Back in December 2014 on Boxing Day I flew from China early in the morning and promptly went to my hostel to get changed, meet up with my friend, and head on out to Angkor Wat. Here are some logistics on getting there, getting around, what to see, and after Angkor Wat.
Getting to Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the closest city to Angkor Wat so most people choose to stay here for their visit to Ankor Wat. Siem Reap is easily accessible to the outside world via air, land, and even water!
Air: Siem Reap International Airport is the second largest in the country and is accessible by direct international flights from many Asian countries. It is also possible to fly from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
Land: Buses and minivans can be caught from Phnom Penh for $6-10+USD. The journey is at least five and half hours and it is advisable to take the minivan company Cambodia Post VIP Van at $8 and is more comfortable while stopping less often and driving responsibly. Taxis can be caught from Phnom Penh for $60-80+. If you’re coming from Sihanoukville buses typically cost $20+ and I would definitely recommend taking a night bus.
Water: Fasts boats from Phnom Penh to Tonle Lake near Siem Reap run daily through most of the year depending on water levels. Tickets are $35 and some people question the safety of these boats but the rewards are great; getting to see the real Cambodian interior and rural life on the waterway.
Getting about Angkor Wat
First off, a one day Angkor Pass to the park is $20USD and $40 for three days. There are multi day and longer tickets on sale as well. Most visitors to Angkor Wat hire a tuktuk for the day and split the cost between friends or groups from their hostel. My friend and I paid $20 for the tuktuk driver to take us to and from Ankor Wat, as well as around the Angkor Wat national park to whichever site we wanted to see. Plus a tip is recommended. It is also cheaper to get a tuktuk from Siem Reap than getting one at Angkor Wat. Bicycles can be rented for a day for a few dollars and Angkor Wat is only 7.5km from Siem Reap for those who choose to save a bit of money and get a day of exercise while surrounded by the marvels of the Angkor Wat national park.
Which sites to see?
Angkor Wat: The main event. The big tamale. Angkor Wat is the central structure of the national park named after it. The UNESCO site is simply a breathtaking experience to behold once you first lay eyes upon it. The Khmers are so proud of it they use the image of Angkor Wat on just about everything, including their national. Be sure to visit in time for the sunrise and sunsets as those times make for some magical pictures.
The Bayon: One of the more visited temples and is famous for the many faced towers that look out over the walls. Not quite the hall of the Many-Faced God, but still a spectacular example of classical Khmer architecture currently being restored by a team of Japanese conservationists.
Ta Prohm: The Tomb Raider temple. It is among the favorites because of the massive trees growing out of the centuries old crumbling structures that really lend to the feeling this place was lost in time. This is regrettably one of the temples I missed, all the more reason to go back!
The Elephant Terrace: A viewing platform for King Jayavarman VII on which to preside over official ceremonies, such as after harvests and battles. Lots of people flock to get up close to the elephant carvings. I personally just had the tuktuk driver slow down to get a few pictures.
East Mebon: Completed in 943AD, the temple is actually built on an artificial island that once sat in the middle of a vast water reservoir. Nowadays it is hard to imagine but it is food for thought as your reach the top and look on out over what the land would have looked like over a millennia ago. It also has distinctive 2 meter tall elephant sculptures that make for a great picture, just be sure to not climb on them.
After the Angkor Wat
Siem Reap is a bustling backpacker town with an abundance of things to do besides just see Angkor Wat. The two biggest things that backpackers do in Siem Reap is to visit the night market street and the famous pub street. In and around these areas you can find just about anything you need to buy or eat, ranging from budget to more upscale establishments. Pub street particular is a great place to meet new people after a day out trekking through Angkor Wat. You can also visit the landmine museum, go to a firing range, go ATVing, a day trip to Tonle Sap lake, take a nature and wildlife tour, have your feet massaged by fish while you sip on a beer, and a whole lot more.
I hope this post helps inspire those thinking of making the pilgrimage here to make it a reality. I’m not a religious person at all but being there was a religious experience. I felt very calm and relaxed at the park, especially when I was within the walls of Angkor Wat itself. Going to Angkor Wat was one of my bucket list items and it was everything and more than I ever hoped it would be in terms of the sense of awe at the architecture, natural surroundings, and what I felt was an abundance of positive spiritual energy. I want to return one day after having read more on the site and Buddhism to get an even better understanding of this truly awesome place. Safe travels, friends!