Angkor Wat: Travel Tip

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You can fly to Siem Reap from several Asian cities, including Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. There’s also a short flight from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Bangkok Air. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, is about three miles south of the main temple.

If you like the water, you can take a boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via Tonle Sap Lake. The trip takes several hours and costs about $35. If you’re on a budget, you can make the trip on a bus for as little as $11. If you do so, guidebooks recommend bringing earplugs, because the Cambodian pop music played on the buses can get loud.

FINDING A GUIDE

I booked my guide through my hotel’s tour desk for a pricey $40 per day. You can probably do better by checking out the tour companies near the Old Market. Guidebooks also recommend Diethelm (www.diethelmtravel.com) and Exotissimo (www.exotissimo.com) – top tour operators, but also expensive.

My advice would be to bring a good guidebook on the temples and see them on your own, unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys every single anecdote about King Suryavarman II. If you’d really like to get a guide, try hiring him or her for just a day and see whether you get much out of the experience.

VISITING THE TEMPLES

Entrance fees for Angkor Wat are $20 for a one-day ticket, $40 for a three-day ticket and $60 for a one-week ticket. The temples are open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I’d recommend a two- to three-day visit, including seeing the main temple at sunrise one day.

THOMAS HUANG/Staff When you visit Angkor Wat, you'll see groups of pilgrims, such as these Buddhist nuns.The area containing the major temples, including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan, is about 16 square miles. You can hire a driver for about $25 a day, or a tuk-tuk (a cart pulled by a motorbike) for about $16, or a motorcycle taxi for about $8.

For a view of Angkor Wat at sunrise or sunset, enter the front of the compound, walk about halfway toward the main temple and make a left or right onto the fields. Even if you go early, you’ll probably be competing with a crowd, but that’s your best chance at a great photo.

Many of the temples are undergoing restoration, so you’ll find certain sections closed to visitors.

Cambodia is hot and sunny, so hit the temples early in the day. Bring a small backpack with bottles of water and wear sunscreen and a cap.

To get the most out of your visit, it does help to be physically fit. Climbing up the steep steps of several of the temples, clambering around the ruins, just traveling from temple to temple – all of it can get grueling, especially in the heat.

WHERE TO STAY

I enjoyed staying at Hotel de la Paix (Sivutha Boulevard; www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com), a modern, stylish place with art deco and Khmer influences. The favorite part of my room was the large marble bathtub, which I would soak in after a full day of touring the temples. A journalist friend also recommended Viroth’s Hotel (0658 Wat Bo Village; www.viroth-hotel.com), chic and affordable with only seven rooms.

WHERE TO EAT

I had good meals at several places across town, including Khmer Kitchen Restaurant (just north of the Old Market), the Sugar Palm (south of the Caltex gas station), the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Angkor (Pokambor Avenue) and Viroth’s Restaurant (246 Wat Bo St.). At most of these places, you can get the traditional tastes of pomelo salad and amok, a dish of fish steamed in bamboo leaves with coconut milk and curry.

If you have an opportunity, try Khmer barbecue with a group of Cambodians. I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner one night. We cooked our meat and vegetables in a central hot pot and drank Angkor beer from what I can only describe as a lemonade dispenser.

OTHER SIGHTS

If you’re tired of the temples, the Angkor National Museum is a nice respite, and it’s air-conditioned. You’ll find a room with 1,000 Buddha statues and a model of the main temple. Strangely, amid the statues I met a guy from Toronto who told me he was a big Dallas Cowboys fan. “But,” he said, “they’ll never make it to the Super Bowl with Tony Romo.”

The Old Market is in the heart of town and is a good place to buy souvenirs and T-shirts. You can haggle with the vendors to your heart’s content.

OTHER TIPS

The Caltex gas station (also known as Starmart) in the middle of town on National Route 6 is a good all-purpose convenience store. You can get coffee and croissants there, and there’s an ATM inside.

While the riel is Cambodia’s official currency, U.S. dollars can be used anywhere in the country, and most of the ATMs spit out dollars.

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