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About Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world. Including forested areas and “suburbs” Angkor covers more than 400 square miles. You’ll need at least one day to see the main temples. Count about three days for doing both the small and the big circuits.
Top-4 sites: Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom.
Small circuit: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei temple complex, Sras Srang, Prasat Kravan.
Big circuit: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup.
There is also a number of significant temples in the area, like the Banteay Srey (37 km north of Angkor Wat) that could be worth a half day or a day trip.
Tips and tricks for your itinerary in Angkor Wat
The small circuit is the most popular itinerary and is followed rigorously by most tourist groups, guides and individual visitors. This causes big crowds all along the route, especially in high season.
The visit usually starts before sunrise, with most visitors leaving hotels at about 4am and gathering at the West Gate in front of the pond to meet the sun rising behind Angkor Wat (at 5:30-06:00 depending on the period of the year). The place is really overcrowded with everyone trying to take photos of this iconic view of the temple.
Morning crowds waiting for sunrise, captured by eric yeargan via Flickr
Then one part of the tourist groups go back to their hotels to have breakfast whilst another heads to discover Angkor Wat from the inside. Later they move to Angkor Thom and other sites in clockwise order usually gathering again in big crowds at Phnom Bakheng in the late afternoon to see the sunset. As the capacity is limited, some tourists may get stuck in the queue for the top and, as the admission is in this case on a one-out-one-in basis, may even miss the sunset.
Our tip is to do the “must-see” itinerary in the opposite direction: you can meet the sunrise at Phnom Bakheng or at the bank of Srah Srang and head to temples in a counterclockwise direction with a high chance of long corridors without any other tourist in sight. At some moment (late morning or midday) you’ll probably cross herds of tourists moving in the opposite direction - that would be the perfect moment to rest a bit and have lunch. The Angkor Wat Temple, which is the most crowded in the morning, will be almost completely empty at about 2 pm. For the sunset views we recommend you search a bit for an ideal spot on this website totally dedicated to Angkor Wat places where you can see the sunset and suggesting the best one for you based on such criteria as crowds, capacity, atmosphere and so on.
Make the most of lunchtime, when there are less people everywhere in Angkor Wat.
Discover sites that are off the beaten track: even during peak season days, it’s easy to find a temple or a site with no one around and off of all the tourist bus routes (Preah Khan, Baksei Chamkrong, Ta Nei and many others)!
Photo credits to rubber bullets via Flickr
Best and worst times to visit
the most visited temple
best time to visit: sunset, after 4:30 pm, lunchtime
worst time to visit: sunrise time, 9-11 am
tip: from the west Angkor Wat looks golden in late afternoon and sunset light
best time to visit: first thing in the morning or 12 - 2pm
worst time to visit: about 8-11 am
tip: walk around the walls for some solitude and beautiful views
best time to visit: first thing in the morning, lunchtime (enough shade here compared to other temples of the complex)
worst time to visit: 10-11 am and early afternoon
Banteay Srei (25 km from the major complex):
pretty busy all the time (visited by most day tourists)
best time to visit: lunchtime (less people) or late afternoon (more people, but better photos)
worst time to visit: early morning
tip: this small temple looks the best in the setting sun’s light
Photo credits to rubber bullets via Flickr
Peak and off-peak season
High season runs from November to March, when the weather is the best, then it becomes very hot (from March to May), the rainy season is from June to September.
Best time to visit Angkor Wat:
The end of the rainy season: September and October. Everything is green, the skies are clear, the crowds aren’t bad at all, and the rains rarely create any problem. Don’t forget an umbrella, just in case. November is better in terms of the weather but more crowded (it marks the start of the high season). February could also be a good compromise between weather conditions and crowds.
Worst time of year to visit Angkor Wat:
Try to avoid April (it’s unbearably hot and dry, and there’s a Khmer New Year taking place on April 14-16, which brings half of Cambodia to the Temples); December and January are the most popular and therefore the most crowded with tourists. Spring and summer are not the best seasons: first it’s too hot; then it’s too rainy. However, this is also when the temples are at their quietest.
How to get to Angkor:
Angkor is located about 20 minutes to the north from central Siem Reap. You can visit the site with:
Tour buses (The cost is about USD25-70/day including driver and guide);
Cars with drivers (about USD30/day);
Motorbikes (with drivers if needed), arranged through guesthouses for about USD 6-8/day;
Tuk tuks can also be arranged through guesthouses. Figure on USD12 for the main Angkor temples, and more for outlying temples. Consider paying some extra if you plan to leave before sunrise;
Bicycles (about USD 1 per day, most parts of the small circuit are maximum 15 minutes away from each other by bike).
Photo credits to ecperez via Flickr