Things Nobody Tells You About Angkor Wat

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The temples of Angkor, flanked by Angkor Wat, are one of Southeast Asia’s top destinations.  And justifiably so.  These temples are beautiful, thrilling, and absolutely fascinating.

But despite all the information that is out there, Angkor was very different from what I expected.  If you’re planning to visit Angkor on your trip to Cambodia, here’s what you need to know.

What Nobody Tells You About Angkor

1) You need to be in good shape.

I knew there would be a lot of walking involved, so I planned accordingly and wore good shoes.  But I had no idea that I’d be climbing with my hands as well as my feet!

Not all temples require that you climb them, but a few of the good ones do, including the sunset at Phnom Bakheng.  Plus, the views from the top are amazing.

If you have any injuries or issues with your body, the temples of Angkor might be too much for you. Know your limits – and do research to find out which temples are easier to handle.

2) It’s crowded.  Really, really crowded.

Go for sunset at Phnom Bakheng, or sunrise at Angkor Wat, and you’ll be sharing the view with hundreds of others.

Want a picture without anyone else in it?  Good luck. It’s not easy, especially at the jungle temples of Ta Prohm.

There are a few ways to get by.  If you go see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, leave as soon as the front of the temple is illuminated and go explore the inside.  Also, if you’re staying for a few days, have your driver take you to obscure temples as early in the day as possible.

3) The vendors are relentless.

Sure, the vendors are pretty crazy throughout Southeast Asia and Cambodia in particular.  But at Angkor, they bring persistence to a whole new level.

Painfully thin, dirt-covered little girls who will rip your heart out as they softly beg you, again and again, to buy a bracelet.  Older girls will walk next to you for ten minutes, chanting prices until you throw money at them.  I actually paid a few to go away; they gave me bracelets and postcards anyway.

Don’t let them wear you down.  Be stronger than me. Every time one of them starts running to you saying, “Hello, laDYYYY,” don’t look her in the eye!

4) Temple fatigue sets in quickly.

I went for just one day, and I wanted to see as much as I could.  Well, by 2:00 PM, I had been there for nine hours and didn’t want to so much as look at another temple for the rest of my life!

You need to pace yourself at the Angkor temples. Take the time to get coffee, get food, relax while reading for a bit.  Even with lots of breaks, you can see the major temples in one day.

And though this may seem like a bit of a rant, hear this:

It’s worth it.  It’s so worth it. These temples are incredible!

Be sure to get travel insurance before you explore. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

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80 thoughts on “Things Nobody Tells You About Angkor Wat”

      1. Can’t work out if your a bit harsh or a bit precious Kate
        You dont have to be fit you just have to be able to walk
        Crowded yes but only from November to March…that leaves 8 months.
        the vendors are not relentless only a few of them are, many are absolutely charming.
        Fatigue sets in quickly sure if you don’t pace yourself…pace yourself.
        My experience at Angkor is 10 visits in 11 years and I stay for 3 or 4 weeks…and my 11th trip coming up in 6 weeks,

        1. planning to go to cambodia for the first time this june for week or thereabouts. you seem to have been there so much. can i hope for some advise on how best to cover these wonderful temples? thank you!!

      2. Hello Kate,
        I just wanted to tell you that I enjoy reading about your adventures. Going to Cambodia in
        a week and just reading about your trip gave me a feeling like I can do it. You add the extra
        excitement along with the feeling of a friend being along. Thanks and may God bless you this
        year 2015 – happy trails to you.

  1. Great tips, Kate! We got really lucky and were exploring Angkor right before sunset. We were actually on the side of the temple and were all alone, and by the time we walked back through to the front, we were literally the last people out, getting pushed out by the guards. But as we walked back down the long walkway, there was NO ONE in front of it, so we got several shots of Angkor Wat itself at sunset with no other people ruining the shot. Totally lucky, but awesome.

    We actually spent three days exploring them, and yes, we were totally exhausted by the end. We took one day off in between, but still, it was a lot. We did do some exploring in the morning, came back to our hostel for lunch and rest, and then headed back out late afternoon, so that helped.

    1. That sounds amazing! I will be there this summer, and I would love to see Angkor Wat at sunrise without the crowds. What side of Bakheng Temple were you on? Did you actually watch the sunset over Angkor Wat?

  2. Siem Reap was one of my favorite destination, including the tiring 1-day tour in Angkor Wat. And I was wearing the wrong shoes! But yes, I agree,the temples, reliefs, and those huge trees were incredible.
    We didn’t get to see the sunset because it was cloudy (or was it raining?) towards the time for sunset, so we didn’t go to Phnom Bakheng.. I guess it was a blessing in disguise?

  3. When I went in February, there were actually a lot of temples that had no people. Maybe I got lucky or something but I often found myself riding down a long stretch of empty road and then pulling over to a temple where I was maybe one of 5-6 people.

    But you’re right, temple fatigue is serious business. Still amazes me that I spent 3 days there.

  4. Wow. Seems Angkor has become a bit like the Taj Mahal. You’d never think it if you haven’t been there, I guess. (I’ve been to neither…just observations from the crazy crowd and vendor photos I’ve seen via other bloggers!)

  5. I need a mini helicopter strapped to my head, remember inspector Gadget?! 😀

    I have MBT shoes that help with the long distance walking as it does an awesome job of padding my feet, that doesn’t stop the fatigue in my legs though so maybe 1 temple a day? 😀

  6. I have a hard time believing that you thought it was THAT crowded- during sunset maybe but I never went for that. Did you only go for one day or for several? Because while the most famous temples on Day 1 were super crowded one of my favorite things about Day 2 and 3 during my time there was wandering around forgotten cities and having them all to myself- great for Indiana Jones pretending. 🙂

    This was also in late February, mind, so I’m sure the season plays a factor in these things as well.

    1. Oh, believe it! Sunset and sunrise both had hundreds of people. There weren’t as many crowds at the temples in Angkor Thorn, but at Ta Prohm, they were insane! I couldn’t get any decent pictures of the biggest tree houses because there were too many tourists. What am I going to do — cut off the bottom of it?

  7. The temples of Angkor are on my bucket list! I had heard so many good stories about them… but nobody ever told me that you would be there with another 200 people. It must be nice to visit alone, in the silent…

  8. Great advise about the importance of pacing yourself Kate. I took three days to explore Angkor in January of 2007. I’d argue that’s it’s not that difficult to get away from the crowds and experience some temple solitude though (at least, that was the case four years ago), you just have to venture beyond the famous sights. Rent a bike, or if your legs aren’t feeling up to it, an electric scooter and get out into the places beyond the beaten path.

  9. I travelled to Cambodia in 2008 and visited Angkor Wat. I agree with your tips that you have given, however, I did not come across a large crowd of people. We had a local tour guide take us through Angkor and I remember him mentioning that we will be doing the reverse tour so that we don’t run into any of the crowds. We also didn’t start when the sun was rising, probably about 9:30am. The only time it was busy was when were viewing the main temple of Angkor Wat.

  10. I wish I had known you would be there so soon. Two piece of advice that helped

    1) We went for sunrise, all the visitors crowd around a puddle on the left, but if you go to the right no one is there and you get the infamous reflection photo.

    2) If you go for sunrise, walk around for a few hours, take a tuk tuk back to the hostel, have a nap and go for late afternoon. You need the break.

  11. Some fantastic advice here Kate, that we’ll definitely be paying heed to when we visit Angkor Wat in a few months time. Hopefully, since we’ll be there in the rainy season, it won’t be quite so crowded. At least that’s what I’m counting on 😉

  12. Great tidbits of advice for those that have Angkor in their upcoming travel itinerary. The vendors are pretty crazy. I told one girl I would buy a drink from her when I finished the temple. A different girl ended up selling me a drink as I thought it was the initial one. Then the first girl arrived on the scene and when she saw me drinking a beverage I bought from someone else she broke down and cried. I ended up buying food and film from her I felt so bad.

  13. I can totally relate to temple burn out. We know that we’ve only got a few good hours of sightseeing in us at any given time, so we spread out our time in Siem Reap to 6 days, visiting the temples every 2nd day. This kept things fresh and allowed us to really enjoy each one, rather than rushing to see them all in one day. Plus, it left more time to drink cheap pitchers of Angkor beer!

  14. I’m not sure I agree with the burnout – I had a 7 days pass and was sad to leave at the end! Sure the temples are crowded if you just go to the big/popular ones, but there are a terrific amount of out-of-the-way, crumbling ruins to visit where you’ll be left alone, even by the vendors. Except for the fire ants. (Yes, I got ants in my pants and literally hopped around at dusk to try and get them out). The history of the site alone makes it worth a multi-day pass but there are plenty of temples in the complex where you won’t be harassed or cajoled.

      1. Sad but true, I really do love me some temples. Lady, those ants in my pants were TERRIBLE. And with so many tourists watching the sunset along with me, I got laughed out of Angkor Wat. Good times….

  15. When I went, we explored Angkor Wat (and Angkor Thom) on Day 2 during the late morning and the crowds weren’t so bad when most of the tour groups go back for lunch! The following day we did the sunrise and if you get there early enough, you can scope out a prime spot by the left reflecting pool. Afterwards, we beat the crowds by heading to some far off (and gorgeous) temple that was almost completely empty! Oh, it was bliss!

  16. I think you need to give it time: three days for all the sites, at least. Also, never, ever do a tour.

    Go independently with a guide who knows what peak times to avoid. Ta Prohm is amazing. Also some of the older, more out of the way sites are completely unvisited: Beng Melea you can have to yourself, Kbal Spean too. Visiting Angkor Wat early afternoon after the crowds have died down is just about ideal.

    And you’re right. Sunrise is a complete waste of time. It’s a shame you didn’t get the grandeur of it. Trying to do it all in a day is way, way, way too much…

  17. I stupidly did the Angkor sunrise temple thing in 2007 and was horrified and disappointed with the crowds.

    That night my friend and I wandered around the town looking for a nice-looking non-sleazy tuk tuk driver. We found one and asked if he had a friend who could give a tour the following day. I asked them to leave their tuk-tuks at home and collect us on their motorbikes one hour before sunrise, which I think was some god-awful time like 4.30am.

    These lovely guys took us to a “mysterious” temple and we gingerly climbled through the ruins and found a place to “experience” sunrise, alone. It was magical, hearing the jungle wake up and having the dawn light slowly reveal the magnificent temple. We stayed there for hours, just absorbing the atmosphere. We watched some temple guardians arrive and start sweeping. We watched all the vendors arrive and set up shop, talking and joking with each other. And when the first “other tourist” arrived we woke our lovely tuk-tuk boys up and asked them to take us to the next temple.

    By 10am we’d had our fill of temples, all completely deserted. We went home for a nap. We would have done it again the next morning but we had flights to catch. We’d agred to pay the tuk-tuk boys $20 but we gave them a $15 tip for keeping us away from the crowds. We’d stayed out an hour longer than arranged too, without any complaints from them.

    I hope to get back to Angkor next year and this is how I plan to see the temples. Although, with a baby in tow, we might sit in the tuk-tuk, but the roads were so bad then that the tuk-tuks had to creep along.

  18. Peter Magurean III

    In May 1963 I spent the most idyllic week of my life in the whole Siem Reap area and saw only about 20 people all week. It was that time preliminary to the big buildup that was ongoing prior to the US- Vietnam War. I wish to return after the nearly 50 years to again see the magnificent ruins. I had the benefit of reading French anthropologist, Bernard Groslier’ book written 60 years before. Do search out this work if you wish to have serious material to study. Do not miss Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom….they will change your life!

  19. Thanks for writing this Kate. We are going to Cambodia in May or June this year and we are definitely making it out to Angkor Wat. I’m sure the trip is well worth it. Hope to run into you sometime!

  20. Interesting! You definitely don’t hear much about having to climb like that and then the crowds. Should definitely keep that in mind.

  21. All good tips – I’d add ‘enjoy the lunch hour’. Most tour groups will head to the restaurants at Angkor Wat between 12 and 2, so it’s a good opportunity to visit some of the other temples with less of the crowds – we seemed to have Ta Prohm to ourselves for a while

  22. So true. The minute we came close to Angkor Wat, a young girl carrying a baby grabbed onto my wife and wouldn’t let go until she lost any hope for getting money. Even those that offer something in exchange, be it a simple bracelet will cling on without end.

    Clinginess aside, they are friendly. Any one of them that we talked to was more than happy to share their story, or just chat.

  23. Angkor Wat seems to be a really good place to go. Besides, it won’t be a called one of the Wonders of the World for nothing. It could be crowded but not much of a consequence if you would really want to visit one of the best temples in the world.

  24. Ah man… So is there no where / time to be there and have the place to yourself? Do you have to have a guide, or can you just walk around by yourself? I’m dying to go over there… looks a lot like my experiences in China at the different landmarks. They were neat, but not at all the experience I was hoping for. LOL

    1. Dan, you don’t necessarily need a guide, but you should have one — the temples are far apart and you need to get around somehow. Tourists can’t rent motorbikes in Siem Reap. (You can rent bikes if you’d like, though.)

  25. i can personally attest to number 3! there was this little girl selling bracelets in one of the temples. nice enough. i told here beforehand that i wasn’t interested. so she offered to just give this small, probably not that expensive, bracelet to me. i made it clear that i’m not going to pay for it and that i’m not going to buy anything from her. when i got out of the temple, she was still there demanding that i buy something from her! and she wouldn’t leave me alone. mister, mister! i just laughed it off in the end. i couldn’t remember now if i gave her money to make her go away.

  26. I will be traveling through Cambodia this summer and will be visiting the Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom, and I’ve received some great info through these so far. I have 3 full days to tour, including a trip to Beng Mealea Temple, one full day on my own and two days with a private guide. I am curious as to how much time would be sufficient to visit Angkor Wat temple (few hours, 1/2 day, 1 day)? Also, how much time would be sufficient to tour the Angkor Thom (city center)? And lastly, what would be the key temples that I could see on my own, best times of day for viewing & the easiest way to travel between them?

    1. Kelly, I think it would be best to chat with local guides in Siem Reap when you arrive. Angkor is what they know backwards and forwards — what to do when and how much time to spend at each place. You’ve got a LOT of time at Angkor, so I think you’ll do very well for yourself!

  27. Hi Kate, I am planning a one day trip to the temples like you as i think i am not as templistic as other are :). Just wanted to know if i can buy the tickets for the following day so as to escape the queue and see the sunrise on time?

  28. Hi Kate, I just went and visited the Angkor Wat temples with my mom on May 10, 2013 (just recently) and yes, all of what you’ve written are so true especially with the very persistent vendors and the temple fatigue!! But despite these negative things, going to Angkor Wat was very exhilarating, I want to go back again!!

  29. All this is very true although we found a way to avoid the crowds completely by going by bike and seeing some of the hidden temples. It was fantastic, although your first point about being in good shape is even more true! But it means you can take your time – we did three days and it was only by end of day three that we had temple fatigue (and a lot of other fatigue!)

  30. Its not busy at all in October, we had Ta Prom to ourselves from 4pm till 530pm, and the light is better for photography too.

    Its like any other tourist place, if you go there in the peak months expect it to be busy!

  31. Great tips Kate.

    We plan to visit Angkor Wat in the next two weeks. I’ve heard a lot of people say that a minimum of two days is needed to really explore the temples but after reading what you’ve said, I think that one day is more than enough – I imagine I’ll be well templed out after just a few hours, as temples are not something I’m massively interested in.

    Having said this, Angkor Wat has definitely got to be visited. 🙂

  32. Hello

    I am glad you end your story with “its worth to see it”, because it is one of the most wonderful things in the world.
    And ofcourse you have to climb some stairs. But what would you prefer? That they construct elevators and automatic stairs for the tourists? This is an ancient monument, and these sites include some climbing and discomfort.
    I agree with the vendors, sometimes it is sad to see them. And man, the sunrise at Ankor Wat is sooo crowded 😉

    1. I wasn’t complaining about the lack of elevators, Joop. I just found it surprising that so many of the temples had to be climbed with both your hands and feet, which would be difficult for the many older visitors or people with physical limitations of any kind.

  33. I am 81 and still relatively mobile for a man of my age. I am an experienced traveller who has never been to Cambodia, and have visited temples of every kind in Burma,India, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand plus more places then worth while mentioning.,

    I will only be there for one day on a optional guided tour from a cruise company while visiting Cambodia.

    Without the ability to climb into high temples, in your opinion would I consider something worth
    seeing, and would I find enjoyment from the trip if I skipped explorations that might cause to exhaust

    1. Morty, I think you can still have a great time at Angkor without doing hardcore climbing. Only a few of the temples require that level of climbing; many are very easy to visit as long as you don’t have severe mobility issues.

    2. @Morty My hats off to you sir, 81 and still travelling the world and sightseeing is not for everyone that’s for sure.
      Anyway, i will be at Angkor Wat around 26 januari, thought of doing it on my own but after reading this blog maybe it’s better to have a guide…I only stay one day at AW.
      @Kate: i was thinking of wearing my barefoot thong sandals, i guess that’s not a good idea right? sport shoes then? 🙂

  34. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for your wonderful insight on traveling to Angkor Wat.
    Me and my wife are planning a trip to Angkor Wat around next month August 2015.
    Can you please tell us if it is a good idea at this time.
    I keep hearing about rains. I am from India where it rains like crazy, So I am used to rains.
    All I want the know is that if the rains would totally disable us fro! Going out.

    1. Loving this thread-thanks, Kate. I’ll be in Myanmar for two weeks, visiting many temples. Then planned to go to Chiang Mai for 8-10 days and get to know one place after hopping around a lot in Myanmar. I didn’t have Cambodia on my list– as much as I love seeing temples, I feared I might have burn out and not appreciate the awesomeness of Angkor Wat after Myanmar. But now I’m wondering if I should go to Siem Reap for a short – maybe 1.5 or 2 day visit to the temples before heading to Chiang Mai. Such a big world – so many decision. Appreciate any thoughts on this – thanks!

      1. You know, if your body is telling you to slow down, I think you should slow down. 🙂 You can do Angkor in a day, but Cambodia is a crazy place and 1.5 days may end up exhausting you more.

  35. I ebbdwd going to Siem Reap by change of plan, and now is in my blood.
    The culture, temples and people are gorgeous.
    I am fit and was tired at end of each day but is so worth it.
    Wear good shoes, pants and drink water and youll be fine.
    You do have heaps of steps but life is not a race, it is a journey so enjoy.

  36. My parents are 81 and 77 years old .
    Can temples at angor wat be accessed or atleast enjoyed by wheel chair access.

    1. It’s been a few years since my most recent visit, but the temples at Angkor were not wheelchair-accessible. You would also need to secure a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in order to drive to them. It is not a destination that I would recommend for people in wheelchairs but I encourage you to do further research.

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