Angkor Archaeological Park is Siem Reap’s or let us say, Cambodia’s main tourist attraction. And thinking of Angkor, the first image that comes to mind is the main temple, Angkor Wat at sunrise. Then perhaps one may think of the Ta Prohm Tree, which makes one wonder if the temple was built around the tree or the tree grew around the temple. The image is always mesmerising. Angkor Park has a famous setting for a sunset too, at Phnom Bakheng, the Shiva temple. Angkor Archaeological park is big, just too big to see it all in one day. According to one online source, there are around 50 Hindu and Buddhist temples and other historical sites to see. To make it all easier for a tourist, the Angkor temples can be categorised into three groups which I have detailed below. Beyond these three groups, there’s more – the Roluos Group temples and the outlying temples which are located 15-20 km away from Angkor Wat.
The Three Temple Groups of Angkor Park (For Tourism Purpose)
(i) Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and its ruins can be seen next to Angkor Wat.
(ii) Mini Circuit or Small Circuit – A tourist circuit with the temples and sites not so far from Angkor Wat that can be seen within a day.
(iii) Grand Circuit – This circuit covers more distance, more temples and sites but may even include those covered under mini circuit too. These circuit things appear to be designed keeping the tourists’ convenience in mind.
If you are interested in knowing more, please see the Wikipedia or Wikitravel pages on Angkor Archaeological Park. For a tourist Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the mini circuit tour will be enough, all of which can be done in a single day.
Fix Up A Tuk Tuk
You need to use the services of a tuk tuk driver who will be your transport provider as well as a tour guide. Many tuk tuk drivers know the park well, but some don’t. Try looking for a driver who can speak English well. Avoid scams because sometimes, tuk tuk drivers will agree on a tour for the next day but then send someone else in the morning to pick you up. This other driver may not know English. In 2016, tuk tuk drivers were asking for 15-20 USD for a day’s tour starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat and ending with sunset at Phnom Bakheng. Pickup and drop from / to your hotel is included in the price.
Entry To Angkor Archaeological Park
Foreigners need to buy entry tickets which are called “Angkor Pass” to enter the Angkor Park. Angkor passes can be bought for one day, three days, and seven days. The one day pass, as the name states, is valid for a single day only. The three day pass entitles the tourist to visit the park on any three days within a seven day period and the seven day pass can be used on any seven days within a month of purchase. Entry tickets have to be purchased in cash from the ticket windows at the main entry gate of the park. Your tuk tuk driver will take you there. They take your photo with a webcam and print your face on the pass. You need to keep the pass with you at all times. At some of the main temples, like Angkor Wat, someone may demand to see your pass before allowing entry.
Entry Ticket Prices
The prices of the different variants of Angkor Pass have been revised from February 1, 2017 and the revised prices are as under:
1-Day Pass: 37 USD
3-Day Pass: 62 USD
7-Day Pass: 72 USD
Free Entry In The Evening
This is a bonus. If you buy your entry ticket on a day after 5.00pm, the ticket remains valid up to the whole next day. So, on the date of purchase of the entry ticket, you can watch the Angkor sunset but this will not allow you to see the sunset from Phnom Bakheng due to long queues and entry restrictions. To be able to see the sunset from Phnom Bakheng, you need to be there before 4.00pm.
Start Early In The Morning
The tour goes like this: You start very early, like at 5.00am, and reach the gate of the park to buy your ticket. Then you proceed to Angkor Wat to take some pictures of the Angkor sunrise. The picture taking happens outside the temple. After that you may proceed to enter the temple for an hour or so waiting for the restaurants opposite the Angkor Wat to open. Come out of the temple by 8.00am. You may find a good breakfast at Angkor Cafe or another restaurant. There are a couple of restaurants serving Indian food too. After your breakfast, start the mini circuit tour starting with Angkor Thom. If you are particular, carry a plan with you so as to make sure that your tuk tuk driver shows you everything. Otherwise, just leave it to him.
My tuk tuk driver had taken me to Angkor Thom gates, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Phnom Bakheng, and a few more big and small temples in-between. You need to reach Phnom Bakheng before 4.00pm but your mini circuit tour will bring you back to Angkor Wat at 1.00pm or so for lunch. After lunch, go back into Angkor Wat and see what you missed in the morning. Start walking out by 3.30 pm to find your tuk tuk driver to take you to Phnom Bakheng.
Tired? Head For An Apsara Dinner and Dance Show
After the Angkor tour, sundown in Siem Reap seems to force everyone to look for the nearest watering hole which could well be Koulen Restaurant – buffet dinner with a free Apsara Show It is a nice and value for money experience.