By , July 18, 2013 4:51 pm

We arrived in Cambodia after a terribly long travel day that involved a train, a tuk tuk, a border crossing, a bus, a tourist bus, and a really long walk to our hostel.  We were already worn out from a month of racing across Thailand, so we decided to slow things down. A lot.

We had originally planned to stay in Siem Reap for about 5 days.  This would give us three days at the famous Angkor temple complex and a few days to bum around the city.  Instead, we stayed ten days and bought a 7 day temple pass.  And we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

While most people hire a tuk tuk driver for a day (or three) and temple themselves out trying to see it all, we decided to take advantage of the $1 USD/day bicycle rentals in town and explore the huge temple complex by pedal bike.  This gave us the time and leisure to take long lunch breaks, read amongst the temple ruins, and visit a reasonable 3-4 temples a day.  We certainly didn’t see everything, but we saw a lot more than the average visitor.

The result of  a hard day’s cycling… very dirty feet!

We didn’t bike all 7 days – we rented a tuk tuk for two of them to give ourselves a break (it was a blistering 35+°C and we’re not too keen on heat stroke).  This also allowed us to see the more distant Banteay Srei (see below) & Kbal Spean, and later the magical Beng Melea and distant Roulos Group (post to come).

We left Siem reap with over 650 photos, so I’ll try to limit myself to our top 5 favourite temples and only a few pictures of each.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Ta Nei

This temple tops our list because of the complete solitude you can find here.  It can’t be reached by tuk-tuk, only bicycle or walking.  Most of the guides haven’t even been here.  While not the most impressive temple, you can spend an hour wandering around and climbing over the ruins without seeing another soul.

Road to Ta Nei

2. Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is everything Ta Nei is not… crowded and busy.  But it’s easy to see why.  Like Ta Nei, nature has been working to overtake this temple with trees and roots winding their way through and along the temple ruins and walls.  Apparently some Tomb Raider scenes were filmed here (I’ve never seen it, so I wouldn’t know).

3. Banteay Srei

This temple required a tuk-tuk, but was so worth it.  Famous for its red colour, it was the intricate carvings that really made this one stand out for us.  We walked the entire temple grounds once with cameras in hand, then put them away and walked it all over again to pick up all the detail we missed while peering through our lenses.

4.  Banteay Samre

This temple was special because not only did it have beautiful carvings, it didn’t have the crowds of Banteay Srei.  There were a half dozen people wandering about this temple… all serious about photography.  Everyone kept out of each other’s shots and there was a quiet and peace to be cherished here.

5. Bayon

The Bayon was one of the few temples we made a point of visiting twice.  It looks like a pile of rubble from a distance (at least when you approach it from one side), but once you climb up the stairs you find yourself surrounded by giant heads.  Everywhere you look there are more… just staring and smiling.

Why didn’t Angkor Wat make the cut?

Don’t get me wrong… Angkor Wat is an incredible piece of design and construction.  Whether it was the constant crowds or the hype, it just didn’t touch me the same way as many of the other temples.  I would never recommend skipping it of course… it is still a must-see!

View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng temple

Reading across the moat from Angkor Wat… a nice way to appreciate it

Useful tips:

  • Entry passes are as follows:1 day – $20 USD
    3 days – $40 USD
    1 week – $60 USD
  • Multi-day passes require a picture, so cannot be used by other visitors.
  • The one week pass does not need to be used on consecutive days.  It allows you entry on seven days within a one month period.
  • Passes issued after 5 pm are valid that day and the next.  This is especially nice if you only have time for a one day pass.
  • Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and many of the other popular sites will be swarming with tourists at sunrise and sunset.  Consider visiting a less popular temple to take advantage of the light for photographs.
  • If you are planning to go to Angkor during Chinese New Year, it will be packed.  So will Siem Reap… book accommodations well in advance and expect rates to double.
  • If you are planning to go by tuk-tuk, ask around and get a good price.  Everyone is a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, so there’s a lot of competition.  (When we were there, the going rate was $10 USD for a day, or $15 USD for a full day including sunrise and sunset).  Expect to pay more for more distant temples.
  • Make sure that when you book a tuk-tuk driver, you have contact information and assurance that your driver will speak English if you want to be able to communicate.  The nice guy that you book with will rarely be your actual driver.
  • Have an itinerary in mind if there are certain temples you want to see.  Be wary of the tuk-tuk driver that suggests the floating village… it will cost you another $10 USD or so to get on the boat to see it and will take about half a day out of your temple seeing time.
  • Haggle at the restaurants.  The first price offered is never the real price, nor is the listed menu price.  If you really want to negotiate, you can probably get yourself some free fruit just for sitting down.

Typical budget Angkor restaurant… may not look like much, but they make a mean $1 fried noodle!

This kid was mesmerized when he saw his face on my camera screen

One Response to “Our 5 Favourite Angkor Temples (and no, Angkor Wat didn’t make the cut)”

  1. Rhonda says:

    Love the recap. Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei and Bayon are three of my favorites as well. Such an amazing place and culture.

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