Angkor Wat, and the archaeological park that encompasses it, spreads over 400 square kilometers. It is huge.
I don’t think I quite understood the scope of how big this UNESCO World Heritage site was until I reached Cambodia and was standing with the scores of other tourist waiting for dawn to rise over its striking silhouette.
Shamefully, I found myself very under-prepared for the day of exploring ahead and I rather embarrassingly thought Angkor Wat was just that one temple and we’d be done seeing it by 10am. Boy was I wrong!
Thankfully, we were with a group and I was guided around the must-see parts of the park with our lovely guide for the day.
So you don’t make the same mistakes as me, here’s some top tips I learnt on the day about visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples!
1. There’s no ‘beating the crowds’ at dawn.
I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of people who were gathered at Angkor Wat from around 4am to wait for dawn to break. This is the picture you never see in guidebooks – thousands of people crowded around the water’s edge, hoping to get the best picture. And the selfie sticks – as soon as light broke you were hard pushed to get a view, let alone a picture, without a selfie stick in it.
If you are heading to Angkor Wat for dawn, head to the far left corner of the lake as your approach the temple, this side has the least interrupted view from trees and people. On this side of the lake as well, there’s a slight inlay which some members of our group bagged a spot on and got some perfect photos! But elbows at the ready! I was physically pushed into the lake (don’t worry, it’s shallow enough) by a tourist desperate to get a good picture!
2. Take your own snacks
If you’re waking up around 3.30am, you’re going to get cold and hungry waiting for dawn to break. The morning that we went we had a lovely pastel, watercolour sunrise, but it was a long time coming after getting up at 4am! Bring some snacks and if you can some tea or coffee. You will be approached by plenty of children offering to get you tea and coffee while you wait, but we were discouraged from buying from them, as it only encourages the business. Plus, there are so many tourists there, it would be a small miracle if they ever found you again after giving your order!
3. Go back and take a nap
You’ve seen dawn break, you’ve battled your way through the crowds just to get a glimpse of the temple, and you’ve definitely earned a break. If your hotel is close by, go back and have an hour’s nap. There is still so much to see for the rest of the day and you’ll be walking around and climbing stone steps for most of it. Take a lil downtime to set yourself for a full day of exploring! Here’s me looking exhausted at about 8am!
4. Have a local guide
We adored having a local guide with us who was able to give us so much detail into the history of Angkor Wat and Cambodia as a whole. His historic knowledge was peppered with stories about his family and upbringing in Cambodia. At one point, he had most of us in tears and the group was quite happy to sit back and listen to him speak all day!
5. Check for any events or ceremonies
On the day we visited Angkor Wat, there was a special ceremony for Buddhist monks happening in Bayon Temple. This did mean that the grey stone views of the temples were dotted with the beautiful orange robes of visiting monks, which was a lovely surprise to all of us. But we were also stuck in traffic for about two hours getting from one temple to another.
Your hotel or tour operator should be able to check if there are any special events scheduled for when you’d like to visit Angkor Wat.
I loved my day in Angkor Wat and it was definitely a highlight of Cambodia – and you can see more photos of my day in this blog post! I wish I had a had more time to explore the temples and take some time out to just sit in the shade and take in the views!
Have you been to Angkor Wat? Share your experiences or tips in the comments below! Or you can tweet me on @nikkicanning!