Angkor Wat without the crowds

Angkor Wat without the crowds

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So you’ve been to the three main temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom. You’ve wrestled your way through hordes of Chinese tourists. And you wish you could have these places to yourself so you could properly enjoy them. We’ll tell you how you can visit the temples of Angkor Wat without the crowds!

Buying the right ticket

First of all, you need to know that you have three ticket options: the 1 day ticket, the 3 day ticket (valid for 3 days within a 10 day period) and the 7 day ticket (valid for 7 days within a one month period). Get yourself a 3 day or 7 day ticket. Seriously. Angkor is huge and one day is just not enough to see it.

Visiting at the right time

If you want to visit Angkor Wat without the crowds, avoid December, January and February like the plague. This is peak season at Angkor Wat and it’ll be very, very busy.

You’ll also want to avoid the height of Cambodian rainy season, as tropical downpours and slippery, muddy paths won’t really add to your experience either.

If you ask us, the best time to visit Angkor Wat without the crowds is March, April or May. It’ll be hot, yes. But it’ll also be less busy. May does see the start of the rainy season, but with a bit of luck, it won’t be too much yet. Also, avoid Khmer New Year, which lasts for a few days mid April.

We visited Cambodia in the beginning of June and were able to enjoy the temples in relative peace. We were surprised to even have some temples (almost) to ourselves. Though officially rainy season, the rains hadn’t really started yet and we only had one rain shower during our visit. One week later though, it was raining all day every day so you never know.

Avoiding the tour groups

Did you know that most visitors to Angkor are from China, South Korea and fellow Southeast Asian countries? And that most of them visit with tour groups? If you know the typical tour bus itinerary, you can avoid being at the same place at the same time as them. And you’ll be happy for it. The Chinese especially are loud, have a very different concept of personal space and like to take many, many pictures.

Here are some tips to avoid the tour groups at Angkor:

  • Very few tour groups come for sunrise. They usually arrive after breakfast, which makes mid- to late-morning the busiest time. Get out of bed early and you’ll be rewarded with a much quieter visit to the main sights. Take your breakfast on the go or bring some snacks so you can enjoy these hours visiting Angkor Wat without the crowds.
  • Most tour groups head back to Siem Reap for lunch. This means that it’s much quieter around this time. This is the best time to visit Bayon. As for lunch; there are plenty of places to get an early or late lunch around the temples.
  • Another idea is to plan your visit to the main temples in the late afternoon. After lunch, take a break at your hotel for a nap or a swim and return to Angkor around 3 PM. Most people will have had a long day sightseeing and will leave around this time. You’ll still have two and a half hours to explore one of the larger temples. We recommend Ta Prohm for this time.

Your crowd free itinerary

Most people, including the Asian tour groups, visit Angkor for only one day. This means they don’t venture beyond the three main temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom. But since you got yourself a 3 day ticket, you have time to visit some crowd free beauties!

Follow this three day itinerary, so you can make the most of your visit to Angkor Wat without the crowds.

Day 1

Unlike most Angkor itineraries, we don’t recommend you to visit the main temples on your first day. You want to save the best for last, right? That’s why we recommend you to start your first day in Angkor with what they call the “big loop”. This loop takes you to the smaller temples to the East of Angkor Thom. You’ll visit: Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan.

Sounds like a lot? It is! If you want to concentrate your time to less temples, we recommend you to skip Pre Rup and East Mebon. Our personal favorites were Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan.

You won’t see any tour buses today. You’ll be one of the few people taking the effort to visit the smaller temples. You might even have some to yourself! If you do need to share, it’ll be mostly other independent (mostly European) travelers enjoying the temples in peace.

We highly recommend you to arrange a tuk tuk for this day. You’ll be covering quite some distance today, as the farthest temple (Preah Khan) is a 25 KM ride from the center of Siem Reap. And besides, it’s also just a nice experience to be driven around with the wind in your hair in between your temple visits.

Here’s some pictures of what you’ll get to see on your first day of Angkor Wat without the crowds:

Banteay Kdei Temple: Angkor Wat without the crowds
Banteay Kdei
Banteay Kdei Temple 4
Banteay Kdei
Ta Som Temple: Angkor Wat without the crowds
Ta Som
Ta Som Temple 2
Ta Som
Ta Som Temple 3
Ta Som
Neak Pean
Preah Khan Temple 3
Preah Khan

Day 2

As you’ve seen a lot of temples yesterday, we recommend you to take a completely different approach on your second day. There’s a hiking route in the Lonely Planet, which is really nice and takes you to the outskirts of Angkor Thom.

There’s no need to get a tuk tuk driver for this day. Instead, grab a bike from your hotel or one of the many rental companies. You can reach the start of the hiking route in about 30-45 minutes from Siem Reap.

Park your bike near the South gate of Angkor Thom. Don’t forget to take a moment to look at all the different faces on the statues representing “the churning of the sea of milk”.

Angkor Thom South Gate
The Churning of the Sea of Milk

Head through the gate and turn left. There’s a dirt track that will take you up the wall. There might be some locals on motorbikes using this path as well. It’s about a 20-30 minute walk over the wall to reach the small temple at the Southwest corner. You’ll get some nice views of the moat with its boats and fishermen on the way.

Fishermen in the moat of Angkor Thom
Fishermen in the moat

Turn the corner and continue up North untill you reach the Western gate. Unlike the Southern gate, there’s no asphalt road running trough this gate, which gives it a more authentic feel. This part of Angkor Thom is quite deserted and the gate is stunning, with its shades of green (from the lichen) and red (from the dusty road) on the stones. This was one of our favorite structures in the whole of Angkor!

West Gate of Angkor Thom
The West Gate

Once you’ve taken your pictures, follow the dirt road into the center of Angkor Thom. Go straight past the tour buses parked at Bayon and head left to Bauphon.

There’ll be some other tourists here (the first we saw since starting off on our hike), but nothing to overwhelming. You’ll see a sign next to the entrance of Bauphon with a suggested walking route for the Northwestern section of the city. Surprisingly few people follow this route, but it’s a good way to see the temples in this section of Angkor Thom.

Bauphon Temple
Bauphon Temple
The view from Bauphon Temple
The view from Bauphon Temple
Angkor Wat without the crowds
No other tourists here!

Follow the walking rout signs up and over Bauphon and on to the North. Visit Phimeanakas, Preah Palilay, the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants. This might sound like a lot, but (except for Bauphon) you won’t need a lot of time to see these places. After completing the route, walk back to and past Bayon to the South gate where you parked your bike.

Day 3

This is the big one. Today you’ll be visiting the three most popular temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Unfortunately, this is also the day that you won’t be able to avoid the tour groups anymore. With the tips that we gave you earlier, you’ll be able to find the most optimal times for your visit. But having these temples to yourself is simply not going to happen.

Depending on how fit you are, it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll take a tuk tuk or a bike today. The distances between the temples are short, but you’ll be heading further away from Siem Reap during the day. From Ta Prohm, it’s about 15 KM back to Siem Reap, so be prepared for some exercise if you plan on taking a bike.

Either way, there’s no sleeping in today. Seeing the sunrise from Angkor Wat is a definite must-do. The gates open at 5 AM, but make sure you’re there at least 15 minutes earlier to queue up. You’ll want to be one of the first ones in, so you can grab a nice spot.

The best spot to watch the sunrise is from the lake to the left of the main path. The lake gives you the best view of te towers and the beautiful reflections that you see in all the pictures. However, because of dry season and some renovation works going on, when we were there, there was only water inside of the lake to the right. So that’s where we (and everybody else) went. Still pretty awesome, though!

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Sunrise at Angkor Wat

As for the rest of the day. We were quite surprised to find that Angkor Wat itself was not even our favorite temple. There’s just something about all the enormous heads at Bayon and the jungle invasion at Ta Prohm that gave them that something special that we felt Angkor Wat was missing. But to each his own, I guess. Take a look at these pictures and decide for yourself!

Angkor Wat without the crowds
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat second level
Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple 2
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

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