If there is one tip I can give to visitors of these ancient temples, it’s to see them by bicycle. At $1 USD per day, a bike rental will suit any budget. But the wallet friendly part pales in comparison to the fact that it’s just the best way to see the park.
When I arrived in Siem Reap I was pleased to find the main temple site was only 4km from the chaotic city center. Once I got my hands on a map I chose to bike the larger, and therefore less popular, Grand Circuit on day 1 of my touristy adventure. I’d save the Small Circuit, and therefore the more popular route with all the single day visitors, for day 2.
This worked out splendidly for a couple of reasons.
First, I didn’t get touristed out. By this I mean that I didn’t get tired of the crazy tourist crowd that is tuktuk’ed from temple to temple on a single day visit. By ‘crazy tourist crowd’ I mean girls in cocktail dresses who risk their ankles on the old rocks in stiletto shoes.
Second, I didn’t get templed out. The 3 most popular temples are indeed the most impressive (and most memorable nearly a year later), but the other temples are a grand introduction that wouldn’t seem quite so incredible after Angkor Wat. Not to mention that between temples I was pedaling around a gorgeous, forested park.
Third, my bum would definitely not want to cycle a LONGER route on the second day. 30km and 24km respectively.
On both days I skipped the 4:30am Ankgor Wat sunrise extravaganza. As much as I appreciate world wonders conspiring with nature’s beauty, I don’t particularly like elbowing my way to the front of a crowd to get the exact same photo as the dude next to me.
And so I arrived to the park both days around mid-morning and stayed until early evening. 6-8 hours per day is enough to pedal at a leisurely pace, have plenty of time for temple wandering, and to stop for food along the way.
Looking at these photos nearly a year later, I feel as if I couldn’t do these old temples justice with my camera (though of course I tried). Indeed the temples of Ankgor are just one of those things that needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
Ta Prohm (Lara Croft Temple)
Yep, this is where the opening scene of Tomb Raider was filmed. Ta Prohm was the last temple I visited on Day 2. Although I was tired and ready to be done with the day when I parked my bike, I ended up rambling around the place until the sun went down. The giant trees growing out of the ancient temple was an incredible show of urban decay at its finest.
By far the most famous temple of the bunch. And for good reason. The place is ginormous, the architecture impressive, and the relief sculpture insanely detailed. I spent an entire morning exploring Angkor Wat.
Though I had braced myself for insane crowds mentioned previously, this wasn’t the case at all. Most visitors weren’t even in the temple! They were sitting outside sketching or eating at one of the food stalls. When there happened to be a human in a photo, I was happy to have them to show the massive scale of the buildings.
Hundreds of giant Buddha faces carved into stone? ‘Nough said.
Other temples and around the park.