Visiting Angkor Wat: Stress-Free Guide (No Crowds, No Worries)

Angkor Wat from afar
Visiting Angkor Wat during shoulder season: Non-perfect weather, but more licence to roam!

Visiting Angkor Wat while wandering around Cambodia is a “must do” item.

I usually avoid that term, but there are very few national monuments that mean so much to the identity of a country than this iconic and sacred place and the backstory is just as impressive.

So much so that this ancient temple is the centrepiece of Cambodia’s national flag (one of the coolest flags around, in my opinion). The allure of such a mystical and defining landmark brings in two and a half million visitors to the site every single year and I’d imagine a big chunk of those came especially for this as the main event.

Once lost to the forces of nature, the temple complex and its many facets were forcibly taken back from the jungle and now it offers us a glimpse into a fascinating chapter of Southeast Asia’s past.

So how do you go about visiting Angkor Wat, the famously stressful and crowded wonder of the world? It is this and much more that I’ll explain today, so you can plan your trip optimally for those smiley sunrise views. 

The Best Time of Year For Visiting Angkor Wat is Shoulder Season

The shoulder season for visiting Angkor Wat is around April, May and November. As the rains come on in a rush, shoulder seasons are quite short in Cambodia. During this time of the year, crowds can be a little less, but April is also the hottest month in Cambodia, so be prepared for the heat. 

A similar story comes with visiting Angkor Wat during the shoulder season of November. The rains have begun to ease off, and crowds can be minimal. However, as this is just the start of the end of the rains, you can still be caught in an occasional shower, so be prepared to bring a raincoat or umbrella.

I spent 3 days visiting Angkor Wat with my cousin around my birthday (mid-October) and although it lightly drizzled at times, we were happy with our non-perfect photo for the main event.

We still managed to snap a few decent ones, but we took more pride in the fact we had fewer queues, fewer bodies to fight past and more license to roam.

If you’re a fan of visiting cool, ancient monuments without the annoyance of large crowds then check out the best place to see the Great Wall of China.

Visiting Angkor Wat Solo vs Hiring a Tour Guide 

While you may have all of these different tour options at your disposal, it doesn’t mean that you have to explore Angkor Wat as part of an organised tour. Visiting Angkor Wat with a tour guide may be a great idea if you want to learn about the history at a far deeper level, yet if you want your own time and space when visiting Angkor Wat, then visiting solo is also another great option.

Visiting Angkor Wat solo requires you to do a couple of things under your own steam. The first of these is deciding how you are going to travel around the site, as walking isn’t really an option due to the distances between the main sites. 

You have a couple of options when it comes to transport. You can hire a bicycle to cycle your way around Angkor, though the heat of the day means this will take a fair amount of stamina and effort to do.

Another popular option is to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day. This driver will usually pick you up from your accommodation and drive you around the many sights of Angkor. At each spot, your driver will wait for you to explore each temple and landmark before taking you on to the next one. 

Note: We did this, and bought a 3-day pass. So DIY with no tour, but a nice and smiley personal chauffeur. Highly recommend this option (especially during shoulder season!)

The second thing you need to do is organise a permit for Angkor Wat. The ​​Angkor Park Pass Ticket Counters are located between the town of Siem Reap and Angkor Wat itself. These permits vary in cost depending on the one you choose, whether it’s a day pass ($37), a three-day pass ($62) or a week-long pass ($72).

All in all, it comes down to personal preference. Exploring the temples and city complexes solo offers the chance to go at your own pace, stop where you want to stop and see what you want to see. With numerous touts selling guide books, it’s also more than possible to read up on the history of Angkor as you go around.

Those who are more inclined to listen to an official guide and explore as part of a group may want to join a tour, especially if you prefer everything to be organised for you. 

Personally, I hate this option and feel very restricted. I only join a tour when it is 100% mandatory and there is no other choice, or if I know the tour guide myself and they’re not too rigid.

I don’t think I am superior or inferior to you for feeling this way, I’m a big fan of the whole “different strokes for different folks” approach. You do you, boo-boo.

How Many Days Do You Need in Angkor Wat?

It’s more than possible to explore the main sites of Angkor Wat and the city complex of Angkor in one day, though this will be a long, tiring and packed day out in Angkor (especially during peak season). 

To truly experience the entire site while taking in the many sites, it’s best to give yourself around three days when visiting Angkor Wat, I genuinely believe that is the sweet spot. 

This is especially true if you want to make time for the sunrise or sunset over Angkor Wat. Having to rise early and be out all day in the heat can be a little tiring if you’re not used to it.

By giving yourself three days, you can break the whole exploration down into manageable days without exhausting yourself or getting the oh so common temple fatigue. Also, you get a second bite of the sun photo cherry, if you have bad luck in your favourite part of Angkor Wat on any previous days. 

With three days in front of you, you can make your way across the whole site, see things that are quite far away from each other and even see the less-travelled Bakong temple to the east of Siem Reap. 

Is Angkor Wat Walkable? (How To Get Around)

As I mentioned above, walking around the vast site of Angkor City isn’t really viable on foot. The sheer distances between each landmark and temple will not only tire you out, but it’s not time-efficient; especially as you’ll more than likely be exploring during the heat of the day.

As this is the case, you have a couple of different options for getting around when visiting Angkor Wat. 

One of the most common and easiest ways of getting around is by hiring a tuk-tuk and driver for the day. This backpacker-acclaimed carriage-like contraption, with an attached motorbike, is ideal for navigating the tracks leading around the Angkor site. 

Your driver will drop you at each temple and landmark in turn, wait for you and then take you on to the next – perfect!

Alternatively, you can hire a bicycle and make your way around Angkor under your own steam. This is great for getting a bit of exercise into your day and is an enjoyable way to see Angkor Wat. 

Just remember that cycling through the Cambodian heat and humidity can be a little challenging over a long day of site-seeing, so ensure you stay hydrated and protected from the sun.

Visiting Angkor Wat, you will be no doubt drawn in by the famous Angkor Wat temple, whose image is seen everywhere, including the Cambodian national flag and Cambodian currency.

And yet, this is just one temple of many. The huge site of Angkor city is a miss-match of numerous temples, all of which offer their own unique attributes and place in the history of Angkor. Built during different decades and centuries, some are far older than others, while others are, in the grand scheme of things, new.

Let’s take a look at five must-see temples at Angkor and what each offers in the way of understanding the site.    

Evidently, the most popular temple in the whole complex is Angkor Wat itself. Translating into “The Temple of Angkor”, it is this temple that has gone on to give this whole site its fame and popularity. Located in the very south of Angkor, Angkor Wat is probably going to be one of the first temples you will see when you enter the site. 

Constructed in the early 12th century, the temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The central five towers of Angkor Wat are said to represent the five peaks of the mountains, while the moat and walls represent the surrounding mountains and ocean. 

As the most popular temple, it’s here that you will no doubt encounter the busiest crowds around Angkor. Though with the size of Angkor Wat is deceivingly large, you’ll have no problem finding your own little piece of the temple to enjoy by yourself. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Angkor Wat is located at the very south of the Angkor site. It is one of the first temples you will come to when entering Angkor.
  • Cost – Included in Angkor entrance fee.
  • Opening hours – 5 am – 6pm
  • Time needed – You’ll need at least an hour to explore the Angkor Wat temple, though even longer if you take in its many decorations and reliefs, or join a tour.
  • Getting there – You can enter the temple from its western gate. A bridge will take you over the outer moat and into Angkor Wat.

Temple 2: Srah Srang Lake (Best Sunrise Snap)

Although technically not a temple per se, Srah Srang Lake is an integral part of the Angkor Complex and is an added bonus when visiting Angkor Wat. 

The reservoir lake was dug during the mid 10th century, long before the Angkor Wat temple itself. The lake provided a bathing pool for the royalty of the Khmer Empire and still retains water to this day.

Aside from being a site-defining element of Angkor Wat, Srang Srang Lake is also the best place to watch the sunrise above Angkor. Many people choose to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat temple, but Srah Stang Lake offers so much more. One of the best things about watching the sunrise here is the lack of body-crushing crowds, as there can often be at Angkor Wat.

The huge stretch of water provides perfect reflections of the temples, and its shimmering colours only add to the awesomeness of your experience and photographs. The lines of trees that grow up around the lake also add to its overall magical imagery. 

To get the best spot for watching the sunrise, head to the western edge of Srah Srang Lake. Here, you will find a multi-tiered terrace decorated with naga balustrades, lions and other Khmer carvings.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Sarah Srang Lake is located 4.5 miles east of Angkor Wat temple.  
  • Cost – Included in Angkor entrance fee.
  • Opening hours – 5 am – 6 pm.
  • Time needed – Give yourself at least forty minutes to watch the sunrise and enjoy the view shimmering across the lake.
  • Getting there – On entering the Angkor Wat complex, take the right road and head eastwards; this will take you to Srah Srang Lake.   

Temple 3: Bayon Temple – Best Sunset 

Arguably the second-most famous temple in the Angkor city complex, the Bayon Temple was one of the last to be built by the Khmer Empire and sits at the centre of King Jayavarman’s capital of Angkor Thom. The temple was built with Hindu deities in mind but was adapted by other Hindu and Buddhist rulers after the fall of the Khmer Empire. 

One of the defining features of the Bayon Temple is its multitude of serene, smiling faces carved and sculpted into the temple’s stone. These faces have been associated with the Hindu God Brahma because of the four faces looking in different directions, but they have also been interpreted as Buddist imagery also. 

The Bayon Temple can be enjoyed at any time of the day, yet it is also one of the best temples to watch the sunset at Angkor. Watching the light fade as the sun goes down over Bayon Temple is a truly magical sight. As the low sun dances off the ancient carved faces, the real epicness of visiting Angkor Wat shows itself.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Bayon Temple is located inside the moated city of Angkor Thom, just to the north of Angkor Wat. 
  • Cost – Included in Angkor entrance fee.
  • Opening hours – 5 am – 6 pm.
  • Time needed – Give yourself at least an hour to explore the temple and watch the sun go down.
  • Getting there – It is possible to access Bayon from the south gate. This road leads directly north from Angkor Wat Temple.

Temple 4: Phnom Bakheng (Oldest Temple in Angkor Wat)

Constructed more than two hundred years before Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng is considered one of the oldest temples in the entire Angkor complex. First constructed as a Hindu temple, Phnom Bakheng was built during the reign of King Yasovarman I, the builder of three of Amgkors oldest temples. 

Standing between Angkor Wat and Bayon temple, Phnom Bakheng can often be overlooked.

As one of the oldest constructions in Angkor, viewing Phnom Bakheng gives those visiting Angkor Wat an impression of how building, scale and design developed over the centuries, from a relatively small temple such as this to the larger grand designs later on.

Throughout history, Phnom Bakheng was converted into a Buddhist temple, and the image of a huge reclining Buddha can be seen carved out along its walls. 

Phnom Bakheng is not only the oldest on the list, but it is also another contender for a solid place to watch the sunset over Angkor. 

Built on a hill, the temple offers spectacular views over Angkor Wat, the surrounding forest and the gigantic Baray reservoir. As the space is particularly small compared to other temples, only three hundred people are allowed in at once. This means if you’re choosing Phnom Bakheng as your sunset spot, make sure you get here early.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Phnom Bakheng is located between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Before you enter Angjot Thom’s south gate, look left, and Phnom Bakheng rises up.
  • Cost – Included in Angkor entrance fee.
  • Opening hours – 7 am – 6:30 pm.
  • Time needed – Around 40 minutes should suffice for exploring Phnom Bakheng. 
  • Getting there – As you leave the road heading north from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom, turn left off the road to reach Phnom Bakheng.

Temple 5: West Prasat Top (Youngest Temple in Angkor Wat)

As you are visiting Angkor Wat, you’ll notice that most of the temples are thousands of years old. However, visiting West Prasat Top in the Angkor capital of Angkor Thom quickly turns these dates on their head. 

Well, maybe not as dramatic as that, but it does show you that construction of temples here continued here over centuries and compared to the rest of the site, West Prasat Top is Angkor’s newest temple.

Although builders used stone from previous constructions, historians and archaeologists believe that West Prasat Top was constructed in the late 13th century. There are even Buddist carvings here dating as far forward as the 17th century.

In juxtaposition with Phon Bakheng, visiting West Prasat Top allows you to bookend the oldest and youngest temples in Angkor, giving you an insight into the huge timeline that exists here. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – West Prasat Top is located in the western section of Angkor Thom.
  • Cost – Included in Angkor entrance fee.
  • Opening hours – 5 am – 6pm
  • Time needed – 20 to 30 minutes should be sufficient for exploring this small yet interesting temple. 
  • Getting there – On entering Angkor Thom from the south, take the road north to the Bayon Temple and turn left.

Handy Tips For Visiting Angkor Wat (A Cheat Sheet For First-Timers)

In such a famous and huge place as this, it can be a little daunting when it comes to planning how you are visiting Angkor Wat. This list of handy tips should give you a good insight into how to get the most out of your visit, and what to expect from this one-off travel experience. 

  1. Start your day early – If you are planning on watching the sunrise, this may be an obvious point. However, regardless of whether you are watching the sunrise or not, starting your day early when you’re visiting Angkor Wat is a must. 

    This way, you will not only give yourself enough time to fit all the sightseeing in, but you will give yourself the best chance of beating the crowds. Aside from time and crowds, beginning early means you are not subjected to the day’s intense heat and humidity, which can sometimes make the visit unpleasurable.
  2. Sunrise and sunset times are extremely crowded – After seeing the picturesque images of the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, it is easy to believe that the scene is one of pure divine peace and bliss. 
    On the contrary, being such a popular thing to see and do, sunrise and sunset watching at Angkor Wat is more akin to a music festival crowd. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists, will pack in front of the temple, each vying to get their picture of sunrise reflections on the temple’s moat. Bear this in mind before you set out, and perhaps choose one of the less-popular temples for your sunset/sunrise pictures or try and make your visit to Angkor Wat during a less busy period. 
  3. Temples have different opening times – Although you may be let in when the site opens in the early morning (5 am-5:30 pm), this doesn’t guarantee you will be able to rush and get in everywhere. Certain temples open straight away, while others open a little later on, around 7ish. Be sure to research what you want to see and ensure you have your timings correct. 
  4. Buy your pass before heading to Angkor Wat – Each visitor to Angkor and its complex will need to secure themselves a permit before carrying on to the temples themselves. These can be purchased in one day, three day and week-long forms and can be bought from the Angkor Park pass ticket counters, just south of Angkor Wat (don’t forget your passport when you go to buy them).
  5. Ensure you have dressed appropriately – Even if you have hired a tuk-tuk or driver for the day, exploring Angkor Wat can be tiring depending on your fitness levels. You will do plenty of walking across the site even with a driver, so having the correct footwear and clothing is essential for avoiding feeling fatigued (I wore flip-flops on day 1 and learned the hard way). With the heat of the day beating down, make sure you pack plenty of sunscreen and have comfortable clothing on. More on this below.

What To Wear When Visiting Angkor Wat

As I’ve noted above, taking some time to think about what you are going to wear when visiting Angkor Wat is an important thing to do in terms of comfort. 

Not only will you be dealing with the conditions and the activities of the day, but you should also remember that you are exploring a religious and sacred place that is special to many other people who are visiting Angkor Wat. 

This balance between modesty and comfort is one that will define your choice of outfits, and these may be different for men and women.

For Everyone

  • Sunglasses – Keeping protected from the elements is one of the most important things to consider when visiting Angkor Wat. Having a decent pair of sunglasses will protect you from the Cambodian sun that unmercifully glares down on Angkor Wat.
  • Hat – For the same reason as sunglasses, having a sun hat will protect you from the real chance of getting sunstroke when exploring the many Khmer temples. Baldie like me? I highly recommend the mighty “Buff” headwear, if you’re confident enough to pull it off.
  • Comfortable, sturdy footwear – As your time visiting Angkor Wat will undoubtedly include a lot of walking and with great distances, good footwear is essential. Loose material trainers are ideal, giving you a strong footing but with enough aeration to keep your feet cool. Related Post: Loom Footwear Review: Versatile, Waterproof Trainers?

For Men

  • Loose t-shirt – Balancing up religious respect and comfort, men should wear a loose-fitting t-shirt that will keep them cool through the day’s heat, yet one that doesn’t have overly short sleeves. Baring too much skin in a vest or tank top may result in you not getting in.  
  • Shorts on or below the knee – Wearing a good pair of shorts will keep you cool and manoeuvrable when exploring the temples of Angkor. It’s important to, again, remember that this is a religious site and having super short shorts may result in you not being allowed in. Keep that junk in a baggy trunk, fellas!

For Women

  • Loose-fitting dress or top – Dressing for temple exploration for women means being both comfortable and covering up. A loose-fitting dress or tip will ensure your shoulders are covered, but you won’t get too hot and humid throughout the day.
  • Shall or covering – If wearing layers or heavy clothes isn’t your thing, making sure you take a shall or covering to wrap around your shoulders will mean you are still covered but can also stay cool at the same time.

Can You Fly a Drone Over Angkor Wat?

Strict Cambodian laws operate around the protected Angkor site, including a no-fly zone directly over Angkor Wat. Only in official circumstances can flying anything be allowed in Angkor, so generally speaking, it is not a good idea to fly a drone over the site. 

Those who are caught trying to fly a drone over the temples may be reprimanded and face fines or worse.  

Is Visiting Angkor Wat Worth The Hype?

Maybe I am biased, as I lived in Cambodia during a particularly happy time in my life. I was also incredibly grateful that my cousin from the UK made a pit stop after road-tripping around Australia to visit Angkor Wat with me and I’m a firm believer that happiness is so much better when it is shared.

However, I don’t think I look at it through rose-tinted glasses. I absolutely nailed the shoulder season (even if I do say so myself) with it being less busy, we felt less rushed (especially with no tour guide barking at us) and so we got to take in the sheer beauty of Angkor Wat…

… and it did not disappoint in any way. I’ve been around the travelling block for 10 years now, experiencing the euphoric highs of hidden gems and the devastating lows of anticlimactic destinations.

As fun as it is, there are no Harcore Harry trophies given out for travelling off the beaten path and often places are popular because they are a genuinely cool experience.

No point trying to reinvent the wheel with this one. Visiting Angkor Wat is right up there as one of my favourite travel experiences after 100+ countries.

Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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