Cambodia,  Featured,  Travel

First Time Experiencing Angkor Wat | Pros and Cons

I don’t even know where to start when I think back to my week in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During the initial planning phase of my adventure, I only intended in staying three full days with Angkor Wat as a top priority. Instead, I ended up staying for six days and LOVED every second of it! It was plenty of days to see both sides of the city, without one spoiling the other!

I knew I wanted to visit Siem Reap because I really wanted to see Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several travelers said that it’s effortless to cross the border between Thailand and Cambodia. It was a no brainer.

Border Thailand to Cambodia

I pre-booked my ticket with Giant Ibis through 12go.asia, the best website for booking or researching transportation in Asia. I also decided to apply for my visa ahead of time to save space in my passport. It was honestly SUPER easy in every sense of the way.

The journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap took about 9 hours. The bus ride was pretty uneventful with a little confusion at the border. Thankfully, Giant Ibis was there every step of the way.

Arrival into Siem Reap

Once I physically arrived into Siem Reap, I jumped in a random tuk-tuk and headed to my hostel, Onederz. This random tuk-tuk ended up being the best thing that happened. At the hostel, my tuk-tuk driver, Morl, mentioned to me that he offers tuk-tuk rides through Angkor Wat. I honestly didn’t know my plans and wanted to “wing it,” so we exchanged numbers, just in case!

At Onederz Hostel, I ended up meeting a girl, Laura. She decided to go ahead with the hostel’s Petit Tour of Angkor Wat. I usually wouldn’t do a tour, but I wanted to learn more about the majestic Angkor Wat. Plus, it was only $12. So, I joined Laura and the other hostel people on this Petit Tour.

One thing I want to explain before I go forward is the currency of Cambodia. Cambodia’s official currency is the riel. However, the majority of the country uses the US dollar, including ATMs. It was extremely WEIRD going back to the US dollar after being on the Thai baht for seven months.

Angkor Wat
Cambodia Currency

Another thing, Cambodia also doesn’t have coins for their currency since the riel to dollar ratio is 4000:1. Meaning, they’ll give you US dollars for bills, then riels for change. It’s a pretty unique aspect to Cambodia!

The particular tour I did with Onederz Hostel was the Sunrise Tour or Small Circuit tour with a tour guide. You can opt for a tuk-tuk tour without guide for $6, but I thought having a guide would be beneficial for the first time visit.

Now, there is something you should know about Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It has been said to be one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world. I was not going to miss it.

Tour and Ticket Options

Sunrise tours in Siem Reap typically mean a 4:30/4:45 departure time and this tour wasn’t any different. The primary reason for the SUPER early departure usually depends on if you need a ticket or not. Plus, the sheer volume of tourists visiting sunrise on a single day means traffic.

You can easily and quickly purchase Angkor Wat tickets the day of the sunrise visit. You can also purchase them the day before as long as it is after 5pm. Bonus, you are able to see sunset if you chose the latter option, for free. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

There are several ticket options for Angkor Wat; a single day entry for $37, a 3-day pass for $62, or a 7-day pass for $72. Something unique about these multiple-day passes is that you do not need to use them on consecutive days. The 3-day pass is valid for 10 days, and the 7-day pass is valid for 30 days. This means you have options for visiting the grounds of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

My friend and I both opted for the 3-day pass to give us the option for returning to the temples. The tour itself started off strong with a good history of Angkor Wat (pro). There was plenty of time to experience things like climbing a tower for a view or getting blessed by a monk. However, after the first two temples, it started to become nearly impossible to hear the tour guide (major con), and the speed was becoming increasingly fast (con)

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in hanging back and ignoring the tour guide. There was another couple who felt very similar to the tour as I did, and the three of us pretty much just took pictures of the majestic temples.

Each temple we visited had a different vibe and look to them. This was based on the century in which they were built, the religious entity who they were built for, and the purpose for the building.

Angkor Wat: UNESCO World Heritage Site

The largest and main temple on the grounds is Angkor Wat, which faces west and allows the sun to rise directly behind it. This skillful placement is part of why the sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of the most famous sunrises in the world. What’s even more unique, during the equinox, the sun rises in direct alignment with the middle tower. (Without knowing, I was a few days shy of this perfect alignment).

Angkor Wat
Monk at Angkor Wat

These towers and many throughout the grounds have a particular Lotus flower shape to them. The lotus flower is very symbolic in both Hinduism and Buddhism, meaning divine perfection and purity, respectively. It’s not uncommon to see the symbol of the lotus throughout temples, and Angkor Wat is no exception.

After we watched the sunrise, our guide took us into the main temple where we learned a little more about the stones, carvings, and design of the temple. I even had the opportunity to be blessed by a monk. It was extremely spiritual. 

Bayon Temple

We continued our tour to Bayon, a late 12th-early 13th-century Buddhist temple, known for smiling stone faces. This was the point that Angkor Wat was starting to get ridiculously crowded with tourists. At Bayon, I decided to hang back from the tour guide and truly take in the serenity of the temple(s).

Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei Temples

Next on the tour was the second most famous temple at the park, Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is best known for the massive trees that have physically grown through the stone. They have become one with the structures, engulfing much of the temple. Ta Prohm has been nicknamed “The Jungle Temple,” for this reason. It is also the location where parts of Tomb Raider was filmed. Unfortunately, the majestic site was lost to the glob of tourists, and I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I was hoping. I felt very rushed and at times, felt like a sardine.

Our final location was Banteay Kdei, another Buddhist temple built in the mid 12th- early 13th-century. At this point of the day (it’s only 1 pm), my brain was slowly fading, so I don’t remember much of the history of this temple. This is a con to taking an organized tour vs. hiring a tuk-tuk driver.

We finally returned to the hostel after an extremely long and hot day exploring Angkor, and I wasn’t up for much the rest of the day. After a short nap, Laura and I met to discussed plans for the next day, and concluded with asking Morl to be our driver/guide for the day! I was excited to relax the rest of the day and even more ready for another adventure at Angkor. Stay tuned for more adventures through Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat Banteay Klei

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and companies I use personally.

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28 Comments

      • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

        Don’t be afraid. You can experience Angkor Wat in a much less touristy manner. And Cambodia has made some changes in 2019 so it’s much different (I’ll be writing a return to Angkor post soon). Its really a must see (in my opinion of course, but I love Cambodia)

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      Thank you. I’ve been twice now and hoping to share a few tricks in a later post. Thanks for reading.

  • Steph

    Ankor Wat is on my list for 2020, so this post is perfect! 😊
    I had no idea that the 3-day ticket was valid for 10 days.
    I just wish they would limit the amount of people that get to enter the complex. It seems so overrun 🙁

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      I wish that too, but it would be hard because the validity is so long, and their are so many check points for tickets. There are so many temples throughout Siem Reap and neighboring cities that it is possible to experience it less touristy. 🙂

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      Thank you for reading. The temples are breathtaking. I fell in love with Cambodia and Siem Reap. Don’t be turned away because of it. My blog on the Grand Circuit shows how to beat the crowds. I’ll be writing soon about my return visit, and the differences in what I noticed. 🙂

  • Emma

    What a great guide. I’d love to go to Angkor Wat and this really helped. I know what you mean about the money. I was just in Vietnam and their money is 25000:1 with USD which they also use. So no coins and I went there as a millionaire! Really hard to get used to

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      I’m traveling to Vietnam soon so thanks for the tip about no coins. Angkor Wat has so many hidden gems. Yes, very touristy, but also pretty spectacular!

  • Sam

    I really want to visit and I am so upset I didn’t during my time in Thailand. We planned to go and even had a reservation in Cambodia and then switched it up and went to KL. Anyways, this was such a detailed post! I felt like I was there and loved all the photos! Will deff be referring back to this when I make it back to that side of the world!

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      I highly recommend a visit, but good thing it’s not going anywhere so you have time! KL was amazing too. I bet it was hard to decide which country/city to do. Thank you for the positive comment and for reading.

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      It was glad I did more than one day to experience more of the park without a fried brain. The history is just so vast at Angkor Wat with the centuries of influence. Thank you for reading!

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      Siem Reap and Angkor Wat have been major highlights! I hope one day you’ll get to see them! Thank you so much for the positive comment!

  • Ingrid

    We’ve just been to the little brother of Angkor Wat, My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam and loved it so much! Since we’re in the area I would really love to get to see the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat!

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      ooo I’m heading to Vietnam in March. I’ll have to add My Son Sanctuary to my things to see. Angkor Wat is truly one of my favorite places. Thanks for reading!

  • Rhonda Albom

    Like you, we often don’t get at tour, but would in a place like Angkkor-Wat. It has been on my bucket list for a while, and I will get there. Thanks for all the information, and tips. It’s always good to hear both sides.

    • Nicole | Mapless Adventures

      I highly recommend a tuk-tuk 10 folds over a tour. I highly recommend Angkor Wat. It’s one of my favorite places in the world! Thanks for reading!

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