As a travel destination, Cambodia is perhaps best known for its most popular temple, Angkor Wat. Located a few miles from the city of Siem Reap, tourists from all over the world come here to walk through what’s left of the once-thriving Khmer Empire. Here are some tips for your trip:A Brief History Lesson
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia; it's also the name of the tribe from which the majority of Cambodian people descend. The name also refers to the ancient Khmer Empire, which was at its peak between the 11th and 13th centuries. The site outside of Siem Reap, collectively known as the city of Angkor, was the empire's capital. Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan are the most widely visited temples, but the city of Angkor spans 200 square-miles and includes dozens of city walls, gates, jungles, temples, moats, and scenic rivers.
Planning Your Visit
If you're looking to learn more about the history of Angkor before visiting the ruins, head to the Angkor Museum in Siem Reap. Admission costs a relatively spendy $12 (a day pass for the temples themselves is $20), but the museum will build your perspective on the temples and kings, and their religions (first Hindu, then Buddhism). Unless you read up on the history before your trip, we suggest swinging through to enrich your understanding and experience at the ruins.
Once you're in Angkor, you can hire guides at any of the temple entrances. They'll approach you, so don't worry if you're feeling shy. Some guides specialize in one temple, while others will accompany you from temple to temple. The cost varies based on the number of temples and the demand.
Buying Your Tickets
You can buy the $20 one-day pass, a three-day pass for $40, or a 7-day pass for $60. If you're short on time, seeing all three major attractions in one day is possible. But for those who want to get beyond the normal tourist circuit, a three-day pass is the way to go. Regardless of which pass you choose, you'll purchase it on your way to the ruins at a ticket building, easily accessible on the main road.
Getting to Angkor from Siem Reap
There are a few different options for getting from Siem Reap to Angkor. The most comfortable is a chauffeured, private, air-conditioned car or van that you can rent for the day. This costs from $35-$50, and you can ask for recommendations and contact information when you land at the airport, or at your hotel.
For a cheaper alternative, forgo the A/C and hire a tuk tuk driver. For about $15-$20 per day, a driver will take you to the ruins from town and then wait for you outside each temple while you tour. Most of the tuk tuks have rain covers for wet-weather days.
Feeling adventurous? Rent a bicycle for a day -- typically $2 for a cruiser-type bike and $5 for a mountain bike (recommended so you can ride off-road at Angkor). We like that this method of exploring is affordable and flexible. It's just a three- to four-mile bike ride to the ruins, but you'll need to be be pretty confident in your cycling skills. The ride out of town to the ruins can be chaotic and traffic-filled.
Bonus: What to Do in Siem Reap
Beyond the temples, there's plenty to see in Siem Reap itself. Since touring the temples requires a long day on your feet, you'll want to spend the evenings recuperating, particularly over a drink or dinner. Pub Street is the main place for nightlife, but keep in mind that the many watering holes offering 50-cent draft beers cater to lots of party-minded young backpackers. For some local flair, check out the "Old Market," where you'll find fresh veggies, animal products, and small food vendors. If you're looking for a local souvenir, you can find spice packets here for making Amok, a popular Cambodian dish. Finally, consider a Thai massage. They're affordably priced ($5-$7 per hour) and you'll find them advertised on every corner, especially near Pub Street.