Exploring the Temples of Angkor Wat

With a very tight timeline and an even tighter budget, I scrutinized my travel bucket list nearby affordable travel. After quickly confirming flight schedules and cost, I had booked a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia (via Phnom Penh) to explore the temples of Angkor Wat. Initially, I was concerned that I would not have time to see much, but you can see a lot in one day at Angkor Wat.


Bayon temple was built by King Jayavarman VII, the first Buddhist king of the Khmer empire. 

Built in the 12th century during the reign of Suryavarman II, every ton of sandstone used in the construction had to be carried in from over 40-kilometers away. Angkor Archaeological Park is the largest religious structure in the world. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 and was added to the World Heritage List in Danger in 1992, and The Programme for Safeguarding of Angkor began.


King Suryavarman II broke with tradition by building Angkor Wat to honor Vishnu rather than Siva. This statue of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe and upholder of Dharma, still stands at Angkor Wat.

Though it was eventually removed from the World Heritage List in Danger in 2004, Angkor has suffered greatly from unregulated tourism. Including the theft of the heads from several statues sold off to creepy private collectors, who apparently feel quite empowered hiding out with the decapitated noggin of a helpless statue.

Restoration efforts funded by foreign sources have taken place over the years, as less than 30% of the profits from ticket sales goes to maintaining the temples. Sokimex, a for-profit company, began managing the ticketing for the park in the 1990s. Outsourcing predictably came with its own set of problems, and local government reclaimed ticketing in 2016 following an announcement by Prime Minister Hun Sen. 

angkor ta phrom

Ta Prohm was built by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century and served as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.

Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Bayon are the certainly the most photographed parts of the park. However, walking through any part of this ethereal jungle amongst the ruins of what was once the largest city on the planet is both ghostly and mesmerizing, so take some time to look around.

angkor wat

Over the past 20-years, the number of tourists to visit Angkor Wat each year has grown from less than 10,000 to over 2-million.

Archeologists are still studying Angkor Wat. Their use of laser technology called LiDAR has led to the discovery of more medieval cities buried nearby. Collectively this would be the largest known empire to have existed between the 9th and 12th centuries. Complete with intricate water management systems, many have begun to ponder just how advanced the Khmer society was and what pray tell lead to their downfall.


Devas, Hindu guardians spirits, adorn the walls of Teresa del Rey Leproso.

For those who like to geek out on this stuff as much as I do. Dr. Damian Evans discusses the project in a recent interview with The Guardian, "Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle."

ta phrom

Restoration efforts continue within the Angkor Thom complex, the last known capital city of the Khmer empire.

Please, stop riding elephants. Using these creatures for human entertainment is incredibly hurtful to them. This damage is not only the hip dysplasia caused by riding them around; it begins when they are very young. When trainers take them away from their mothers to "break their spirits." Elephants are beautiful animals. They do not deserve a lifetime of captivity and abuse.

elephant man

"What can I do to save elephants?"

You can purchase your ticket to the Angkor Archaeological Park at the admission booths located at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. You will need to show your pass at the entry of each temple. In less than 10-yrs, the price for a 1-day pass has increased substantially from USD 6.00 to USD 37.00. When visiting, be sure to be respectful by covering your knees and shoulders and refrain from sitting, climbing or standing on the structures.

Bathrooms are free with admission. When facing the main temple, the  bathrooms to your left just past the food and souvenir stalls. You may see a homemade sign that says you must pay to use the bathroom. This is a scam. To avoid a conflict, just flash your pass and say the staff already told you it was free you should not pay. Then go in. It is not a bad idea to come prepared with tissue.

Current Admission Prices: 1 Day: USD 37, 3 Day: USD 62, and 7 Day USD 72.


The halls of Bayon.

When people tell you it’s hot at Angkor Wat, they’re not exaggerating. It is a full day of walking and climbing steps in the heat. Here is a link to Siem Reaps annual weather

You can buy bottled water and food on the grounds, but I suggest you show up with a big bottle of water and keep it filled. You may just want to pour it over your head. My 6.5-hour trek left me wiped out, sunburned and drench in sweat. Your mind will be blown, and your soul will be lifted, but you are going to stink. Once I stopped sweating, I was starving. After a much-needed shower, I headed to Pub Street for dinner and drinks.

pub street

Pub street.

For a major tourist destination, Siem Reap has taken quite some time to build into the bustling town it is today. It does seem the party has finally come to town. Over the past 5-years, there has been notable growth around Pub Street. Once known as a quiet spot with minimal offerings, it is inundated with hotels, trendy bars, shops, and restaurants.

Siem Reap means “Defeat of Siam.” The name comes from the days when there was great conflict between Khmer (Cambodia) and Siamese societies (Thailand was formerly known as Siam). Now that the two lands live peacefully, you will find several Thai dishes on menus throughout Siem Reap, as well as options from neighboring Vietnam. There are similarities between the cuisine of all three regions. However, will most likely find the local food to be best. Don’t be afraid to try the fish amok (fish in coconut curry) or Lort Cha (fat rice noodles and fresh vegetables fried in soy, fish sauce, and chili often served with a fried egg on top). It is also unlikely you will be disappointed by anything with a banana in it or the Khmer barbecue.


Khmer barbecue at the Red Tomato.

I chose the Red Tomato Restaurant for my barbecue simply because I was exhausted after walking around in the heat all day and the chairs here looked more comfortable than those of the surrounding restaurants. Barbecue costs slightly more than other dishes, but it is not unreasonably expensive. Portion sizes in the tourist areas of Cambodia tend to be more generous than in other parts of Asia.

You will pay more for most things in Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh than in other areas, but affordable options are available for the average traveler as well as the beloved backpacker. Cambodia is a great place to be a tourist. Locals are friendly, helpful and kind. Their hospitality will charm you at every turn.

vath bunluch

Vath Bunluch Cel +85 5 92 782 012

When you step out of baggage claim, you don’t need to barter with anyone to get a cab. There is a booth right there, and you can arrange for a taxi at a pre-determined amount. I paid USD 10 from the airport to my hotel near Pub street 9.4 miles/20-minutes. A tuk tuk is USD 9.

Angkor Wat is pretty spread out so walking it, especially if you are there for just 1-day. You can hire a taxi to get you to the ticket booths then on to the park. Once there tuk tuks drivers are everywhere to take you from temple to temple for a few bucks.

You can also hire a tour guide for the day. If you don’t hire one in advance, don’t worry. Your hotel will help you arrange a one for a slightly elevated price, or you can hire your own at the ticket booths, or pretty much anywhere else you go.

I rarely hire a guide because I prefer to read up on places then go at my own pace when I visit. I am also not convinced the amount that might be saved by hiring tuk tuks is worth the hassle, so I just hired a driver. In fact, I hired the guy who drove me from the airport to my hotel. His name is Vath Bunluch, and he’s great. He took it upon himself to seek out night classes to learn English which he speaks almost flawlessly. He knows his way around and will take you wherever you want to go. The going day rate for a driver is USD 30-40, which is pretty fare for a full day.

Vath Bunluch
Cel +855 92 782 012

You can also make a reservation online or via email sraiporttaxi@gmail.com.

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