Updated: Dec 3, 2018
Ever been to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia? Angkor Wat is a temple complex ("wat" means Buddhist temple in Indochina) in the ancient Khmer empire, or Angkor Kingdom as some called. It is the largest religious monument in the world and is also one of the most well-preserved.
Angkor Wat is the primary site of interest in the Angkor Kingdom, where many people from all over the world visit it every year. Visitors are not just seeing the famous temple when they purchase the tickets to Angkor Wat, they are visiting the Angkor Kingdom and all other sites in it.
I was toying with the idea of revisiting Angkor Wat for a third time, since my last trip 6 years ago, and went online to search for the fees of the Angkor passes. I found this article, titled Angkor-Pass: New Prices from 1.2.2017 - Full Details by Inga, and was taken aback by the huge hikes in fees. I was not aware of any news on the fee hike prior to seeing this article else I would have managed a visit to the ancient Khmer kingdom before February 2017.
Angkor Passes & Fees
The fee, or ticket, is actually for the Angkor pass, which also serves as entry tickets to all sites of interest and temples in the main Angkor cluster near Siem Reap. Showing the Angkor pass is required at each site's entrance and when on demand. If you lose the pass while inside the Angkor Kingdom, a heavy penalty will be levied.
Visitors can apply for different validity periods with different fees as follows:
Validity Period: 1 Day
Old → New Fees: US$20 → US$37
Lost Ticket Penalty: US$100
Validity Period: 3 Days
Old → New Fees: US$40 → US$62
Lost Ticket Penalty: US$200
Validity Period: 7 Days
Old → New Fees: US$60 → US$72
Lost Ticket Penalty: US$300
For more information on getting an Angkor pass, refer to Inga's detailed article.
I commented that the fee hikes are "huge". To visitors whose home currency is the US dollar, these hikes may not be that drastic. But, to visitors from other countries, the hikes can be a concern, especially after taking exchange rates into considerations. The US dollar has risen quite a lot since 2016 against most other currencies, so the hikes are actually greater than what it seems. Also, due to the drop in Euro and pounds last year (in 2016), Europeans will feel the pinch.
On a side note, Cambodians get to visit the Angkor empire free of charge! As a matter of thought, why make foreigners pay for the restoration of the Cambodians own cultural heritage?
Anyway, after getting your Angkor pass, guard it with your life!
Tickets for Secluded Sites
Separate tickets will be required for Phnom Kulen (US$20), Koh Ker (US$10) and Prasat Beng Mealea (US$5) as they are located quite some distances away from the main cluster of ancient sites near Siem Reap. You will need to hire local transports to travel at least 1.5 hours to these sites or join day tours.
However, visit these secluded sites only if you are still keen to see more temples after visiting the main cluster. The temples at these sites are mostly in ruins still as most restoration efforts are concentrated in the main cluster. Also, most visitors got tired of seeing temples after two or three days.
Due to the fee hikes, more and more visitors are actually forgoing the whole Angkor Wat cluster and travel to these far but cheaper sites, especially Beng Mealea which is the cheapest and nearer to Siem Reap. They claimed that the ruins there were "more original" and had lesser tourists. Well, if that is what they travelled all the way to Cambodia to see, why not?
Personally, I feel that first-time visitors should not miss Angkor Wat and several of the other notable temples in the main cluster. The three far-away sites can still be part of the travel plan if you are keen to venture beyond "touristy" areas and pay more for the transport.
Itinerary for 3-Day Visit
I visited the Angkor Kingdom twice, in May 2008 and in November 2011. On both visits, I opted for the 3-day pass to tour the ancient kingdom. It was more value-for-money to go for 3 days (US$40 for 3 days vs US$20 for 1 day before Feb 2017). Secondly, it was not possible to visit majority of the ancient sites in the kingdom, including Angkor Wat, in just one day.
Browse the Google Map.
If you study the map and note how the routes were planned for a 3-day visit (blue for Day 1, green for Day 2 and orange for Day 3), you will see that it is possible to cover most of the sites in 3 days.
However, you might get an overdose from too many temples. Unless you are seriously interested in temple ruins, you can consider dropping some of the lesser significant ones to have a more leisurely itinerary.
Read this if you are not familiar with Angkor sites:
Let's go through the recommended routes for the 3 full days.
Day 1: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom
1. Get the 3-day Angkor pass in the early morning.
2. Start with Angkor Wat. Spend as much time as necessary since this is the key site of interest.
3. After touring Angkor Wat, go for lunch.
4. Head over to the South Gate of Angkor Thom.
5. Visit Bayon Temple in the middle of Angkor Thom.
6. Visit the smaller sites of Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King near to Bayon Temple.
7. Around 4:30pm, head over to a small hill near the South Gate and ascend to Phnom Bakheng for sunset at 6pm.
8. Back to Siem Reap.
Day 2: Ta Prohm & Banteay Kdei
1. Go for sunrise at 6:30am at the main entrance of Angkor Wat. The sun will rise behind the temple.
2. Head over to Ta Prohm via the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom.
3. Spend some time at Ta Prohm (or "Angelina Jolie Temple").
4. Go for lunch.
5. Visit Banteay Kdei near to Ta Prohm.
6. Visit the smaller sites of Srah Srang, Prasat Kravan & Prae Roup Temple if there are spare time.
7. Back to Siem Reap.
Day 3: Kbal Spean & Banteay Srei
The distance is about 42km from Siem Reap to Banteay Srei and another 12km from Banteay Srei to Kbal Spean along a dusty red sand road. Expect to pay more for the tuk tuk due to the longer journey. Agree on the price before setting off.
1. Start early and head to Kbal Spean. The journey is about 2 hours or more.
2. Hike 1.5km to the river and check out the lingas.
3. After Kbal Spean, head back to Banteay Srei. 4. Have lunch before exploring Banteay Srei.
5. Back to Siem Reap.
You can swap the itineraries for the days and add/drop some sites when planning your own trip if you are going for 3 days. There are quite a number of other smaller sites to the north of the main cluster if you are hungry for more, but you need to get the 7-Day pass. Do plan your trip properly, after the 3-day pass expires, you will need to get new pass if you want to see more, there is no extension of passes. Proposed Itinerary for 1-Day Visit
If you decide to go for just a 1-day visit, you will need to drop the far-away sites from your itinerary and focus on Angkor Wat and some must-see sites nearby, including Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm.
Below is how I will plan a worthwhile 1-day trip. See if it works for you.
1. Get the 1-day Angkor pass on the day before the visit (after 5pm).
2. The next morning, start early to see the sunrise at 6:30am behind Angkor Wat.
3. Check out Angkor Wat (allocate 4 hours from after sunrise to 11am).
4. Have lunch at the eating places outside the main entrance of Angkor Wat.
5. Go to Angkor Thom's South Gate (10 minutes).
6. Visit Bayon Temple (1-2 hours).
7. Go to Ta Prohm (1-2 hours).
8. Back to Angkor Wat for a full-view photo of Angkor Wat at around 4pm (10 minutes).
9. Ascend to Phnom Bakheng for sunset at 6pm over the paddy fields.
10. Back to Siem Reap.
The trip can start as early as 4:30am and end at 7:30pm, a total of 17 hours. If the long hours is too taxing for you, drop either the sunrise or sunset but do start early before the day crowds and tour groups charge in.
1-Day vs 3-Day
I did not mention much about the 7-day Angkor pass. Unless you are seriously into archaeological studies or writing for travel guide books, or for whatever other reasons, you will probably not go for the 7-day pass, even though it is only US$10 more than the 3-day pass. There are more places of interest in and around Siem Reap apart from Angkor Wat that you would not want to miss either.
So, which one to go for? 1-day Angkor-highlights tour or the 3-day more comprehensive one for the Angkor Kingdom?
If the new pricing is not of a major issue to you, go for 3 days at a leisurely pace. Try to see as much as possible of the ancient kingdom in one trip as you probably will not go back again. Who knows? The fees may just get higher and higher in future.
If the fee is really a concern for you, then go for 1-day visit as proposed above. Make it a one-time worthwhile trip. Or skip the Angkor cluster completely like some tourists did. I will not recommend that, of course. What's the point of going all the way to Siem Reap and skip Angkor Wat? You might as well choose another destination in the first place.
Watch Your Attire
In most religious sites in Asia, especially Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, attires cannot be too revealing when visiting temples. So, no sleeveless tops and shorts that cut above the knees. This applies to both males and females. No skirts for ladies too — anyway, you will need to climb up and down the multi-terrace temples.
Considering also that you will be under the hot sun most of the time, the preferred wear will be long-sleeve tops and long pants or slacks. Getting tanned is one thing, getting too much ultraviolet exposure is another. Add a wide-brim hat and a light-material scarf (or multi-functional headband) for the back of the neck. Drink a lot of water.
Hope I have provided a useful guide for planning a trip to Angkor Wat.
Try some Cambodian snacks: 7 Snacks to Dare Yourself in Cambodia