Visiting the ancient city of Angkor is definitely one of the coolest things you could do in South East Asia, and Angkor Wat stands as the crown jewel of the ancient city. I’ll admit I had a much different idea of what the visit would be like than what it was actually like. I had an incredible time at Angkor, but there are a few things for which I wish I had been prepared. Here are some things I learned about surviving and seeing Angkor the right way:
1. Try to dress modestly while keeping cool. This is the constant struggle at South East Asian religious sites. How do you dress modestly, but keep cool during the extreme heat and humidity? People will tell you that you need to dress modestly at Angkor Wat because it is still an active religious site, and you probably should respect that. However, I did see multiple people in tanks or short shorts, so it is worth noting that you don’t have to worry about being turned away for what you wear. I recommend the “hammer pants” as Anna and I called them (like MC Hammer). They are super flowy and hit below the knee and can be picked up at any night market in Cambodia or Thailand for a couple of dollars. The pants are a backpacker’s essential.
2. Wake up early. This is extremely important! Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat is considered a religious practice, so it is worth seeing. You will have to wake up around 4am or so, but it is worth it to see the Wat’s silhouetted reflection on the water. There will be a ton of other tourist’s there as well. Waking up early also give you the added benefit of exploring while it is still fairly cool outside.
3.Don’t spend a ton of time watching the sunrise. The sunrise is a slow process, and you could end up sitting there for a while if you think you are gonna watch the entire sunrise. Honestly, the effect wears off after about 30-45 minutes, so once it is actually light enough to walk around, I would recommend heading inside the Wat. This gives you the benefit of exploring the Wat with no one else around, which is pretty special. If you are lucky enough, maybe you will run into the security guard that let me climb up to the roof of the Wat.
4.Beware “Monks” looking to give you some sort of blessing. These guys probably aren’t even real monks. They will give you incense to burn or say they are blessing you and then ask for a big donation to the temple. The “donation” probably doesn’t even go to the temple.
5.Don’t try to bike it. Anna and I though that biking around Angkor would be so pleasant and charming. Then the people running the BnB we were staying at warned us that it wasn’t such a good idea. Of course, coming from China, we thought that of course they are trying to trick us into more money by booking a tuk-tuk through them, but thank God we ended up going with the tuk-tuk! I felt like I was walking around in a sauna the entire day and every time our tuk-tuk drove by people riding their bikes in the 100 degree heat, I thought about how miserable it looked. I will also add that all the sites at Angkor are very far apart. Even which our tuk-tuk, it took us a few minutes to drive between sites.
6. Choose the sites you see wisely. Angkor is HUGE. A lot bigger than you would expect, and it takes a while to see all the major sites. We only had one day to see Angkor so we thought we would try to see all the essentials and then cram in some extra sites. Honestly, after you see the highlights. Nothing is really that exciting. By the end of the day it was incredibly hot and I wasn’t really even paying attention to where we were. After seeing Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, nothing was that impressive in comparison. If I had only seen a few major sites and nothing else, I would have felt totally happy.
7. Try to finish your day before noon. By noon it was unbearably comfortable and we couldn’t find any shade! Get out before you have a heat stroke. (For reference I visited Angkor in June. Not the best timing.)