Angkor Wat Archeological Park, in Cambodia, is one of the most impressive places of the world, stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, it contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. Angkor itself has no accommodation and few facilities; the nearby town of Siem Reap, just 6km south, is the tourist hub for the area. Be sure and get to the temples early. You can enter the park beginning at 05:00; the temples open at sunrise. There are fewer visitors early in the morning, and the sun isn’t at full force. Arriving at the temples at 08:00 instead of 09:00 can make all the difference in staying one step ahead of the crowds. The park closes at around 17:30 hrs.
Passes are required to enter the Angkor area. They are on sale at the front gate for 1-day (USD20), 3-day (USD40), or 7-day (USD60) durations (children under 12 enter for free after showing a passport). The 3-day pass is valid for any 3 days within a week, while the 7-day pass is valid for any 7 days within a month. If you plan on using your 3 or 7 day pass on non consecutive days, make sure to get the newer version, otherwise you may be given an old one that must be used immediately. Cambodians can enter for free — you shouldn’t need to buy a pass for your guide or your driver. If you buy a pass in the evening, you can enter the park after 17:00 to view the sunset without it counting as use of a day on your pass. The passes are non-transferable. You will have a photograph taken and printed on your pass to make sure they are non-transferable. Regular checks for the pass are performed at almost all sites within the park, so carry your pass with you at all times, and be certain to buy the passes only from the official Apsara Authority counters, not from other vendors, and definitely not second-hand.
When choosing how to visit this archeological park you will find several options and tours. There are buses, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bikes. However, we recommend you to rent bikes which are a very convenient option to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the little circuit or even the big circuit – depending on time you have and how big fan of Khmer temples you are. Renting a bike in Siem Reap is easy and cheap (USD1 per day, in most of places you don’t even have to leave passport, locks for bikes are provided, check the bike before and ask for some amendments if needed, eg, pumping air, oiling the chain). It is about 6km from the city to Angkor Wat (if you go first time, make sure you go by the Visitors Centre which is the only place where you can buy passes). In the little circuit most places are at most 15 minutes away from each other by bike, so it is actually not a problem for a regular tourist (without much biking experience) to visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and spots on the little circuit in one day.
A traveler who wrote about his experience in a blog, made this suggested map in order to go around Angkor Archeological park by bike in just 2 days. In order to expand the view just click on the image and then on the button that will appear in the upper right corner.
If you are willing to get up early and start your trip 06:00 (it is not uncommon to see a bike rentals open from 04:30) it won’t be a problem to visit all above plus the big circuit (where spots are 30 minutes away each other by bike) in one day. Take into account your shape and visiting preferences. If you bike a lot at home – you can easily get around much quicker. If you enjoy Khmer architecture more than the regular Angkor visitor, it is recommended you reserve at least 3 days for the trip (and it doesn’t matter if you go by tuk-tuk or by bike). It is a good idea to take a lot of water with you (rent a bike with a basket!), but not a big problem if you run out of it during your trip. Around every temple in Angkor park you can buy some food and drinks (it’s just more expensive than in the city, around US$2 per big bottle of water in the Park). Cycling in Angkor Park is safe (traffic is low), pleasant (nice views and a lot of trees providing shadows in sunny days) and, last but not least, it saves you a lot of hassle of dealing with tuk-tuk drivers.
The temples can broadly be categorized into four groups:
- Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the grandest temple of all and the ancient capital next to it
- Little Circuit (Le Petit Circuit), taking in major sites to the east of Angkor Thom
- Big Circuit (Le Grand Circuit), taking in major sites north and further out east
- Roluos group, 15km east from Siem Reap along National Highway 6
- Outlying temples, located over 20km from Angkor Wat
You can, of course, mix and match freely, but as distances are fairly long, it makes sense to plan ahead and pick sites connected by road. Most car, tuk-tuk or moto drivers will have an itinerary ready if you don’t have one in mind, and their expertise may come in handy for arriving at sites a step ahead of the big tour groups.