Tour Angkor WatBackpacking & Trekking, Cambodia, Cultural Travel — By Mary on February 9, 2012 at 6:12 am
If you’re like me, you won’t fully understand the magnitude of Angkor Wat until you’re in the middle of planning your trip there. I thought Angkor Wat was going to be like the Colosseum in Rome – get in, look around, leave. But as I quickly learned, Angkor Wat is a heck of a lot more than just Angkor Wat.
The temple of Angkor Wat is actually only a small part of the ruins of Angkor – all of which are included in the price of admission making it crazy not to explore beyond the park’s most famous temple – and the place is massive. Which means getting around Angkor beyond Angkor Wat needs to go into your planning strategy. You can get around Angkor by many different modes; everything from bike to bus, and even elephant. Here are pros and cons of each.
Taking a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat is the most popular form of transportation to the ruins. Tuk-tuks manage to be fun, economical, romantic, and edgy all at the same time and are a form of transportation that is quintessential Southeast Asia. The open-air cart strapped to the back of a motorcycle lets the smells and sounds of the temples come into play. This is especially important if you’re heading to Angkor Wat at sunrise. Bounding down the pitch black roads to Angkor, everything is quiet except for the sounds of the other tuk-tuks driving nearby. Despite the literal “tuk-tuk” sounds being emitted into the air (clever naming) it’s a surprisingly serene experience. A tuk-tuk generally costs $15 for the day and can be arranged through your hotel. The driver will take you around to the different sites, deposit you in front of each temple or landmark, and wait for you there until you’re ready to move onto the next one. Keep in mind that the driver won’t accompany you around the temples. You’ll need to also hire a guide for that, which runs about $25.
Pros: Affordable, memorable, and lets you go the day at your own pace. And last but not least in my book, tuk-tuks are super cute (don’t say that if you’re traveling with a guy).
Cons: Not too much of a downside for the tuk-tuk. The early morning ride if you’re catching the sunrise is surprisingly chilly in the winter months, but nothing compared to if you hail from the Midwest or North-East. Also, if you’re on a budget, the $15 for a tuk-tuk on top of the $20 admission fee to the ruins may have you opting toward one of the next two options.
It would take a braver soul than myself to bike the morning sunrise trek to Angkor amidst the weaving tuk-tuks, potholed roads, and pervading darkness. Try it if you dare. However, if you’re visiting Angkor after sunrise a bike is a terrific way to experience the outdoors of Siem Reap on your way to the ruins and once you’ve arrived. Riding a bike alongside ancient temples seems completely out of place yet at the same time, feels like the most authentic way to ride your way around Angkor. Many hotels in Siem Reap rent bikes for just a few dollars to use for the day. But be warned, these bikes are generally not 10-speed durable mountain bikes. Instead, they’re old, rickety, one-speed cruisers with very uncomfortable seats. Due to the comfort level and extra time a bike takes to ride around, you may not be able to see as much of the ruins as you’d like. Therefore, plan an extra couple days to see it all by bike, or do one day by tuk-tuk and one day by bike. If you’re on a time crunch and only have one day yet are determined to bike the ruins, make sure to hit the temples most important for you to see first in case your behind can’t make it to the rest.
Pros: Renting a bike is very affordable; only $2-$3 to rent for the day. It’s also great exercise – perfect for working off too many Singha beers consumed the night before.
Cons: It can be hard to find places to chain your bike up – which is highly recommended. You may need to get creative. While at Angkor Wat, I ended up chaining my bike to a massive, partially uprooted tree root for lack of a better alternative. Biking also will most likely mean not being able to see as much of the ruins in one day. And lastly, your butt may be in agony afterward.
This option is only for the hard-core hiker-types as it’s 3.5 miles just to get from the town center of Siem Reap to the entrance to Angkor Wat. If walking to the ruins and then walking from temple to temple is your plan, invest in good walking shoes and be prepared to spend your day there until it closes at 6 p.m. Without a tuk-tuk or other form of transportation on wheels it will take you a long time to get from one ancient area to the next as there can be several miles between them. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the trek. This way of making the temple rounds at Angkor allows for a calmer, step-back-in-time journey through the ruins. Angkor is in the jungle, something that is easy to forget amidst the hundreds of visitors Angkor gets every day. A unique tree or playing monkey that you might miss riding something from temple to temple can get your full, undivided attention – for as long as you want to give it. Plus, if your feet need a break at some point during the day, you can always take one of the elephant rides offered between temples. (Elephant Ride Pro: You’re riding an elephant. Elephant Ride Con: It may take you longer to get to the next temple than walking.)
Pros: Once your legs are done feeling like jelly, you will have legs of steel. Walking is a peaceful way to get around the ruins and can be done completely at your own pace.
Cons: Before getting legs of steel, your legs are going to feel like jelly. Also, if at the end of the day you aren’t up for walking the 3.5 miles back to town, you may have trouble finding a taxi or tuk-tuk as a lot of the ones you’ll see lined up are already waiting for people. Oh yeah, and you’re basically walking a half marathon. Need I say more?
By Bus or Cab
Bus or cab tours are a great option if there are more than two people in your group as even three people will get a bit snug on a tuk-tuk. You can rent a cab for $20-25 for the day while buses greatly vary depending on what’s included. All day tours with guides and lunch can be upwards of $70 per person. Your hotel can help you arrange a taxi or join a bus tour.
Pros: Buses and cabs are good for larger groups and you’ll get a break from the heat by being in air-conditioning between temples.
Cons: If taking a bus, the experience won’t be as intimate. Taking a cab or bus is also typically a more expensive way to get around the ruins.
With a Guide
As I mentioned earlier, if you want to have someone take you around the temples and actually explain what you’re seeing (unlike some ancient ruins such as the Acropolis, this place is pretty hard to figure out on your own what you’re standing by/under/on) you’ll want to hire a guide. The guide I had while there was awesome – he knew everything. Why is one of Angkor Thom’s pools so much bigger than the other? The larger pool was the women’s pool – and the king had a lot of wives and lovers. What do the three levels of Angkor Wat symbolize? Hell, Earth, and Heaven. What was the Terrace of the Elephants used for? Circus-like shows complete with tight-rope walkers and elephant performances would be conducted for the king and when it was time for the king to leave his seat, he was elevated at just the right height that he would depart by climbing onto the back of an elephant.
If you didn’t already know those things, then a guide is probably a wise investment in your day at Angkor for you as well. Guides typically spend the whole day with you and the areas to visit are decided on beforehand (as usual, your hotel can help you arrange this). Your guide will meet you at your hotel and accompany you on the tuk-tuk or cab to and around Angkor Wat and back to your hotel.
No matter what transportation you choose to take around Angkor, one thing won’t change – you’re going to do a lot of walking around the temples and up and down stairs. Add one extra stop into your plan for the day and treat yourself to a $5 foot massage back in Siem Reap. It will help get you ready for a whole new day of exploring the ruins.
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