we realized how helpful having our own flashlight would have been. Thankfully, we were there early enough to give ourselves plenty of time to stumble our way through the darkness and find the perfect spot to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise over the pool at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat reflecting at sunrise

To be perfectly honest, on our one morning at the edges of the reflecting pool in front of Angkor Wat, constantly snapping photos like all the other camera-toting tourists, we found ourselves a bit disappointed with the whole sunrise experience. Perhaps it was due to the very cloudy morning, or the fact that the lake seemed much smaller than we had seen in pictures, possibly due to it being at the end of the dry season. Or, maybe that as the sky brightened and the silhouetted temples came into better focus, we could see that Angkor Wat was under construction and in part covered with a big, green tarp, obstructing our view of the ancient ruins.

With over 1,000 temples making up the archaeological site of Angkor Wat, there are an exponential number of possible itineraries. Although we wish we had taken some time beforehand to research and plan a route, we’re pleased with our single day visit. We’ll let some of our photos tell the rest of the story.

Statues along the bridge to Bayon Temple among Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Statues along the bridge to Bayon Temple

Ligeia and Mindy sitting on the steps of Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

On the steps of Bayon Temple

The photogenic faces of Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Faces of Bayon Temple

Beautiful morning light shines on Prasat Bei temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Prasat Bei Temple

The gorgeous Elephant Terrace at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Elephant Terrace

The entrance to Phimeanakas ruins at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The entrance of the Phimeanakas ruins

Climb to the top of the Phimeanakas Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

We climbed the to the top of Phimeanakas!

The unassuming and spectacular ruins of Prasats Suor Prat in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The unassuming beauty of Prasats Suor Prat

The ruins of Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The ruins of Ta Prohm Temple

Great roots of a banyan tree overgrowing Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The mighty roots of a banyan tree

Mindy impersonating Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider at Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angelina Jolie, uh… ahem… Mindy in the role of Tomb Raider

The main temple of Angkor Wat

Main temple at Angkor Wat

Mindy and Ligeia sitting in front of the ruins of Bayon Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

All smiles in front of Bayon Temple

Is Angkor Wat on your bucket list or have you already crossed it off? Do you have a favorite temple? Do you have any tips for making the most out of an Angkor Wat visit?

12 thoughts on “Visiting Angkor Wat, Cambodia – Tips and Pics

  1. jennifer

    I loved the sunrise picture, even if you were disappointed by that part of your visit.

    I will be here at some point before May. Originally I was planning to go in May, but now I am considering going in December because I don’t want to wait any longer.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures!

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hey Jennifer! Thanks for reading 🙂 Keep in mind that December will be the height of the tourist season, so Angkor Wat will definitely be flooded with tourists and especially so at popular sunrise spots.

    2. Happily Adrift

      Great post! We just visited the temples this week and decided to skip the sunrise tour. It’s rainy season now, so we figured we wouldn’t be able to see a nice sunrise like yours anyway.

      1. Mindy & Ligeia

        Hi Michelle,
        We really did think the sunrise was a bit overrated so you probably did the right thing by sleeping in a little later. Several of my friends prefer to be at Bayan for the sunrise because of the colors of the rock faces there. It is nice to get to Angkor Wat early though, even if it’s not as early as the sunrise, just to avoid the big crowds. We really enjoyed the Angkor Wat complex and can’t wait to go back. 🙂

  2. Elle

    Angkor Wat is definitely on my bucket list as well! You both are lucky to have found each other. I’m a nomad and my wife doesn’t have much interest in travel.

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Elle,
      We definitely feel lucky – for sure! But, just so you know, Mindy wasn’t as much into traveling as I was at the beginning. After dragging her to places abroad, she learned to appreciate and now loves it. She suffers from extreme motion sickness making the act of getting to places a very unpleasant chore. Maybe there is hope for your wife.
      But not to worry if there is not. My aunt loved to travel and her wife did not, but was waiting there for her each time she came home and loved to see the pics and hear about her adventures. That worked for them too. 🙂

  3. When was this?

    Hey… can you please tell when did you visit? I am trying to evaluate the effects of dry season in the surrounding vegetation as I will be there in early April.

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi, we visited Angkor Wat in May, during the hot dry season so the vegetation will not be as vibrant as in the wet season. The pond in front of the Angkor Wat temple will be smaller as well. Beautiful place to visit though anytime of year. Enjoy! 🙂

  4. Carlo Cretaro

    Your pics look amazing and have made me very excited about my up coming visit to Angkor Wat. 🙂 I will be going there next week, and I’m just trying to figure out whether it’s worth going for sunrise or not, it sounds like it’s a little overrated and overcrowded too. Despite the mixed reviews, I’m thinking I’m just going to do it anyway as I might not get the chance again, and I’d hate to miss out on a cracking picture!

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Hi Carlo,
      Angkor Wat is an awesome place and so we’re sure you’re going to have a great time! We found the sunrise to be overrated but hell, why not do it anyway! I would ask first though to see if they have finished construction on the building. If they have not, then I would get there early and enjoy one of the other temples at sunrise (like Bayan) instead of Angkor Wat itself. Either way it’s good to get there early before the bus loads of tourists arrive (starting at 9am) and get as many pics as you can early to avoid people-filled ones. No matter what you end up doing, you can’t go wrong as it is a wonderful place to explore. 🙂

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