The majestic and imposing ancient temples of Angkor are, without a doubt, the core of any visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Situated just outside today’s city of Siem Reap, over 1000 sprawling temples once acted as the heart of the largest pre-industrial city in the world, under the Khmer Empire of the 9th to 15th centuries. What’s more, the self-proclaimed centrepiece of Angkor Wat is said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Any visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site can feel powerfully overwhelming, so here are my suggestions of three different ways to tackle the temples.
Go with a tour guide
The classic way to go about your trip is by going as part of a guided tour. Your highly knowledgeable local tour guide will give you extensive information and a complete back-history of the temples, enriching your experience and your understanding of what it is that you’re exploring. The myriad of different temples can be confusing by yourself and so this is a great choice for those after a readymade route, with transport there and back usually included. However, this obviously can mean that you don’t have the choice to explore at your own speed or to spend extra time at the places that take your fancy.
Hire a tuk-tuk driver
A great option if you want a bit more independence than the rigidity of an organised tour is to hire your own personal tuk-tuk driver. Here, your driver will act as your guide for the day, simply transporting you between destinations and waiting outside for you at each one. This is a pretty common practice and is therefore easy enough to arrange yourself by flagging a driver down, either at the start of your journey in the streets of Siem Reap or outside one of the temples itself. Just make sure to agree on a price beforehand – it’s worth asking around at your hostel or hotel to get an idea of a suitable rate. Having your own driver gives you the freedom to go at your own pace between temples and really make the exploration your own. However, it may also mean that you learn less from your experience or miss out on some insider knowledge or a location that only a seasoned tour guide would know.
Rent a bike
The temples of Angkor mix an innate tranquillity with a sense of intensity – what better way to explore than by renting a simple pushbike and gently riding through the peaceful ruins? Hiring a pushbike gives you the ultimate freedom to go at your own speed and can be rented for the equivalent of a couple of pounds or dollars a day. Just don’t forget that the weather can get very hot and very humid – it’s best to leave early in the morning to miss the height of the heat on your main journey from Siem Reap. This is the most purse-friendly and organic feeling option but definitely isn’t for the fainthearted or exercise-shy!