Angkor Wat – The Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors

Table of Contents

With over a thousand temples, Angkor Archeological Park can be daunting for anyone planning on visiting this ancient site for the first time. What temples to visit, in what order, and how to avoid the crowds are all questions that will cross your mind when planning your trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Angkor Wat during sunrise from the North Library

To make it simple and less overwhelming for you, we have put together this Angkor Wat Ultimate Guide where you will find everything broken down into quick and easy-to-read sections!

Angkor Wat – Brief History

Once the seat of the Khmer Empire, which ruled most of mainland Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 15th century, Angkor had its peak during the 12th century before a long period of decline when the jungle swallowed most of it.

Angkor Wat seen from above during sunset

Angkor Wat was the only temple still in use up until the Europeans stumbled upon it in the 1850s. It was only in 1992 that the site was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has since become a focal point of responsible restoration and the primary source of income for the country.

Angkor Wat Temple
Inside of Angkor Wat

Also known as the “City of Temples” in the Khmer language, Angkor Wat is the most popular, most well-preserved, and most visited temple within Angkor Archeological Park.

Fun fact: the construction of Angkor Wat is thought to have taken 35 years, 300,000 laborers, and 6,000 elephants, according to inscriptions. Five million tons of sandstone were used to build it.

Angkor Wat Temple
Inside of Angkor Wat

Stretching over 400 square kilometers, the complex is the largest religious monument on the planet with over a thousand temples. Although it might seem daunting at first, it is very easy to visit Angkor Archeological Park, and definitely a magical once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Inside of Angkor Wat
Inside of Angkor Wat

If you want to learn more about Angkor history before visiting the temples, here are some Podcasts we really enjoyed:

Angkor Wat 101 – Know Before You Visit

When to visit

Angkor Wat can be visited all year round although December to February is usually considered the best time to visit, with the sunniest and driest days of the year. April to May is not recommended for being too hot and humid.

June to November is less crowded and cheaper but it’s when you’ll see the most rain. Everything looks green and beautiful during this time, so don’t rule it out completely!

Where to stay

The gateway to Angkor Wat is the city of Siem Reap – the second-largest city in Cambodia. The city center is just 7 km from the UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers both budget and luxury accommodations.

There are a few luxury resorts that are located closer to Angkor Wat such as The Beige – Luxury Tent Resort, although we think Siem Reap is a city that should not be missed!

Also see: Top 12 Things to Do in Siem Reap – Beyond Angkor Wat

What to pack

Get a small backpack ready for visiting Angkor Wat and pack:

  • your tickets – on an easy-to-reach yet safe spot!
  • your camera
  • sunscreen – sun in Cambodia is not to be messed with
  • water and snacks/food – you can buy them at Angkor too but they’re more expensive there
  • cash – to buy extra snacks, water, or souvenirs
  • insect repellent – mainly for the early mornings and late afternoons
  • hat and sunglasses
  • a picnic towel – you will get tired at some point and this one is a lifesaver to sit wherever you want!

Safety Tips

Cambodia is a very safe place to travel although petty theft and tuk-tuk scams have become more common in the present. Be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close to you at all times and you should be ok! To avoid being scammed by tuk-tuk drivers, we recommend using the Grab taxi app, which offers tuk-tuk rides and fares are set.

Note: We don’t recommend renting scooters as it’s illegal for foreigners to drive in Cambodia unless you hold a Cambodian driver’s license. Instead, we highly recommend renting bicycles!

Understanding Angkor Archeological Park

A breakdown of everything you need to know about visiting Angkor:

Angkor Layout

This is the map of the main section of Angkor Archeological Park. There are two main circuits you can choose from when visiting, which include the biggest highlights of Angkor:

 Angkor Archeological Park Map
Angkor Archeological Park Map

Grand Circuit – shown in green, it includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, and Pre Rup.

Small Circuit – shown in red, it includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and Prasat Kravan.

Note: popular temples outside of the main section are Beng Mealea, Roluos Group, Banteay Srei, Phnom Krom, Phnom Kulen, and Koh Ker.

Most guided tours take tourists around these circuits in a clockwise direction so we recommend you do the loops in a counter-clockwise direction to help avoid the crowds!

Tickets & Opening Hours

All foreign visitors must possess an admission pass, called Angkor Pass, to visit the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park. The pass allows you to visit all temples in Siem Reap area except for the Phnom Kulen National Park and the Koh Ker temples which require a separate admission pass.

Angkor Pass is available in three different options:

  • 1-Day Pass: $37 (valid the day of purchase)
  • 3-Day Pass: $62 (valid for 10 days from the issue date)
  • 7-Day Pass: $72 (valid for one month from the issue date)

Note: for the 3 and 7-Day Pass you can take a day or two in between the temple visits as they’re both valid for longer (see above).

Angkor Complex Temples
Angkor Complex Temples

You are required to stamp your ticket at the ticket checkpoint on Charles de Gaulle street before heading to Angkor, as well as show your ticket before entering every temple. Make sure to keep it easily accessible yet safe.

Where to Buy the Angkor Pass?

There are only two ways to buy your ticket for Angkor Archeological Park:

In-person at their Official Ticket Office located 4 km away from Siem Reap City Center and open from 4:30 AM to 5:30 PM every day. Cash (US Dollars, Cambodian Riel, Thai Bath, Euro) and credit cards are accepted.

Note: You can’t purchase your entrance ticket upfront. Entrance tickets for same-day visits are issued from 4:30 AM up to 5 PM and you can only buy a one-day ticket for the next day after 5 PM.

Online either on their official website or through Get Your Guide (you should buy it at least 12 hours before your visit so they have enough time to send you the tickets via email or WhatsApp).

Good to know:

  • you must have your shoulders and knees covered when buying your ticket at the Official Ticket Office
  • the Angkor Pass is not refundable and not transferable (the owner’s name and photo are printed on the ticket)
  • you don’t need to bring or show your passport to buy a ticket
  • children under 12 years old are not required to purchase an entrance ticket – a passport needs to be shown as proof
  • the Angkor Pass does not include special permits for commercial picture-taking or film shooting
  • there are no discounts for groups
  • passes bought online don’t need to be printed, you can show them on your phone

Opening Hours

Angkor Wat and Srah Srang are open from 5 AM to 5:30 PM and are both popular spots for sunrise

Phnom Bakhend and Pre Rup are open from 5 AM to 7 PM and are both popular spots for sunrise and sunset

All other temples are open from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.

Angkor Complex Temples
Victory Gate Angkor Thom

Angkor Code of Conduct

Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the most sacred sites in Cambodia and therefore, as visitors, we should all show due respect to their code of conduct:

Dress Code

The first thing you should know is that both men and women should have their knees and shoulders covered in order to visit the temples. Since Cambodia is extremely hot all year round you should go for something light and breathable.

Hot tip: we strongly recommend wearing brightly-colored or white clothes as they’ll stand out from the stone backgrounds on your photos!

Ta Prohm Temple

You don’t have to remove your footwear to enter the temples and since you’ll be walking for most of the time we recommend you opt for something comfortable.

Temple Etiquette

Here are some rules you should know before visiting the temples:

Angkor Visit Code of Conduct

Getting to & around Angkor Wat

There are 3 major ways to visit Angkor from Siem Reap:

Guided tours: the easiest way to visit Angkor is to hop on a guided tour. The cost range from $20 to $115 a day per person and usually includes pickup and drop-off, an AC vehicle, and an English-speaking tour guide.

  • Pros: hassle-free, knowledgeable guide, air-conditioned vehicle
  • Cons: guided tours usually follow the most touristic route (crowds!) and you have counted time to visit each temple

If you don’t mind the crowds, we highly recommend using Get Your Guide to book your tour:

Tuktuk: this is a good option if you already know where you want to go! All tuk-tuks in the city offer this private tour and it should cost you no more than $15 for Half-Day and $20 for a Full-Day tour. The drivers are usually very knowledgeable although their English is a bit harder to understand – don’t be afraid to ask them questions, they love telling you all about Angkor!

Bike or E-Bike: we think this is the most original and memorable way to visit the temples. You can rent a bicycle in Siem Reap directly through your hotel and it should cost around $5-6 per day.

If this is your preferred option, we highly recommend you follow our Angkor Wat by Bicycle – Perfect One-Day Itinerary!

E-bikes are also an option and you can rent one for as little as $10 a day at Green E-Bike and Bayon Eletric Bikes.

Victory Gate of Angkor Thom

Responsible Tourism in Angkor

Haggling Practices

Most countries in Southeast Asia have a really strong haggling culture but Cambodia is NOT one of them! This is important to note as if you’re coming from places like Thailand or Vietnam, you might be used to negotiating prices for everything. In Cambodia, you should know WHEN to do so:

Clothing and Souvenir Stalls: these are priced with an expectation for negotiation, so feel free to haggle here. Remember to be friendly instead of defensive and treat it as an opportunity for interaction – you should keep in mind that Cambodia is an impoverished country and a dollar can go a huge way for them.

Food: especially the stalls at night markets – they’re already extremely cheap at around $1-3 so it’s not recommended to haggle here.

Tuk-Tuks: do haggle! They’re famously known for applying scams on tourists so make sure you negotiate a fare rate before hopping on it. We recommend you either use the Grab taxi app, which offers tuk-tuk rides and fares are set. You can also use the Grab app to check what the rate should be before negotiating, this way neither you nor the driver gets impaired.

Here’s a breakdown of tuk-tuk pricing in 2023:

  • Small Circuit of Half-Day visiting temples: $15
  • Big Circuit or Full Day visiting temples: $18-20
  • Expect to be charged an extra $5 if you want to visit the temples for sunrise
  • Angkor Ticket Office return trip from Siem Reap: $5
  • Trips around Siem Reap should always cost less than $5 – check the Grab app!
Victory Gate of Angkor Thom

Animal Interactions

Unfortunately, Elephant Rides are still offered as a tourist attraction in Angkor. You should know there is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides and so this is a huge no-no when visiting Angkor Wat! Please don’t contribute to unethical animal exploration when traveling, there are so many other ways to interact with these beautiful creatures, and riding on their back is not one of them.

Monkeys at Angkor Wat
Monkeys at Angkor Wat

Additionally, you will see monkeys everywhere around Angkor, and if you have ever interacted with one before you know how mischievous these cute little animals can be. They can steal your bags, any shining goods, and your food too if given a chance!

Keep your belongings always with you and never intentionally feed the monkeys – this can make them aggressive over time as well as spread diseases. You’ll be doing more harm than good.

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We’re Nick & Bruno, two creative souls who decided to set off to explore the world while sharing authentic experiences, travel resources and tips, and inspiring adventures online. We hope you can find inspiration and motivation from our posts to chase your travel dreams too. Come decide Where to Flow with us!

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