This is the eighth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is a 900 year old Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple complex just outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is the world’s largest religious monument, and the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia.

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Angkor Wat is actually just the most famous of many temples in the area that are collectively known as the Angkor Temples, named after Angkor, the seat of the former Khmer Empire.

The Angkor Temples were the highlight of my six-week trip around the world in Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Lufthansa First Class this winter. I spent four days in Siem Reap, going to the Angkor Temples for part of every day. Based on my experiences, I have suggestions for the best ways to enjoy your time in Siem Reap and the Angkor temples.

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  • When should you go?
  • How much time should you budget?
  • What miles should you use to get there?
  • How should you see the temples?
  • Where should you stay?
  • What else is there to do around Siem Reap?
  • Plus dozens of pictures!

When to Go

Temperature is pretty uniformly hot with an average high of 90 degrees and an average low of 70-77 degrees year round.

The key seasons are the rainy-dry seasons. November through April is the dry season with January and February seeing almost no rain at all. I went in February and had perfect blue skies the entire trip.

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Avoid May through October when you might get rained out.

How Long to Spend in Siem Reap

I spent four days in Siem Reap, and I thought it was the perfect amount of time. Every day, I spent about half the day exploring temples and the other half of the day relaxing by a pool, having a few beers, or working.

If you prefer speedier travel, you can easily see all of the highlights of the Angkor Temples in two days or even one extremely long, rushed day.

Tickets to the temple complex cost $20 for one day, $40 for three days, and $60 for seven days. The three- and seven-day passes did not require you to go on consecutive days. The passes were so cheap that I wouldn’t factor them into the duration decision.

Beyond the temples, Siem Reap and the surrounding area had other attractions like the Landmine Museum and Butterfly Centre. The city is also one of the nightlife capitals of the region for backpackers. And it’s a starting point for some long bike tours through multiple countries.

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Powerful Display at the Landmine Museum

You could spend one day or one month in the area, but I thought four days allowed me to see everything at a very relaxed pace.

My Itinerary

  • Day 1 afternoon: tuk tuk tour Angkor Thom and nearby Angkor temples except Angkor Wat
  • Day 2 afternoon: off road bike tour of Angkor Thom and nearby temples
  • Day 3 afternoon: tuk tuk to Banteay Srei Temple, Landmine Museum, and Butterfly Sanctuary, sunset at the top of Phnom Bakheng
  • Day 4 morning: tuk tuk to Angkor Wat
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View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng in the Evening

How to See the Temples

You can see the temples in a car, on a bus as part of an organized tour, on a tuk tuk (motorcycle pulling covered seating for four), on a bicycle, or by foot.

I saw the temples the last three ways: by tuk tuk, bike, and foot. These are the most intimate and least hurried ways to soak in the surroundings, and I recommend the combination.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk tuks are cheap, fun, and plentiful. The going rate was about $15 for a half day, a little more if you have multiple passengers, plus a little more if you were going to a more distant temple like Banteay Srei.

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Banteay Srei

All the tuk tuk drivers know the basic tourist itinerary and maybe a little about the temples.

Any hotel can arrange one for you or you can find one on the street. Pick a driver/guide that has the attributes you want and negotiate as much as you feel comfortable.

I liked the ride in a tuk tuk. It’s slow, and you can enjoy the towns, countryside, and people you pass. The wind is in your hair, and you can talk (loudly) to others in the back with you. For nearby temples, I would not rent a car. For farther flung temples like Banteay Srei, a car would probably save an hour of driving roundtrip, but wouldn’t be as fun.

Bike

You can rent your own bike or go on a tour. There are a number of bike tour operators in Siem Reap and Trip Advisor can help you pick one.

I went with the bike tour from my hostel, the Mad Monkey, which cost $20 and was open to anyone. On the day I went, I was the only customer and the guide was a young British expat. This bike tour was the most fun thing I did in Siem Reap.

We started in the city and made our way through traffic until we hit back roads and biked the rest of the way to Angkor Thom.

Once at Angkor Thom, we went up on to the massive walls of the complex, and biked its perimeter.

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At an entrance to Angkor Thom, on top of its walls

At every corner, there is a small temple. Anyone could go to see these temples, but almost no one does, so we had them and the views of the moat to ourselves.

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Eventually we came down off the walls of Angkor Thom and biked through the jungle to a few more temples. We winded our way back to Angkor Wat at the end and enjoyed a delicious picnic meal, looking at Angkor Wat from across its moat.

We biked 20-30 km over several hours and saw parts of Angkor Thom I otherwise would not have seen. It was the perfect mix of activity, sight seeing, and going off the beaten path for me.

Walking

The Angkor Temples are less than four miles from Siem Reap, so you can walk all the way there if you’d like.

Even if you take a tuk tuk or car, you will be doing a lot of walking between, around, and inside the temples. You’ll also be doing a lot of stair climbing.

Walking around the temples gives you the slowest and best view, so I recommend you spend a majority of time on your two feet.

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Where to Stay

I gave my full review of Le Meridien Angkor here. The property is a category 2 Starwood hotel, costing 3k to 4k points per night or 2k points + $35 for Cash & Points stays. It is just a bit outside of town on the way to the temples.

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I also stayed in a private room with air conditioning and en suite bathroom at the Mad Monkey for $12 per night. The Mad Monkey was in the heart of town and just a few years from the Park Hyatt in Siem Reap.

I didn’t make it inside, but it goes for $400+ per night or 15,000 Hyatt points and carries the Park Hyatt name, so I’m guessing it’s a solid improvement in luxury of Le Meridien, which looked like it was a bit worn, like it might have been a nicer place 10-20 years ago.

What Else is There to Do Around Siem Reap?

I’ve mentioned the main activities I encountered.

  • You can go for longer bike tours. I did a day bike tour in Battambang, Cambodia (several hours drive from Siem Reap) where we explored the traditional livelihoods of rural Cambodians like farming, making rice paper, making rice wine, making banana candies, and more. I highly recommend such countryside tours.
  • You can dance in the street. There is a street in Siem Reap called Pub Street that is thronged with teenaged and twenty-something backpackers every night of the week.
  • You can visit the Landmine Museum near Banteay Srei. Spending an hour to learn the story of Aki Ra, landmine layer turned landmine remover, and seeing the collection of weapons that he’s removed from the ground is worth the trip.
  • You can visit the Butterfly Centre near Banteay Srei. Spending an hour learning about butterflies, seeing how the centre raises them, and then just sitting with a drink while thousands fly around you is a nice break.
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Rows of Soon-to-Be Butterflies at the Butterfly Centre

What Miles to Use

The easiest and most luxurious way to get to Siem Reap from the United States is with American Airlines miles. You could fly Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong and continue on Dragonair to Siem Reap for only 67,500 miles each way.

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If you’re already in Southeast Asia, don’t use traditional miles to get to Siem Reap. Buy a dirt cheap ticket on a low-cost carrier. Asian low cost carriers are awesome!

Buy the low-cost carrier tickets or pay the taxes on your award with your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® and use the card’s $500 in free travel to get the flights or taxes for free.

Bottom Line

The Angkor Temples are a can’t-miss world heritage site that everyone should see in person.

The scale of the temple complex can’t be done justice in pictures.

The area is a mixture of pristine temples, ruins, hawkers, locals swimming in lakes, bikes, tuk tuks, traffic, backpackers, incredible food, and active Buddhist shrines.

Go if you can.

More pictures!

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The complex employs an army of caretakers
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I loved the aligned doors in most temples
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Most temples had an active Buddhist shrine. The caretaker would want to sell you incense.
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Some temples or parts of temples were in ruins
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A huge tree grows on a wall at the Tomb Raider temple
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Locals playing and fishing near one temple
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Monk Crossing
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A temple at the corner of the Angkor Thom walls. Take that bike tour!
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Statues. I think they are restored, not original.
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How cool are these tree walls!
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Useful display on Angkor architecture at Banteay Srei
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Entrance to Angkor Wat
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Boy running, man in window at Angkor Wat
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Inside a courtyard at Angkor Wat

More from Angkor Wat: Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.45.28 AM Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.45.39 AM Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.46.03 AM

 

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