Purple Star = visited 2015
Yellow Circle = to visit in the future
Our 2.5 days at Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap were one of the highlights of our trip entire trip through Southeast Asia. Our original schedule was 6 days in Phnom Penh and 3 days in Siem Reap. Looking back, I wish we had flipped our schedules for 6 days in Siem Reap and 3 days in Phnom Penh. I really wish we had double the amount of time to explore Angkor park and the town of Siem Reap itself as it was very fun and beautiful.
First, I want talk a little about our experience at the park. Admittedly, I hadn't done much research, but found these 10 things surprising about the park.
1. The roads are all paved and well maintained. Having taken a 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, I was expecting gravely unpaved roads like the rest of Cambodia, or ill-maintained ones like in Phnom Penh, but a lot of money has gone into Angkor Park, and you can tell that it has been spent on roads.
2. The process of getting a park pass and going in each day was very smooth and efficient. Not everything in Southeast Asia is efficient, but at Angkor, they open the park at 5:00am on the dot. The whole office seems really professional and organized, and the lines move very quickly.
3. Both sunrise and sunset are amazing. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is the classic tourist shot, but actually sunset at Angkor Wat is just as beautiful. Also, it’s amazing to watch the sunrise from almost any of the temples in the park, especially if you don’t want to be in a crowd.
4. It’s still a work in progress. I don’t know why, but I had assumed that most temples would be restored to an almost finished point, however, there is a lot of active construction on many temples. This means that you can go back year after year and still experience the temples in a new way.
5. Even though there are thousands of tourists everywhere everyday, it is still possible to find quiet and solitude. It is well worth memorizing the schedule of the tour buses so that you can do the opposite.
6. The food at the park is insanely overpriced. That shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. If you plan to spend all day there it would be wise to pack a meal. The restaurants near Angkor Wat charge 10x the amount they should, which you will quickly find out if you are at Angkor Wat in the pre-dawn hours, where children will wave menus and flashlight in your face. The prices are insane. $5 for coffee, $8 for a cup of instant noodles – Portland, Oregon is cheaper than that. The deal is that you are supposed to haggle, and I would start the counter offer at a quarter of the price on the menu, with hopes to settle at roughly half the menu price.
7. Practically nothing is walkable. I knew this would be a huge park, and I knew we would need a tuk-tuk to get there from the apartment, but I could not envision the scale of the park. Each temple may be a 5-10 minute drive from the other. Technically, a distance of several miles is walkable, but you will see no one walking. The intense heat and sun make that rather unpleasant, and don’t you want to save your energy for climbing the temples and staying up from sunrise to sunset?
8. It’s hazardous. Only Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm have boardwalks and roped off sections. The other temples are is fairly decent shape, but you may have to climb over large rocks or scale steep walls. It’s by no means dangerous (though an idiot could surely find some way to hurt himself) but you should be cautious. The floor won’t crumble beneath you, and the rocks won’t topple onto you, but there are no safety nets or guardrails. I did not see anyone with small children that were not either being carried or held on too. It’s not a place you would want your kids to run wild.
9. It’s massive and remote. My partner was so impressed by the scale of the place, and how not much modern civilization is around. Many ancient ruins in the world are often preserved in large modern metropolises.
10. It’s not a day trip. We spent two full days and a half day at the park and only saw 60% of it. I think five whole days would do it justice.
List of Temples visited in 2015
(click on name to see the whole album):