Astonishing Angkor Wat
By Kai Rambow
You’ve seen these temples in movies, yet may not make the connection. You vaguely recall hearing the name, but can’t quite place it. Angkor Wat is classified as one of the ancient wonders, and as my friend Jodie-Beth described it, “jaw dropping.”
This is the largest religious complex on the planet, built 900 years ago, covering over 400 acres in the middle of a forest. The sheer size is impressive, but what makes it jaw dropping is the variety of architecture. Many temples have a unique look creating a rich visual experience.
Be Smart and Hire a Guide
It would be silly to travel so far and not know what you’re seeing. I was fortunate to have a recommended tour guide who is highly rated. There are several advantages to hiring a guide.
David Sovann, my guide, knew the best temples to see, in what order to see them, the best picture spots and the location of “happy rooms” (restrooms). Having an air conditioned SUV to get around in the heat and humidity helped keep up energy levels.
At Angkor Wat (main temple) along the outside walls are more than half a mile long on each side. You can do a lot of walking and still miss what’s important. Similarly, you could be looking at something and not know what it is or why it’s significant. And that’s just one temple.
Planning Your Trip
Cambodia is not on most organized trips and tours. If you’re in Southeast Asia, you can plan this extension on your own. There are regular flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Singapore.
Recommend using the first day to fly in, clear customs and get settled into your hotel. Take a guided tour with David Sovann on your second day and possibly third day. Another possibility is to take a tour with David on your second day and arrange a tuk tuk for the third day to revisit one of two of your favorite temples. Leave late on day three or fly out early on day four.
Preparing for the Culture
Cambodia has only recently become accessible to tourists. A 30-year civil war has left the country poor. Despite these hardships, Cambodians are hardworking and dignified. This is a quiet, understated culture, so being a loud or rude tourist is counterproductive. Treat the locals with respect and you’ll get little suggestions to make your trip even more memorable. More on this in the Help the Local Economy section.
Tips for a Great Trip
When to Go: November, December, January and February are the best months to visit. It will still feel hot and humid as if you are in the jungle.
Clothing: Light clothing is highly recommended; wick away fiber even better. This is a religious site, so no revealing clothes. Knee-length shorts are fine. Sunscreen, sunhat, sunglasses are essential.
Be sure to wear walking shoes or hiking sandals. There is a lot of walking over some uneven surfaces.
When You Arrive: Siem Reap has a beautiful, modern airport. Its immigration procedure is bureaucratic. There are several forms to fill out, so be sure to try and get these before boarding your flight.
You can get an e-visa online in advance for $30 plus a convenience fee of $7. This will save you some time when you land.
When you enter the building, if you do not have a visa, you’ll need to go to the right side to get your visa first. You’ll need a passport picture and $30. Be prepared to exercise some patience.
Keep in mind Cambodia is a poor country, ranked 115 based on GDP. Thailand, right next door, ranks 30. So visa fees for tourism are an important source of revenue.
Many hotels will arrange a ride for you. Most of the time this is in an open tuk tuk (motorcycle with carriage). This may feel like a bit of a wild ride, but it’s a fun introduction to Cambodia. You may want a face mask to filter the fumes from passing vehicles.
Where to Stay: There are over 500 hotel choices here. While I stayed in downtown Siem Reap, you may want to consider a hotel with a pool to cool off, relax and unwind. Check to see if they will set up a ride from the airport for you. This will make your travel easier.
Tip: We’re so used to mosquito control here, we forget it can be challenging elsewhere. After being bitten the first night, I sprayed my sleeping room before I went for dinner to ensure a bite free night.
Bangkok Airways: The distance between Bangkok and Siem Reap is 207 miles. Taking a bus is really cheap, but will take up to 10 hours over rough roads. Or you can reach your destination with a 40-minute flight.
Bangkok Airways was a delightful surprise. Several flights a day, reasonable prices, Thai hospitality and even a light meal on every flight. Their web site is easy to use, so you can book your tickets from here before leaving.
Currency: Siem Reap operates on American dollars. Be sure to have new bills and smaller bills. You can pay for almost everything using our currency.
Help the Local Economy: Cambodia is a poor country. If you’re not prepared, this can be heart breaking. You’ll see landmine victims and little children selling souvenirs. Cambodians are dignified and would rather legitimately sell you something than beg, although the little kids will plead.
My recommendation: take plenty of smaller bills and be prepared to buy souvenirs for family and friends. It’s so inexpensive for us, but will make a big difference for them. You could also buy items for raffles and nonprofit fundraisers back home. For example, I saw a beautiful table runner for only $3.
David Sovann: If you’d like to hire David, you can email him at “firstname.lastname@example.org”. He gets recommended a lot, so once you know when you plan to go book him. He also has a blog at “davidangkorguide.blogspot.com”.
Some Hotel Recommendations
With over 500 hotel choices, where to stay? David Sovann met my request for good hotels with a pool and decent rates:
Lada Kiri Boutique
Apsara Centrepole Residence