Planning your itinerary for Angkor Wat

After the question, "Is the sunrise worth it?", the next question I get asked about Angkor Wat in Cambodia is if  "the 3 or 7 day pass is necessary?"  Everyone will answer this question differently but here I can explain why we chose the 3-day pass and what exactly we did with that time.

Angkor Wat (darn scaffolding)
First and foremost, I will tackle the biggest misconception about Angkor Wat, that it is just 1 temple.  Not true, not even close.  It is HUGE, a network of numerous ancient temples spread over 400 square kilometers of lakes, moats, temples, villages, etc.  For example, one popular temple is a 1 hour tuk tuk ride from Angkor Wat and STILL located on the grounds.  Granted tuk tuk travel is somewhat slow.

Now, admittedly, it was super hot while we were in Siem Reap, so we only spent a few hours each day exploring. But in all honesty with the heat, the amount of people, distance between temples, and the sheer volume of amazing things to look at I cannot understand why anyone would come all this way and cram things into one day. In my opinion it's just too much!

The best way to get around is to hire a tuk tuk. Usually your hotel will be able to recommend a few.  We hired ours through the hotel and paid roughly $15-$20 per full day of touring around where ever we wanted to go.  You can also go with a tour or by bus but I think the tuk tuk is one of the best ways to see a countryside.  It is illegal, for various reasons, to rent a motorbike and drive it yourself, but the option of hiring one with a driver is a possibility as well.  Or bicycles for hire, but did you hear the part about the heat?

Here is how we spent our 3 day pass:

Day 1

First, we went early evening the night before we wanted to start our explorations to purchase our passes.  Everyone that gets a pass needs to be present at the office in order to have their photo taken.  You can only buy tickets at the park entrances and children under 12 are free, as are Cambodians. A 1-day pass is $20, 3-day pass is $40 (can be used during a 7-day period), and 7-day pass is $60 (can be used during a 30-day period).  When you do get a pass in the evening they will let you in the park to check out the sunset without counting it as one of your days.

The Bayon at Angkor Thom
Day 1: We already had our passes so we got up early in order to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.  And by early I mean 4:30am!  We watched the sunrise with 100 of our closest friends, and then ate a nice breakfast with a women we had met the previous evening. If you eat there, be sure to visit stand #1 Tiger Woods.  You'll know what I mean when you get there.  There is no electrical power around the park so they run everything by connecting to car batteries, sometimes many of them.  It works!

Aside from the sunrise the light is not really very good at Angkor Wat in the early morning so after saying NO about 1000 times to the people selling everything from books to postcards, we got in our tuk tuk and went over to Angkor Thom.  This is actually an even larger temple ground than Angkor Wat and we spent the next 3 hours exploring it.  The Bayon, Baphoun, Elephant terrace, Terrace of the Leper King, and Pre Rup on our way out.  It is also worthwhile to try and check out the various gates of Angkor Thom as they are stunning and quite well preserved.

After all of this we had been out for over 6 hours and decided enough was enough.  It is hot, so be prepared for that and if at all possible get a hotel with a pool in order to cool off.  We may have melted without that pool!

Day 2

For day 2 we decided to head out a bit later, so we left our hotel at 10am.  We wanted to catch the afternoon light at Angkor Wat for photos and exploring so we decided to to go out a bit farther and first see Ta Phrom, the famed Tomb Raider temple.  We were all really excited about this one and it did not disappoint.  I think for my younger boys this was the favorite temple.  It was also nice as with all the trees growing in, on and among the temple there was a little shade so the heat was not quite as stifling.  Ta Phrom is a must see.

Ta Phrom
After 2 hours exploring we made our way back to Angkor Wat to tour, admire, and relish in the deep history.   Lunch came first with our friends at #1 Tiger Woods.  The husband of the "diner" is practicing to be an official guide so he offered to take us around Angkor Wat and explain all the bas beliefs, history, and symbolism we would encounter.  It was wonderful and I highly recommend having someone explain it all.

Next, the plan was to head up the hill to watch the sunset but we were exhausted and overheated.  We spent 7 hours out in the sun and managed just 2 temples.  Back in the pool for us!

Day 3

We took 2 days off and then my oldest son, D, and I went out for our final day.  The younger boys and my husband were "templed-out"!  After doing some research on the temples we decided that we would take the 1 hour ride out to see Banteay Srey, 37 km from Angkor Wat.  The temple itself was beautiful, red colored stone, with some of the most intricate carvings of all that we saw. But the thing that made this trip special was the actual drive out to the temple.

Banteay Srey
Being able to take a glimpse at these small villages, full of people just living their everyday life, struggling and content at the same time did a lot for our general perspective on life.  I recommend this journey for that alone.  We also stopped in at the Landmine museum as it is close to the Banteay Srey temple.  This is also a must-see stop where we discovered the horrific truths behind a bombing campaign led by the US that was never taught in high school history, not in the US anyway.

**Please visit and support in anyway that you can.  This is a former child soldier during the Khmer Rouge days that turned his life around, rescues children and helps them as well as dis assembles the active landmines that litter this small country 30 years later.**

We ended day 3 with a stop at Phnom Bakheng, inside the Angkor Thom complex for the afternoon.  We arrived early so avoided the sunset crowds.  This is THE spot for watching the sunset as the views of Angkor Wat from the top are stunning.  A short 10-15 minute hike up the hill revealed a beautiful hill temple and the opportunity to view Angkor Wat from afar.  Not sure this is a do not miss spot, but it was beautiful and offered a unique viewpoint!   A nice way to end our 3-day adventure in the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng
There is so much to see at the park and we could have easily gone with the 7-day pass.  But all in all I am very content with what we did manage to see.  We saw the highlights and a little more, learned exactly what it was we were looking at and didn't burn ourselves out...well I didn't burn myself out.  I am pretty sure the kids would be happy to go several months with no more baking in the hot sun during temple viewing days.

As an added tip, be sure to dress appropriately.  You may not be refused entry but it shows more respect.  Cambodians are modest people and these still represent sacred sites to them.  

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