Cambodia

Best way to visit Angkor Wat from Siem Reap, Cambodia

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If you’re thinking of visiting Angkor Wat, you’ll want to stay in Siem Reap.Photo/Getty Images

Want to visit Angkor Wat?Then you’ll almost certainly be living in Siem Reap, Cambodia’s charming temple gateway city, writes Mark Daffey.

The magnificent temples of Angkor were built by successive dynasties during the 500 years that the Khmer civilization ruled over much of Southeast Asia. For centuries after the inevitable fall of the empire, they remained neglected, hidden almost unrecognizable under tangled jungle vines. Now protected by UNESCO’s World Heritage List, they are easily Cambodia’s premier tourist attraction, and can be found in farmlands and towering forests around Siem Reap.

Protected by a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temples of Angkor are located in the towering forests surrounding Siem Reap.Photo/Getty Images
Protected by a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temples of Angkor are located in the towering forests surrounding Siem Reap.Photo/Getty Images

when to visit

The dry season from November to March is the best time to visit Cambodia, especially the temples of Angkor. Peak times are in December and January, which coincide with the Christmas holidays in many parts of the world. This is also the time of day when the temperature is most suitable. However, if you prefer to wander the temples yourself, reconsider your time; they can be overwhelmed with tourists during these busy months.

April and May can be unbearably hot and the quietest time to visit, ahead of the monsoon or green season that lasts from June to October. On the other hand, hotel prices may be lower then because of the huddles between the temples. As it rains, so does the temperature.

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Cambodia's monsoon season runs from June to October and is the quietest time to visit.Photo/Getty Images
Cambodia’s monsoon season runs from June to October and is the quietest time to visit.Photo/Getty Images

reach there

At the time of writing, Siem Reap has direct international flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang and Pakse. Domestic flights depart from the capital Phnom Penh and the coastal city of Sihanoukville.

Fast ferries also travel up the Tonle Sap from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, while road improvements in recent years have made the commute north from the capital far more bearable than the slow, jarring journey of the past.

Most nationalities require a tourist visa to enter Cambodia. The visa costs US$36 (USD only) including a US$6 processing fee and is valid for 30 days and expires 90 days after the date of issue. They can apply online or upon arrival at Siem Reap Airport, where you will also need a passport photo. Proof of Covid-19 vaccination or testing is no longer required.

The Tonle Sap River connects Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Pictures/123rf
The Tonle Sap River connects Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Pictures/123rf

direction

When French explorers rediscovered Angkor in the 19th century, Siem Reap was little more than a remote village. It is now one of the fastest growing cities in the country with a population of over 250,000.

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The Siem Reap River flows through the city center and is lined with beautiful parks. Cambodians come here to exercise, socialize or just sit on the shore, fishing rod in hand. Pass the Summer Palace of the imperial family, 14th-century pagodas, French colonial buildings, market stalls and covered bridges.

FCC Angkor by Avani is just next door to the Royal Residence. Once the elegant mansion of a French colonial governor, then the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, vintage typewriters and framed front pages of regional newspapers adorn every room and suite. Its central location and understated luxury make this hotel an ideal base for exploring the town and temples.

Once you’ve settled in, an easy way to set up your compass is to take a Taste themed tour. Options include food and drink tours to hidden bars and restaurants, cocktail tastings, shopping excursions, and exploring Siem Reap’s significant art scene.

See the French colonial buildings in Siem Reap Old Town. Pictures/123rf
See the French colonial buildings in Siem Reap Old Town. Pictures/123rf

Visit Angkor Wat

The crown jewel of Khmer civilization is undoubtedly the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat. Surrounded by a moat more than five kilometers long, its highlights include Bakhan, the holy site symbolizing Mount Meru, the mythical abode of Hindu gods, stone galleries depicting gods and demons, and more than 1,000 fairy dancers.

Angkor Wat is located six kilometers north of Siem Reap. During your visit, be sure to dress conservatively and cover bare shoulders and legs. “Buddha doesn’t like sexiness,” a taxi driver warned as we drove from the airport to my hotel.

One-day tickets allow entry to Angkor Archaeological Park for US$37 (NZ$60) per person or US$62 (NZ$101) for three days, payable in Cambodian riel or US dollars. More than 1,000 temples are spread over an area of ​​400 square kilometers.

Angkor Wat is located six kilometers north of Siem Reap.Photo/Getty Images
Angkor Wat is located six kilometers north of Siem Reap.Photo/Getty Images

Of these, Angkor Thom was built last, adjacent to Angkor Wat. It means “big city” and is a vast complex of temples, terraces and towers grouped within 12 kilometers of stone walls. Five gated entrances (the southern one is the best preserved) guard the many-headed towers of Bayon Temple, the three-tiered temple of Papuon, and the elephant stand on which members of the royal family sat when their victorious armies returned from battle.

Huge banyan trees wrap their tentacled roots around Ta Prohm’s crumbling walls and towers, making the temple a tourist favorite. Dubbed the “Temple of the Tomb Raider” for its starring role in Hollywood’s cinematic interpretation of the video game 20 years ago, it Might be busy Tom. Come soon after dawn though, it’s a whole different experience. If you’re lucky, you might have this temple to yourself.

Also known as the
Also known as the “Temple of the Tomb Raider”, Ta Prohm Temple is very popular among tourists.Photo/Getty Images

They are the three most frequently visited temple complexes. Others include Preah Khan, believed to be a medical university. A popular place to watch the sunset at Angkor Wat is from the top of the pyramid-shaped Bakken in Phnom Penh. Bantaey Srei is a bit far from the main temple complex, preventing large tour groups from making the effort to make it. Unlike most of the others, it’s made of red sandstone.

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Unlike most other temples, the Queen's Palace is made of red sandstone.Photo/Getty Images
Unlike most other temples, the Queen’s Palace is made of red sandstone.Photo/Getty Images

circus night

After Vietnamese invaders drove the brutal Khmer Rouge dictator from the jungle in the late 1970s, eight young Cambodians who had been in refugee camps on the Thai border established a visual and performing arts school. Circus techniques were incorporated into the school curriculum, leading to the creation of Phare – an avant-garde, alternative, musical Cambodian circus that is like a smaller version of Cirque du Soleil.

Shows have a different theme each week and are performed on three nights in a row during the low season or daily during the high season. The Circus is located on Ring Rd, 10 minutes from the city centre. Tickets for hour-long shows start at $18 (NZ$29.50). Book online through your hotel or at the door.

Phare is an avant-garde, alternative musical Cambodian circus.Photo/Getty Images
Phare is an avant-garde, alternative musical Cambodian circus.Photo/Getty Images

Thrilling

Like castles and cathedrals in Europe, you can visit temples in Cambodia, especially with kids. Fortunately, Siem Reap is not a one-trick pony.

The jungle-fringed temples of Angkor help explain how they remained hidden for centuries. Here, gibbons swing like graceful acrobats through the treetops, and can be seen on a three-hour zipline tour at Siem Reap Angkor Ziplines. No doubt a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Tuk-tuks are the main form of transportation in Siem Reap. But another fun way to explore the countryside is a quad bike tour, riding through rice fields to some of the region’s lesser-known temples.

For the culturally inclined, a boat tour to the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake includes stops at local markets, schools, medical clinics, and crocodile farms.

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For more things to do in Siem Reap and Cambodia, see www.tourismcambodia.org

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