Angkor Temples – What to know before you go

Tips, tricks and recommendations to make the best of your time visiting the Angkor temple complex. When to go, what to wear, how to see everything you want.

If you’re going to Siem Reap, or even Cambodia, you’re probably heading there to see the Angkor Wat temples.  Can’t blame you!  It’s proclaimed the 7th wonder of the world.  It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s the world’s largest religious monument.  It’s impressive AF to see and visit.  And let’s be honest, we could probably have a great time playing Capture-the-flag or hide-and-seek there!

But before you go, here’s a mini-guide of what you should know!

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Visiting the temples

Most hotels or tour groups will split up the visits into 2 sections: The big tour and the small tour.  They are called this way because of the distance that separates the temples from each other.

Instead of going on a tour, we would recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the day.  If you take him for more than one day, you might even get a discount!  He will take you to all the temples you want to see.  If you get a group of 4 people to split the fee, it really doesn’t end up costing you much.  We would also recommend starting with the big tour first and ending with the small tour.  This way, you keep the larger and more impressive of temples for the end.  We do however suggest doing both tours – the temples you will see are quite different, and you’ll experience the full magnitude and beauty of every single temple.

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The big tour, or grand circuit, usually spans over 26 kilometres and will take you to Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean to the Eastern Mebon, Ta Som and Preah Rup.

The Small tour includes the main temples, starting at Angkor Wat, and going over 17 kilometres will take you to Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm (aka Tomb Raider temple), and Banteay Kdei.  It should also include smaller temples like Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, The Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma and Sras Srang.  You may need to split the small tour over 2 days as there are quite a few temples to see!

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There is also Banteay Srei, the Lady Temple, that is about an hour out of town.  It’s small, but beautiful.  You’ll need to talk to your tuk-tuk driver to see how to get this one in.  No matter what route you choose to take, we highly recommend you start early.  You’ll beat the crowds, but more importantly, you’ll be done before the sun gets ridiculously hot!  And when it does, you’ll be happy to be able to cool off in a pool!

Sunrise and Sunset

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If you want to see the sunrise, good luck!  Ha.  Ok, so most people go to Angkor Wat to see it on the “Left pond”.  It will get crowded, and it might be hazy, so the amazing view you want is not guaranteed.  But it’s probably worth the effort.  We went, but were not lucky…

A good tip is to ask your hotel to make and pack your breakfast the night before, so you can have a picnic as you wait for the sun to rise.  As for the time, we left at 4:30 to go grab our tickets and head to Angkor Wat.  If you get your tickets before, you may be able to leave a little later (every minute counts when you’re not a morning person!)

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For the sunset, a quick tip: If you wait until 4:45 pm to buy your ticket for the next day, you can go watch the sunset at the temples for free.  SCORE!  Where to see it is a bigger question.  Most people head to up the top of Phnom Bakheng, but that gets quite crowded.  We headed to Preah Rup, but that was crowded too.  I guess everyone loves a good sunset.  We’ve heard that the sunset views on the boardwalk at Preah Neak Prean are pretty awesome, so you may want to try that to switch it up.  Just know that most temples close at 5pm, but for the sunset lovers of this world, Phnom Bakheng and Preah Rup are open until 7.

Costs

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Let’s talk money, as things are not cheap with temples this famous.  Also, like most things in Cambodia, they use USD for pricing.  The Cambodian Riel is mainly used for smaller, more local transactions.

  • Entrance fee for 1-day: $37 USD
  • Entrance fee for 3 days (to be used over 10 days): $62
  • Entrance fee for 10 days (to be used over 30 days): $72
  • Hiring a tuk tuk for the Small tour: about $15 USD
  • Hiring a tuk tuk for the Big tour: about $18 USD
  • If you want to see the sunrise or sunset, add on another $5

Extra tips

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Here are just some things you should know to make the best of your time in Siem Reap:

Trust your tuk-tuk driver: We loved ours from Babel Guesthouse.  Fairly priced, and super friendly.  He knew where to go and when to avoid the crowds and see the sunset.

Siem Reap is hot: Like take off all your clothes and it’s still too hot!  Bring a hat, sunglasses and water, tons of it!  Either start really early, or go in the ‘cooler’ afternoon.  The light is golden and beautiful in the afternoon.

Dress conservatively: Just as most temples, your shoulders and knees should be covered when you are visiting Angkor Wat.  This applies for both men and women.  If you don’t have any clothes that do this, you can buy them at the entrance of the temples, where there are tons of stalls selling Cambodia T-shirts and elephant pants.

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Shoes matter: Most might tell you to wear running shoes or sneakers.  You’ll be walking a lot, climbing up stairs, and walking over uneven terrain.  But you’ll be super hot.  Avoid flip flops, because they might break if you trip (ok, we trip a lot) and you’ll be walking through paths of red dust.  You know, heat and red dust aren’t the best combo.  So maybe go for comfy but sturdy sandals!

Angkor Wat Hours: Most of the temples are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  The ticket office closes at 5:30.  Both Angkor Wat and Srah Srang are open at 5:00 a.m. for sunrise, and Phnom Bakheng and Preah Rup close at 7

Restaurant at Banteay Srei: If you head out to the Lady Temple, your tuk-tuk driver will probably take you to a restaurant where he can eat for free.  The prices there are extremely high!  Instead, ask to go to a more local restaurant and offer to pay for his meal.  It will be more delicious and not put a hole in your wallet.

Get a guide: The tour guides for Angkor Wat are highly knowledgeable, and speak all main languages (we heard some in English, French, Spanish and Mandarin).  There are barely any signs around the temples that explain what you are seeing, so if you want to get the most out of your experience, get a guide.  We took one for the Big tour for $40, and it was highly worth it, especially if you are 3-4 people!

Places to stay

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When it comes to accommodations in Siem Reap, there are plenty of offers, from budget-friendly to high-budget.  Here are the ones that struck out to us.

Babel Guesthouse: The premier eco-friendly, responsible tourist destination in Siem Reap.  A lovely staff, a quaint garden restaurant, the friendliest owners and a contributing member of their community, we loved our stay here.

Bou Savy Guesthouse: Located in the heart of Siem Reap, a short walk away from the Royal Residence, the Old Market and Angkor Night Market.  This guesthouse is a great place to stay if are looking to experience Siem Reap’s legendary temples, or their vibrant city centre.  You’re close enough to the action, without being bothered by hoards of loud tourists.  Attentive staff; beautiful and cozy rooms; a great restaurant downstairs where breakfast is served; a nice swimming pool to help you cool down after a long day of temple visits; what more could you need?

Popular Residence: Located slightly off the tourist trail, in a lovely area, this beautiful boutique hotel featuring a breakfast variety, amazing spacious rooms, lovely modern design, and of course, a great swimming pool right in the centre court.  The staff will go to all lengths to make sure your stay is the best in Siem Reap.  They even asked every morning if we slept well the night before, I mean who even does that?!?!

Angkor Zen Gardens: If Yoga is your thing, and even if it isn’t, but you’re looking for a new experience, we cannot say enough good things about this retreat.  Connected with nature, Angkor Zen will help you be one with your body and mind, and feed you like a king or queen while it does!  You can either stay here for a retreat, or drop in for any of the classes.

Where to Eat

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Tuk Tuk Tacos: When you need a little break from Khmer food, head down to Tuk Tuk Tacos.  They have amazing margaritas and delicious tacos that are fairly priced.  Our favourites were the pulled jackfruit tacos that pack in quite a kick!

Khmer Grill: For a delicious but cheap Khmer meal, this is the place!  Situated close to Pub Street, the restaurant offers all sorts of traditional Khmer dishes, and a great variety of vegetarian food.  They will even add tofu to their traditional meals to make sure you get enough protein.  Bon appétit!

Le Tigre de Papier: From Khmer dishes to Italian fare, this restaurant has it all.  And it’s all delicious, unlike other places that fail at making traditional Western food.  If you want a good fire-oven pizza, this is the place!

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Angkor temples what to know before you go

Why eating bugs is the future of food

Whenever people talk about going to Cambodia, one of the first things they bring up, other than the Angkor Wat Temples, is that you can eat bugs there.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m one curious foodie.  I will eat things that are questionably edible, because, well, what if they’re delicious!?  So when we got to Siem Reap, I knew I wanted to eat bugs.  This may sound strange to some, but to me, it’s not.

Was I grossed out? Yeah, at first, I was, I won’t lie.  But if Michelin-star chef Alex Atala in Brazil serves bugs on his menu, they can’t be that bad!  Especially considering that bugs feed about 2 billion people a day in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Sometimes, they are even considered delicacies.  One quarter of the world’s population can’t be that wrong!

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Picking the biggest, juiciest bugs for me in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Why would I do it?  Well that’s easy!  To me, bugs are the future of food.  We’ve grown our food industry totally out of proportion.  When the meat you eat is pumped with hormones, and the fish you catch comes from polluted waters, going vegetarian was an easy choice for me.  Don’t even get me started on the health benefits and environmentally-conscious reasons for going with a plant-based diet!  So if you want a good source of protein, that is tasty, and that leaves a minimal footprint on our planet, well, BUGS!

So one faithful night in Siem Reap, after a few drinks with friends (yes, liquid courage was required), we set out to find the best bugs the night market had to offer.  Luckily, we were intercepted by a friendly local who took us out to find the best vendor.  If you set out to try some insects, know that a lot of the vendors on Pub Street don’t always use fresh produce.  How long do you think they keep those bugs on sticks when they don’t get sold that night?  Well not this vendor!  She only uses the freshest stuff.  So much so, that another night, when looking for her again, she was nowhere to be found because her farmers had not been able to find any insects that day.  Now that’s integrity!

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Me and my favourite bug lady, right off Pub Street in Siem Reap

As you can see from her smile, she is something special!  Small but feisty, she knows her bugs!  Her crickets are farmed, grown to become food.  Her scorpions are sourced from the jungle, as are her grass snakes.  And her tarantulas, well, they are foraged up from 40cm deep underground.  She runs a tight ship.  She knows when her products are good to eat.  And if you trust her, like I did, you’ll let her pick the bug you’re going to eat.  Yes, she will pick the biggest tarantula, it will have a huge body and hairy legs, but it will be delicious!  She will even suggest eating one that has a large belly full of eggs, those are even tastier!

Like all things food, it’s all about the prep!  She will roast your meal right in front of you to make sure they have the perfect texture.  She doesn’t just serve her bugs plain, that would be boring.  Her crickets are marinated and cooked with lemongrass, chilli and lime juice.  Crunchy with just the right amount of kick!

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Hairy, crispy, delicious turantulas

How did I do it?  Well, the drinks helped the first night, I won’t lie!  But like with any weird meal, you have to get over your conceived notions about them before you take a bite.  I just stopped thinking of the bugs as being gross things.  I trusted this woman and her integrity when it comes to her products.  They are sourced properly, they are prepared with care and they are cooked well.  Can you say that about the food you eat every day?  So when crickets stopped being bugs, when tarantulas stopped being insanely scary-looking spiders, they just became food.  And like I said, I like food (ok, I LOVE food).

How was it?  Well, it was delicious!  So much so that I went back for seconds.  I could have eaten a full bag of crickets. That’s how good they were!

What did it taste like?  That is hard to say!  She said the scorpion tastes like chicken and the spiders like bacon, but I haven’t had either in so long, that it’s hard to say for me.  The spiders’ legs were crispy, like those little bits of fries that are at the bottom of your plate.  The body had a nice texture to it, crunchy on the outside because it was seared on the BBQ, but tender on the inside.  The crickets, my favourite, were like eating the half-popped kernels of popcorn.

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Yummy crickets with some BBQ sauce

Would I have them again back home?  Yes, yes and yes.  Bugs are extremely nutritious.  For example, crickets are a great source of lean protein, vitamins and minerals, containing about 65% protein, omega 3, fatty acids, calcium and vitamin B12.  Other insects can contain up to 80% protein, and have huge amounts of iron (sometimes, more than beef).  Obviously, I would have to find the fresh produce to make sure they are as delicious as hers, but yes, I would not hesitate making bugs a regular part of our meals.  There are even chip companies that make their products with crickets.  This is becoming more and more mainstream, as evidenced by big wig investor Marc Cuban putting his money behind this brand.

If I could, I would have stayed with my bug lady in Siem Reap and helped her sell more bugs.  It’s crazy how people who saw me eating them would stop and stare.  When they saw how much I enjoyed them, going for seconds and thirds, they also joined in.  And without fail, they would all say how delicious they thought these creepy crawly critters were.

So get over your fears, and those preconceived notions about bugs and let’s all eat them together!  Bon appétit!


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Why eating bugs is the future of food

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Your ultimate city guide

From the people, the food and the temples, there are a ton of reasons Siem Reap in Cambodia stole our hearts. Read more to see how this city will enchant you.

There are certain places you travel to that simply steal your heart, without even trying.  That was the case for Siem Reap, in Cambodia.

Cambodia made our list for a very simple reason, Carine’s love of yoga.  Early on, when we decided we’d be globetrotting through South East Asia, we knew Cambodia was a must-visit destination.  It is renown as one of the best places in the world for yoga retreats, not to mention the amazing temples.  We arrived there with no expectations.  We only had 12 days to spend in the city, including some time in a yoga retreat.

After 6 months of traveling, we’ve learned to take it slow, go with the flow, and not try to do too much in a short amount of time.  Siem Reap was exactly on the same page as us.  Easy-going, laid-back, charming, and just the right amount of fun!

The people of Cambodia

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The first thing we noticed about Siem Reap were the friendly smiles on the locals faces, as soon as our plane landed. We were greeted with the warmest welcome a customs border officer will probably ever give you! We were off to a great start, and the smiles only continued to roll in after that. First from Dara, the Babel Guesthouse tuk-tuk driver who picked us up and would explain where we were at every turn.

Then the kids on scooters, who would slyly wave or pull a peace sign out with their brightest and warmest Hello! We couldn’t help but have a smile permanently on our faces while driving around the city. It seemed like even the market vendors were just out to get a laugh with you when we walked by their stalls… even if we weren’t buying anything. Usually, in other South East Asian countries, they would haggle, and argue, sometimes getting angry when we’d walk away. But not in the magical Kingdom of Cambodia. Here, all interactions were done with a smile, and friendly banter.

One of our best memories with locals was the night we set out to find some bugs to eat at the night market. As we walked by some restaurants, one bar manager stopped us to talk about football (or soccer for all our friends in North America). Derek might have been wearing his famous Argentina jersey, which always gets us into some fun conversations. He wanted us to come in for a drink at his bar, for free. He just wanted to talk! When we told him that we were looking to get some bugs to eat, he made us a deal: “I will come and show you where to find the best bugs, if you come back to my bar with me for some beers after…”

You have yourself a deal!

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Carine’s one and only bug lady!

First, the woman selling the bugs was the sweetest and liveliest one we’ve met.  She enthusiastically explained where she gets her bugs, why they are good for you, and all that good stuff. I kind of wish she would have hired me to help her sell bugs, as I’ve grown quite fond of them (and her). What good is all my experience in marketing if I can’t help some sweet lady sell bugs! But more on that later!

We held our end of the promise. After getting our fix of bugs, we headed back to the bar for drinks. There, we sat with our friend for a good hour. He spoke to us about his childhood, his upbringing, his hopes and dreams for his future, but more importantly, for the future of his country. He has started a program with some friends and other locals to help build homes for the less fortunate. They all pitch in some money every week, and once they have saved up enough, they find a family to help out, either renovating their home, or building a new one. He didn’t want other kids to grow up the way he did. He was an inspiration!

In French, they would say that we had a”Coup de Coeur” for the people of Cambodia. But it seems like that doesn’t do it justice!

Disconnecting to better connect

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We spend 5 hours a day in here

After a few days in the bustling city, we were ready to disconnect a little. Disconnect from our phones and screens, from the hustle and bustle of the city, and just reconnect with nature and ourselves. We found the perfect retreat a short tuk-tuk ride away from Siem Reap called Angkor Zen Gardens.

We spent about 5 hours a day in yoga or meditation classes. We worried about this before we started, but the classes were spaced out just enough. By the end of the day, we were a little sore, but felt refreshed and rejuvenated, both in body and mind. Any free time we had was spent by the pool – Can you blame us?

We were dealing with +30ºC temperatures. We could also be found in the dining hall, chatting with new friends, eating some delicious vegetarian meals and insanely fresh fruits.

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We stayed there for 4 days, but needless to say that we would have loved to extend our stay! Our home during that time was a lovely little bungalow. And our time was shared with like-minded ‘Do-It-Your-Way’-ers we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

The temples – Siem Reap’s pièce de resistance

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Angkor Wat at sunrise

Well obviously! Did you really think we would go to Siem Reap and not visit the Angkor Wat temples? We know we do things our way, but you can’t ignore the 7th wonder of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the largest religious monument in the world!

We got up super early one morning, earlier than we care to admit, and we set out to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We spent 3 days admiring the beauty that is Angkor Wat and its many temples. The organized tours are split into 2 categories: The Big tour (as temples are further from each other) and the Small Tour (which has your famous Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon). If you’re feeling adventurous, there is the beautiful Lady temple, Banteay Srei that’s about an hour out of Siem Reap. It’s small but quite beautiful, and you get to see life in the countryside.

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Angkor Wat

We weren’t expecting much when we set out to discover the temples. Yes, we knew they were old, that they were impressive and beautiful. But it’s only when you see them up-close and personal that you truly understand the magnitude of their beauty and the insane ways they had to be built. Angkor Wat is probably the best conserved of the bunch, but because some temples have not aged so well, many countries around the world are working to restore them to their former glory.

We took 3 days to see 10 temples, but if we could have, we might have taken 10 days, to truly explore them (and maybe try an organize a game of hide-and-seek in there). If you plan on going, here’s what you should know.

Places to stay

When it comes to accommodations in Siem Reap, there are plenty of offers, from budget-friendly to high-budget, but here are the ones that struck out to us:

Babel Guesthouse: The premier eco-friendly, responsible tourist destination in Siem Reap. A lovely staff, a quaint garden restaurant, the friendliest owners and a contributing member of their community, we loved our stay here.

Bou Savy Guesthouse: Located in the heart of Siem Reap, a short walk away from the Royal Residence, the Old Market and Angkor Night Market.  This guesthouse is a great place to stay if are looking to experience Siem Reap’s legendary temples, or their vibrant city centre.  You’re close enough to the action, without being bothered by hoards of loud tourists.  Attentive staff; beautiful and cozy rooms; a great restaurant downstairs where breakfast is served; a nice swimming pool to help you cool down after a long day of temple visits; what more could you need?

Popular Residence: Located slightly off the tourist trail, in a lovely area, this beautiful boutique hotel featuring a breakfast variety, amazing spacious rooms, lovely modern design, and of course, a great swimming pool right in the centre court. The staff will go to all lengths to make sure your stay is the best in Siem Reap. They even asked every morning if we slept well the night before, I mean who even does that?!?!

Angkor Zen Gardens: If Yoga is your thing, and even if it isn’t, but you’re looking for a new experience, we cannot say enough good things about this retreat. Connected with nature, Angkor Zen will help you be one with your body and mind, and feed you like a king or queen while it does! You can either stay here for a retreat, or drop in for any of the classes.

Where to Eat

Tuk Tuk Tacos: When you need a little break from Khmer food, head down to Tuk Tuk Tacos. They have amazing margaritas and delicious tacos that are fairly priced. Our favourites were the pulled jackfruit tacos that pack in quite a kick!

Khmer Grill: For a delicious but cheap Khmer meal, this is the place! Situated close to Pub Street, the restaurant offers all sorts of traditional Khmer dishes, and a great variety of vegetarian food. They will even add tofu to their traditional meals to make sure you get enough protein. Bon appétit!

Le Tigre de Papier: From Khmer dishes to Italian fare, this restaurant has it all. And it’s all delicious, unlike other places that fail at making traditional Western food. If you want a good fire-oven pizza, this is the place!


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The ultimate city guide to Siem Reap.  Everything you need to know about having a great time in the city, including your visit to the Angkor Wat temples.  What to do, where to eat and where to stay.   www.wediditourway.com