Things Nobody Tells You About Angkor Wat

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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Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World
Guest

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the temples, even with the crowds and child beggars. Cambodia isn’t on our RTW list, but the more I read about Cambodia and Vietnam, the more we slowly change our mind.

Adam
Guest

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… Read more »

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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?

Vira
Guest

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?

Paul
Guest

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.

Camels & Chocolate
Guest

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!)

Shannon (mynetdude)
Guest

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? 😀

Yvette
Guest

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.

Katherina
Guest

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…

Andrew Hall
Guest

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.

TravellingTiger
Guest

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.

ayngelina
Guest

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.

Andrew Murray
Guest

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 😉

Ted Nelson
Guest

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.

Cam
Guest

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!

Jodi
Guest

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… Read more »

Aaron
Guest

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!

Theodora
Guest

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… Read more »

eat-laugh-love-anon
Guest

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… Read more »

Zablon Mukuba
Guest

sometimes vendors can be quite annoying, i feel sometimes that they should be paid to leave you alone. i didnt know fitness played a role when visiting temples

Peter Magurean III
Guest
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!

Lois
Guest

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!

Ira
Guest

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

Lindat44
Guest

They are great tips!! I wish I had have read this before I went, though they are awesome and I still have to pinch myself to think I actually went there.

Steve
Guest

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

Andi
Guest

Wow, I had no idea it was THAT crowded. I never see a lot of people in other peoples pics.

Rebecca
Guest

Thanks for the heads up – going there in April, so I’d better start going to the gym 😉

It's Good For Us
Guest

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.

Samantha Dermot
Guest

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.

Dan Thompson
Guest

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

walkflypinoy
Guest

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.… Read more »

Jordan Oram (@maplemusketeer)
Guest

Awesome! I’m glad the link worked 😀 I’ve a good friend going to visit there in a few months and will be passing this on to him 🙂

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

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… Read more »

grumpyurbanslacker
Guest

well, you did quite well – 9 hours before temple fatigue! when i went there a few years back, TF set in after…30 minutes! 😀 haha. The heat was terrible! 😀

Saurabh Nagar
Guest

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?

Jan
Guest
Jan

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!!

Anna @ eatseedoblog
Guest

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!)

C
Guest
C

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!

Carlo Cretaro
Guest

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. 🙂

joop zande
Guest
joop zande

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 😉

Morty Eisen
Guest
Morty Eisen

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
me??????????????????

Kris
Guest
Kris

@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? 🙂

Kimhengpeng
Guest
Kimhengpeng

It would be better if you guys check angkor wat history.

Rupesh
Guest
Rupesh

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.
Rupesh

Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne

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… Read more »

Tracey
Guest
Tracey

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.

bg sharma
Guest
bg sharma

at age of 75 i am visiting temples will it be ok?????

Dr vikram paode
Guest
Dr vikram paode

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

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