The talesofasia guide to travel in Siem Reap and Angkor
Updated May 19, 2011
Siem Reap index page
There are a lot of reasons to visit Bangkok, or Phnom Penh, or Paris, or New York, but as much as Siem Reap may offer other attractions, temples are the main reason you're here and Angkor Wat is the heart of it all.
An Angkor FAQ
Q: Do I need a guide to see Angkor?
A: There is no requirement that says you have to use a guide to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park. It's entirely a personal decision. Some people find carrying a guide book with them to be sufficient, others prefer having someone escort them through the temples explaining things as they go along. One option to consider is hiring a guide for one day only and spending your other days on your own.
For most languages, guides cost between $20 and $30 a day and are available speaking a number of foreign languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese, but don't count on Ta Chiew or Hokkien...), though some of these languages carry a premium on price. It's also becoming increasingly more common that guides will charge an additional $5 if you want them to accompany you to sunrise.
Best way to obtain a guide is through your hotel or guesthouse. However, the demand for guides, particularly during high season, can exceed the supply and it may be difficult to get a tour guide at the last minute. This is especially true for languages other than English. It is not at all uncommon that during high season a hotel or guesthouse with as many as thirty or forty guides on file will still be unable to find an available one. Your last resort is to try a tour company or travel agency but expect to pay a premium.
Reasons to get a tour guide: A good guide can not only provide more background information than a guidebook (and who wants to spend their time at the temples with their nose in a book?), but can fill in the gaps with a bit of color and insight into many aspects of Cambodian culture, society, and even politics - though this last topic is often best avoided as there are a lot of questions concering the accuracy of the information given, i.e. who owns Angkor Wat, etc., and as anyone anywhere on the planet, where politics are concerned, personal opinion often trumps facts.
Reasons not to get a tour guide: Once you start getting into the minor temples the background information can become very redundant. Some guides feel the need to talk constantly preventing the opportunity to slow things down and simply absorb the environment.
However, in defense of guides, or at least the *good* ones; the good ones are well aware of the difficulties that develop over a two-or-day three period in respect to redundancy and overload of information and are quite capable of keeping their presentations fresh and interesting and also allowing you some quiet times. The bad ones... well, hope for that quiet time we suppose.
Q: Can't my driver be my guide?
A: Guides and drivers are separate people. By local regulation drivers cannot guide and guides cannot drive. Drivers (car or tuk-tuk), no matter how knowledgeable on the temples or proficient in English, cannot walk around the temples explaining things but must wait in the parking areas outside each one. Only licensed tour guides may accompany you inside each temple.
Q: How many days do I need to see Angkor?
A: This is another question with no one right answer. The default answer is three days though we've met people that found three hours to be too much and others that found three weeks still not enough. For many the first day's response is "Wow, these temples are AMAZING!!". The second day is "This is really interesting." And the third day deteriorates to, "Oh, another organized collection of stones." Now that the ticket policy requiring consecutive day usage of multi-day passes has been scrapped it is easier to spread your Angkor visits out more, thus hopefully delaying the onset of temple fatigue.
Q: What's the best time to start a visit to Angkor?
A: When you finish breakfast. You're on holiday, not at the office.
The only exception would be if you want to see the sunrise or you're looking for the best early morning light for photographic purposes. And in both cases the answer should be obvious.
Q: How do I avoid the crowds?
A: Don't come. You can't avoid the crowds. This is Angkor Wat. At 5:00 pm it's elbow to elbow, but there's a reason for it. The setting sun puts a golden glow on Angkor Wat that can't be missed. Yes, you can visit Angkor at 12:00 noon and have the place a bit to yourself, but to what end? A noon sun beating down on your head and the temple in a washed out gray? You traveled half way around the world to see Angkor Wat so see it at its best.
That said, there are of course times where certain temples will be more crowded than others. Generally speaking 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to sunset bring out the worst crowds everywhere.
Q: Okay, but isn't there a circuit all the tour groups take that I could avoid?
A: Yes, so you take the circuit all the people trying to avoid the tour groups take. It's one or the other. Mob or anti-mob.
Q: What's the best time of year to visit Angkor?
A: The end of the rainy season, notably September and October. Everything is green and lush, the skies are clear, the crowds aren't as bad, and the rains, contrary to popular mis-opinion, rarely create much of any barrier to getting to and around the temples. Just bring an umbrella for those brief but at times heavy showers.
Q: What's the worst time of year to visit Angkor?
A: For weather, it has to be April which can be unbearably hot (38C, 100F) and dry. The air is dusty and hazy, a lousy time for photography. For crowds that would be December and January, though these months do offer the coolest weather. Christmas/New Year week as well as Chinese New Year can be especially very very crowded times. Khmer New Year (April 14-16) brings half of Cambodia to the temples, but foreign tourists are few and far between. Khmer New Year is a very interesting cultural experience but given that the Angkor park is turned into one big party, it's not the best time for exploring temples.
Q: I'm pressed for time, can I see Angkor as a day trip from Bangkok?
A: Yes, you can, but it's complicated. Bangkok Airways will not sell a same-day return ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap, so you have to play a bit of a game with them. If you purchase a round-trip ticket, either set the return as open or book it for any day, say a week later. Then when you're ready to leave, turn up at the airport and tell them you have an emergency and must fly back to Bangkok. You also can purchase a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and then when you get to Siem Reap purchase another one-way ticket back to Bangkok. Contrary to what Bangkok Airways might tell you THERE IS NO IMMIGRATION LAW that says visitors must spend one night in Cambodia. The land crossings are full of visa runners from Thailand whose stay in Cambodia can be counted in minutes.
Anyway, if you want to try your luck, the day will cost you almost $400, but you should be able to do it. You'll want the first flight from Bangkok in the morning (around 7:30 or so - schedules change so check with Bangkok Airways for the latest); the last flight leaves around 7:30 p.m. (again check with the airline for the latest). When you arrive in Siem Reap, any airport taxi driver will be happy to be your transportation around the temples for the day (that's what they're there for!), so you needn't worry about wasting time looking for a car and driver. If you go straight to the temples from the airport, rush your visit a bit, and eat your lunch out at the temples as well (there are plenty of restaurants out there, or you could even bring a lunch from Thailand), you should be able to see Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm, and maybe one other temple.
While I wouldn't recommend doing Angkor as a day-trip, I realize some people have legitimate reasons for doing so, and one day is better than nothing. It may be a rushed and exhausting day, but yes, you can do Angkor as a day trip from Bangkok and people have done it.
Q: How much does Angkor cost?
A: A one-day ticket is $20, a three-day ticket is $40, a seven-day ticket is $60. After nearly a decade of complaints from tourists, tour operators, hotels, and anyone with the slightest interest in improving tourism in Cambodia, the Apsara Authority finally scrapped the regulation that multi-day passes have to be used on consecutive days. A three-day pass is now valid for any three days in a seven-day period and a seven-day pass is now valid for any seven days in a four-week period.
However, when you purchase your tickets you must specifically state that you want the non-consecutive day tickets or you otherwise will be given the old style consecutive day tickets which they continue to unload on unsuspecting tourists until they get rid of them all. Yes, simply throwing them away in light of the new policy would have made more sense, but this isn't about making sense. It's about not throwing away old tickets.
The Apsara Authority - the government agency in charge of taking care of the temples - have tried unsuccessfully to implement some fee increases under various guises.
The first failure was to raise the fees by $3 and offer tourists a "free" guidebook for their troubles. Intense opposition to the price increase forced the Apsara Authority to back-off this silly plan citing "technical difficulties". The guidebooks, which weighed a ton, were pretty useless unless you're looking for some information on investing half a million dollars into a hotel operation, further to that, a majority of visitors to Angkor are not English-speakers - 65% are Asian tour groups - and probably found these book as useful as we would if it were printed in Korean.
The second failure was to require all foreign visitors to buy disposal slippers, $3 again, for visiting the temples. Cambodians would be exempt. It seemed like the idea might fly until either it was suggested that Cambodian feet can cause as much damage to the temples as foreign feet and/or what happens the first time a slipper-wearing tourist slips down the stairs at the top of Angkor Wat?
was to require all foreign visitors to buy disposal slippers, $3 again, for visiting the temples. Cambodians would be exempt. It seemed like the idea might fly until either it was suggested that Cambodian feet can cause as much damage to the temples as foreign feet and/or what happens the first time a slipper-wearing tourist slips down the stairs at the top of Angkor Wat?
The Apsara Authority will no doubt
have another silly $3 fundraising venture ready for us soon.
The Apsara Authority will no doubt have another silly $3 fundraising venture ready for us soon.
Q: Angkor sounds expensive, can I sneak in?
A: Umm, no. Getting past the main gate is easy enough and contrary to what you may have heard, you shouldn't have to stop at the main gate if you have a ticket already, though if you don't stop and they don't know you, they'll probably chase after you anyway. This is all stupid, because anybody can legally enter the Angkor Archaeological Park without a ticket as the roads are public and if you were going anywhere north of the park for any reason, you'd have to pass through. Getting hassled by the ticket booth people is in fact an ongoing sore point with foreign residents of Siem Reap and we optimistically hope that we might see some changes in this policy one day, but that's our concern and it's been unanswered for a decade and no one is expecting any change. Anyway, what you can't do without a ticket is enter the temples themselves. Most of the temples have ticket checkers at the front and they do their jobs rather efficiently. If you are caught trying to sneak into one of the temples without a ticket you'll face a hefty fine. Don't be a blubbering idiot. If you've come to see the temples - buy a ticket.
Q: When is the park open?
A: Roughly from about thirty minutes before sunrise until thirty minutes after sunset, though you won't be allowed into a temple once the sun gets close to setting.
Q: What's this free sunset I hear about?
A: If you enter the park at 5 pm you can purchase a ticket that takes effect the following day and they will then allow you to spend the remainder of the afternoon (about an hour), inside the park. Most people use this either to go to Angkor Wat or up Phnom Bakheng for the sunset.
Q: Where do I buy a ticket?
A: For three and seven-day tickets there is only one place to buy a ticket and that is at the main gate on the main road from Siem Reap to the Angkor Park. It's a big facility that looks like a large toll plaza. It's off to the right and your driver will know to take you there. It is no longer necessary to bring a photo as they take them there and print the photo out as part of your ticket. One day tickets can also be purchased at Banteay Srei and Rolous as these tickets don't require photographs.
You absolutely cannot transfer the ticket to another individual. If any guesthouse, taxi driver, moto driver, or anybody else for that matter offers you a ticket, says they've purchased one for you already, will take care of it for you, etc, stay clear of this individual. There's a 99.999999% chance that the ticket is bogus.
Q: Who owns the Angkor temples?
A: The temples are by law the property of all Cambodian citizens and ethnic Khmers.
Q: Who takes care of the Angkor temples?
A: Restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the temples and the Angkor Park grounds is the responsibility of a Cambodian government organization called the Apsara Authority. Almost all of the restoration work is undertaken with foreign assistance, financial and technical.
Q: Who gets the money?
A: The ticket concession is under contract to a private Cambodian corporation called Sokimex. Contrary to false information spread by members of the political opposition as well as impressionable and ill-informed moto and taxi drivers, Sokimex is a Cambodian corporation and they do not own so much as one single stone of Angkor. They collect the money and issue and inspect the tickets. That's it. That's all they do. They presently get to keep about 15% of the revenue with the aforementioned Apsara Authority sharing the remainder with the Finance Ministry. For more information about the division of funds and the contract that governs this arrangement, read a story we did in October 2000 about this very topic. If you'd like some more information about restoration projects and management of the park, you might like to read an interview we did with Ang Choulean, Department of Culture and Monuments of the Apsara Authority, also in October 2000. However, one caveat, since both the story and the interview the structure of division of funds has changed somewhat with Sokimex and Apsara getting less and the Finance Ministry getting more, much more.
It's been our experience that the arrangement for the Angkor/Sokimex ticket concession is one of the most misunderstood issues surrounding the temples and quite frankly, most Cambodians, and certainly many of the moto and taxi drivers, really have no idea what the truth is. Hence, a lot of tourists walk away from Siem Reap with incorrect information about this arrangement. The temples are most certainly not owned by the Vietnamese, nor by a Vietnamese company, nor by Hun Sen. The temples as stated above are the property of the Cambodian people, administered by the Cambodian government, with a private corporation selling and inspecting the tickets. It should be stated that the governance of the Angkor temples is very much a political football in Cambodia and the political opposition has done a marvelous job of perpetuating the false information that so many tourists pick up while they are here.
Q: Okay, I don't have to use a guide, but what about getting around the temples, how do I do that?
A: A number of ways. Most people either hire a taxi or use a remorque (tuk-tuk). Taxis cost about $25-$30 a day (you'll do well to find one for $20 these days), tuk-tuks cost from $12-15. If you go to Banteay Srei you'll pay around $20, onward to Kbal Spean it's about $25-30. There are also surcharges for other distant locations like Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea. Hardly anyone uses motos anymore as most of the drivers have all purchased remorques now.
One thing to be careful about, particularly with tuk-tuks, is to be sure up front what the price includes. It is not uncommon for a tuk-tuk to quote you a price as low as $8 to $10 for the day only to then ask for a surcharge (after the fact of course) for a second person ("Noooo, my friend, I meant $8 per person, so sorry you not understand me!!"), sunrise, the grand circuit, a trip back in to town at lunch, sunset,etc. Be sure to confirm all of these in advance. Usually the higher priced tuk-tuks ($15/day) will include all of this already and will not play the surcharge game with you.
Since April 2003 tourists (as a distinct entity from expats) have been prohibited from renting motorcycles in Siem Reap. Generally speaking this is only a problem around the temples. If you want to ride your own motorbike in Siem Reap, you'll either have to buy one or sort yourself out a trip into the countryside with an outfit like Hidden Cambodia Adventure Tours.
Most of the drivers are reliable, friendly, and speak passable, sometimes excellent English. They know their way around the temples and will happily wait for hours if you so desire to spend so much time in a single temple. As they are not guides they cannot accompany you into a temple but some can give you some information as you're riding between temples.
Siem Reap has a licensing system whereby all drivers, regardless of vehicle, taking tourists to the Angkor temples must be licensed and carry visible identification in the form of a photo ID tag and a vest that bears in prominent figures, their four-digit ID number. Any problems? File a report with the tourist police. And no, we don't believe it would be a waste of time and yes, we do believe they will take the reports seriously. Problems worth reporting would include obvious ones like assaults and robbery (an extreme rarity, anyhow), driving halfway to a destination, stopping and asking for more money, undue pressure to stay at a certain guesthouse or eat at a certain restaurant, and making outrageous lies to get you into a certain guesthouse, such as saying that Siem Reap is very dangerous at night (it's not), the Khmer Rouge still kidnap people (seeing as they ceased to exist in 1998 this is an impossibility), etc.
A bit safer and slower, some tourists are renting bicycles and touring the temples that way. Nothing wrong with that, just keep the weather in mind. In April temperatures can hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 for my fellow metrically-challenged Yanks) and you'll be riding twenty, thirty, even more kilometers in a day.
For awhile a few years back there were electric bicycles available for rent at the park entrance and around town. There were however some maintenance issues with them - it seems they broke down and no one could repair them - and subsequently there are hardly if any still available.
And no, you absolutely cannot walk between temples. The temples are very spread out, several kilometers from each other, and you'd have to walk six kilometers from Siem Reap just to get to the closest one, Angkor Wat. Don't be silly. You're not walking anywhere.
Q: Why does the tuk-tuk arranged by the guesthouse/hotel cost more than some guy off the street?
A: There are several scenarios in play, but before discussing them, consider that regardless of why you are paying more for the tuk-tuk, you are being given somebody known to the guesthouse or hotel that should (in theory) be charging consistent rates known to the establishment where you are staying. Additionally, by using someone known to the establishment, they should be able to intervene if there is a dispute over service/fees/driver doesn't show up, etc. There will be very little possibility of recourse if you take somebody off the street.
Now why do they cost more? In many cases the hotel or guesthouse is taking a kickback- usually $2 from a tuk-tuk, $5 from a car. If they are not taking a kickback there is usually some kind of other arrangement, i.e. - drivers provide free labor from time to time, run errands for the guesthouse, etc. But ultimately whatever arrangement exists it is between the driver and the business. All you need to know is that for a couple of extra bucks you should be getting somebody known to the business which can intervene in the case of any dispute.
Also keep in mind the comments made several items up the page in reference to drivers quoting low prices and then jacking them up later. This can be a real problem with drivers off the street but should never be a problem with a driver obtained through a hotel or guesthouse.
Q: What's up with all these kids trying to sell me junk?
A: Deal with it. Most of these folks live within the Angkor Archaeological Park and have a lot of restrictions placed upon them as to how they can farm, build their houses, keep their chickens, hang their laundry, and so forth. The villages within the park existed in some form during the time these temples were built and the kid trying to sell you a cold drink may be a direct descendent from someone who built Ta Prohm or served as a concubine to Jayavarman VII. If anyone has a right to exploit these temples for personal gain, it's these folks. Unfortunately, due to the fact that regulations significantly curtail what they can do in their villages and that life is inherently unfair, these folks have been screwed every which way and selling souvenirs and cold drinks is about all they can do. That said, go easy when it's time to buy a drink or a t-shirt. Save your hard bargains for somewhere else. There is absolutely no reason why you should try to knock 500 riels off the price of a bottle of water from someone who makes a profit of $1.50 a day. Even more so when you consider you'll probably drop $10 in a bar later that evening never considering to bargain the price with the British bartender serving you the drinks. If there was ever a place to pay up or shut up, it's here.
Q: Are there any toilets out at the temples?
A: Yes, quite a few. There are a number of relatively new rest facilities located along the roads around the temples, rather intelligently we would say, away from any one particular temple. Show your ticket and they are free to use. There are also still a few of the ancient (well not Angkorian, but at least a decade old) restrooms found at Preah Khan, the Bayon, Angkor Wat, and Banteay Srei.
There are dozens, hundreds of temples scattered around the Khmer countryside. Most of the major monuments are within the Angkor Archaeological Park, though a handful are located far away and are listed in the "Other things" to do section. There are numerous guides, online and print that will give you good historical background information as well as details on iconography, etc. What follows are brief summaries of all the major monuments and some of the lesser-known ones that are located within or near the Angkor Archaeological Park.
One website worth checking out is the Angkor Guide at: http://www.theangkorguide.com. In 1944 Maurice Glaize published the Angkor Guide which at the time stood as the definitive guide to the Angkor temples. Sixty years later this book remains a relevant resource item and is available in its entirety online. No doubt one might think, well, what use is a 1944 guidebook? Especially in a country like Cambodia? Political situations certainly haven't remained constant, temples are destroyed, research brings in new interpretations, practical matters of travel changes, etc. All of this has been taken into consideration and where applicable, information has been amended to reflect relevant changes. And as the guide serves essentially as a descriptive work on the temples and not a practical guide for visiting the temples, e.g., how to get around, etc, much of the information is as useful today as it was in 1944.
Also on-line is the Canby Publications guide that includes this fairly detailed section on the temples.
Must see temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm
Almost must see temples: Banteay Srei, Preah Khan
Should see temples: Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdei, Banteay Samre, Neak Pean, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Ta Som, Thommanon
Angkor Wat - The centerpiece not only of the Angkor Archaeological Park, but of Khmer civilization. Hardly needs an introduction, but here's a few tips:
-Tends to be most crowded late in the afternoon but that's also the best time to photograph the temple as the late afternoon sun can bring out a pleasant golden glow to the temple which really is what you traveled all this distance for.
-Morning and mid-day the sun's positioning renders Angkor Wat as a grey outline, but you can walk around the galleries studying the bas-reliefs with the least amount of crowds.
-Walking towards the temple, turn right (south) and walk down the pathway just past the pagoda to see the center tower framed nicely by the trees.
-Don't touch any carvings.
-See the temple reflected in the ponds.
-Popular for sunrises and sunsets.
-After being closed for a year or two, the upper sanctuary is again open to tourists but you'll be rushed in and out. You can't camp out there for hours on end absorbing the atmosphere.
Angkor Thom - This is not one temple but in fact a large collection of temples in a concentrated area with the Bayon being the centerpiece. Angkor Thom was the urban center of the Angkor empire. The entire area is walled in with four gates. Most tourists visit the south gate.
Banteay Kdei - Not a particularly spectacular temple, it is however, quite spacious and relaxing. There's one good photo to be had from the back and there's a good chance that some kid running around the temple will lead you to it... for a tip, of course. A few good carvings, but otherwise a fairly crumbling temple. See it if you have time, but don't stress out about not seeing it.
Banteay Prei - Located north just outside the loop, this is a small temple that sees few tourists.
Banteay Samre - Well restored temple several kilometers east of the complex. Not so many visitors.
Banteay Srei - Spectacularly beautiful and small temple located about 20 kilometers north of the main temple complex. The "Citadel of Women", is a 10th century masterpiece with some exquisite carvings. However, after they completed much needed restoration work, the best carvings were roped off and it is no longer possible to stand face to face with 1000-year-old Apsaras. Nonetheless you still get close enough to see them, and by all means, ropes or not, do visit this temple if you can. This is also a temple they've talked for years about subjecting it to timed scheduled visits as a much needed crowd control measure. We support this decision, as regrettable as it may be, simply because this little temple can't handle the crowds it's receiving now. Of course, come 2011 and we're still waiting for them to do it... never mind we first heard of this plan sometime around 2002 or 2003.
Banteay Thom - No roads lead to this temple located several kilometers northwest of Preah Khan. You'll have to make your way through rice paddies to reach it, once there you'll be rewarded with a temple badly looted but offering one of the most spectacular trees in the entire Angkor Park.
Baphuon - Large dome-like temple in Angkor Thom that's been under restoration forever.
Bayon - 216 heads... there is no privacy in here. Doesn't look like much from a distance, but once you get an inside you're treated to an endless variety of angles and compositions of heads. Very crowded in the morning, rather empty in the afternoon. Very interesting reliefs of every day life which, if you arrive in the afternoon, can be seen with little interference from tour groups, though the hot sun will make viewing on the south and west sides a rather warm experience. North side has been under restoration forever.
Chau Say Tevoda - Crumbling temple under restoration to the immediate east of Angkor Thom. Across the road from the better preserved Thommanon which Chau Say Tevoda is beginning to resemble as restoration progresses.
East Mebon - Flat temple similar to Pre Rup.
Neak Pean - Interesting little temple that may or may not be surrounded by water when you visit.
Phnom Bakheng - This is a temple everyone visits, but few actually see. It's the temple on the hill where most people go for the sole purpose of seeing the sunset over the Cambodian countryside. Most people climb the hill, climb the steep temple and gaze upon the expansive landscape, which on a clear afternoon will provide some very spectacular views, yet never notice there's a real temple beneath their feet.
Phnom Krom - Crumbling temple at the top of a hill at Chong Khneas at the Tonle Sap Lake. In the wet season the lake comes to the edge of the hill, in the dry season, it's a few kilometers away. Not much of a temple, but great views of the countryside and it's the views that are probably the reason you're up here anyway. Sort of like Phnom Bakheng
Prasat Kravan - Small relatively uninspiring temple of three towers near Sras Srang and Banteay Kdei.
Pre Rup - Pyramidal temple on the east side of the park. Sandstone. An alternative to Phnom Bakheng or Angkor Wat for a quiet sunset.
Preah Khan - Large sprawling temple with several unique features: a couple of spectacular trees, a small temple-within-the temple that looks more like a ruin from ancient Greece. Numerous corners, nooks and crannies, and small surprises around many a corner. It's quite easy to pass a few hours in this temple.
Rolous (Bakong, Lolei, Preah Ko) - A group of temples southeast of Siem Reap of no great interest though Bakong is kind of nice. If anything though, it's an excuse for a scenic ride in the countryside.
Sras Srang - Artificial lake located across from Banteay Kdei. Good place for a sunrise.
Ta Keo - Pyramidal structure that was never completed and hence, lacks sculpture.
Ta Prohm - One of the big ones, up there with the Bayon and Angkor Wat. While the days of climbing around on the walls are over and any notion of recreating some Indiana Jones experience will be shot down as soon as the first Japanese or Korean tour group stampedes over you, this is still a real interesting temple and the trees and roots and crumbling walls are more or less the same as ever.
Ta Som - Small temple worth twenty or thirty minutes of your time. Nice Bayon head in the archway.
Thommanon - Small restored temple just east of Angkor Thom. Doesn't require much time or effort.
Western Baray / West Mebon - More a place to go swimming then anything else. Large man-made lake west of the Angkor Park. Small temple sits in the middle which you can hire a boat to visit. And you'll need your Angkor ticket, but not to go swimming.
Temples farther away
Beng Mealea - This large temple is a contemporary of Angkor Wat and built on a similar scale, though on a level plane and lacking any significant amount of sculpture. There are a few apsaras, a turtle to rub for good luck, as well a section of wall, that if seen from the proper angle, appears to look like a face. This temple is very much in disrepair and takes the Ta Prohm experience to new levels. You can do this as a half day trip from Siem Reap. Our recommendation, however, is to devote a full day and include Kbal Spean or Phnom Kulen. Come to Beng Mealea first by way of Damdek (30 km south of Siem Reap down highway 6 and about a 60km journey start to finish) or cut through the backcountry and visit the rather decrepit temple of Chau Say Vibol. The fastest way to Beng Mealea is to follow the road to Banteay Srei, turn off for Phnom Kulen and then turn right at the road junction. However, we suggest the longer route through Damdek simply because it creates a loop and allows you to see more of the countryside as you won't ever retrace your steps. Anyway, when finished with Beng Mealea, head west (back the way you came) and then shortly after the road turns south, make a right turn. This is the road that follows the base of Phnom Kulen. When you get to the junction, turn right for Phnom Kulen, go straight for Kbal Spean, turn left for Siem Reap.
The ticket concession is operated by the same company which built the road from here to Koh Ker and a $5 admission fee is now levied on all visitors to Beng Mealea.
Navigating some parts of the temple is fairly easy as there are wooden walkways to ease one's passage. Still, some local will usually lead you around and it's not a bad thing. When finished either give them a tip or order some food from whichever of the two restaurants across the street is theirs.
Kbal Spean - About forty-five kilometers north of Siem Reap well beyond Banteay Srei, this is a chance to take a forty-five minute walk up a hill to the River of a Thousand Lingas. There are numerous riverbed carvings, though many areas are roped off and some carvings have been looted as recently as 2003. There's a waterfall, and during the wet season there's enough water to take a swim so bring a bathing suit. You must have an Angkor ticket pass to enter the grounds.
Phnom Kulen - This sacred mountain, some 40 kilometers from Siem Reap is a major pilgrimage site for Cambodians, not only for its religious significance, but the waterfalls and picnic grounds make for a great way to spend a Sunday. Most people only visit the pagoda with it's reclining Buddha and then to the waterfalls where one crumbling old temple sits.
Not so many foreigners come here, in part due to the $20 admission charge levied on anyone not Khmer, as the road to the top of the mountain was built with private funds. The man behind it is Sieng Nam, the CPP MP for Siem Reap province. Head to the City Angkor Hotel (he owns it) and you can get an entrance ticket for $15.
We visited once in March 2000 and were not overly impressed and have not been back since. However, beyond the main tourist area there are a number of small temples buried in the jungle that goes on for miles and miles. Andy Brouwer has explored this mountain rather thoroughly and his report may be read here http://www.andybrouwer.co.uk.
Svay Chek - Good luck finding this on any map (or guidebook). This is a small village about 15, maybe 20 kilometers northwest of the Angkor Archaeological Park. There are a number of insignificant temples in the area that are quite a bit of a challenge to visit but for hard-core temple enthusiasts, it's another chance to relive the past when people still made discoveries (though that opportunity will in some ways return as the Koh Ker area in Preah Vihear province becomes more accessible). We went through here in March 2000 and you can read the report here. Andy Brouwer followed later and here's his report: http://www.andybrouwer.co.uk.
For temples much further away (Koh Ker, Preah Vihear, etc.) see the Other things to do section.
Siem Reap index page
Eating and drinking
An Angkor FAQ
Other things to do and places to go in and around Siem Reap
Additional stories on the Siem Reap area
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