The Best Ways to Navigate Angkor with Your Family
Angkor is one of the most significant archaeological parks in South East Asia that spans across a massive 400 km2. Angkor Wat is but one temple of many in this massive UNESCO heritage site. In order to make the most of your trip, here are some practical tips for visiting this spiritual place.
ANGKOR TIP #1
Not for all Kids. Angkor is not for everyone and certainly not appropriate for young children. We suggest waiting until the kids are older who may appreciate the significance of the archeological park. There is nothing suitable for kids in the site do to so it would be best not to bring them a long until you deem them fit and mature enough.
ANGKOR TIP #2
Crowds. Angkor is incredibly crowded, filled with tourists from all walks of life vying for the best spots to take the perfect photo. With over 2 million visitors annually, it inevitably invites peddlers of all kinds selling anything from useless souvenirs to foodstuffs. Unfortunately, it is part and parcel of your visit and somewhat mars the sacredness of the place. Just be prepared so you’re not overly disappointed.
ANGKOR TIP #3
Tickets. Everyone wishing to visit Angkor must pay an admission fee. They may be purchased at the entrance of the park and sold in one-day (USD$20), three-day (USD$40) and seven-day (USD$60) lots. Tourism Cambodia suggests that the tickets must be utilised in consecutive days however many tourists have used the passes as required. Therefore a three-day pass can be used in a span of a week and the guards at the entrance have been happy to stamp them off as such. You can decide for yourself if this is worth the risk.
ANGKOR TIP #4
Duration of Visit. We recommend taking 3 days to explore Angkor and its many temples and monuments. For most, this is perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity so take your time to enjoy the park. It is vast and absolutely breathtaking. Siem Reap is prone to extreme heat and humidity so it’s not possible to spend whole days in the open sun without getting completely exhausted. Most families do tend to return to the hotel at some point in the afternoon to enjoy the pool and relax. Thus, having 3 days to spread out the holiday is ideal.
ANGKOR TIP #5
Hire a Guide. The best and most comfortable way to see Angkor is to hire a guide that can take you around in a tuk tuk for the day. They are affordable and convenient and an excellent way to get to know Angkor’s inception and history in all its glory. By having a personal guide, you can tailor your trip to your requirements and can come and go as you wish. Particularly useful if the kids get tired and wish to return to the hotel for a rest.
ANGKOR TIP #6
Heat and Humidity. Siem Reap is hot. With no shade and relief in Angkor, it is imperative that you are prepared for it. This of course means appropriate clothing, sunscreen, hat and lots of water.
It also helps to stay in a hotel or resort which has a pool as its the best way to cool off and relax after a long day out at the temple ruins. We stayed at the gorgeous Shinta Mani Resort of which the service was impeccable and the quality of the rooms were wonderful. We also enjoyed staying here as all the staff are local Khmer who are encouraged to take part of the hotel’s extensive English program.
ANGKOR TIP #7
Terrain. Walking from temple to temple is pretty easy but the temples themselves are not so easy to navigate. Terrain range from large broken stones, steep climbs, big roots jutting out from the ground and narrow pathways. Appropriate footwear is vital for comfort and stability. Some tourists also opt of a walking stick to help with some of the climbs.
ANGKOR TIP #7
Temple and General Attire. As Angkor is a religious site, it is important to don appropriate attire and this would mean clothing that covers your shoulders and legs above the knee line. Many of the temples that don’t have anyone monitoring the entrances have been subjected to tourists not adhering to this respectful dress code. Many women have thrown a scarf around their shoulders during temple or monument visits and removing them when out in the open. However should you wish to visit the third tier of Angkor Wat and heading towards “heaven”, they are very strict and you will be denied entry without the correct attire. There were plenty of tourists stuck on the second tier looking longingly at the infamous steep staircase.
Due to the heat, humidity and dust, it would be wise to cover up in light weight cotton clothing. The markets in Siem Reap sell thin cotton scarfs which are very useful for covering your face during the ever so dusty tuk tuk rides as well soaking up sweat.
ANGKOR TIP #8
Best Time to Explore. It has been recommended that the best times to enter the park are early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s not so crowded. We were advised that the best time to be at the park was at noon as it was the hottest time of the day so many of the tourists return to their hotels for lunch and a break before returning later. We heeded this advice and there were hardly anyone about as evident by the photo above. We managed to take some photos without other tourists in our way!
ANGKOR TIP #9
Sunrise. The primary viewing spot for sunrise is at Angkor Wat itself. The sunrise is simply stunning as it peaks through the inner towers of the temple. What spoils the sanctity of this glorious experience, are the crowds. Tourists literally appear by the bus loads as they scramble for the best spot to take the ultimate photo whilst the approach is littered with market stall holders. To get the front row at the reflecting pond, which is the best viewing spot, admirers arrive as early as 5.00am. It is a once in a lifetime experience but to avoid disappointment, just be prepared for the hordes of people that will be there. For less crowds and a less spectacular sunrise experience, Ta Prohm offers a sunrise through the jungle trees, you can get colourful reflections off the ancient pond at Srah Srang or you could climb up Bakheng for a lovely vantage point.
ANGKOR TIP #10
Angkor Wat. To say this temple is spectacular doesn’t quite do it justice. It is simply breathtaking in all of its complexity and sheer beauty. There are many sites dedicated to how best conquer the temple so we are only going to mention some important tips.
- Get a tour guide. The rich history deserves attention and you would appreciate it so much more if you understood its inception and significance.
- Take your time. The temple spreads across 2.5 square kilometres, is 200 feet high and is divided into several layers. Get lost and just soak in the magnanimity of the place! Perhaps you could get your tween or teenage kids to help you navigate the map and make it an adventure!
- Bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs are intricate carvings that spans across 2,600 feet. The carvings depict famous battles such as the Battle of Kurukshetra or the Battle of the Gods and the Demons and are essentially historical stories told in sequence. It is designed to be viewed from the left so enter at the west entrance, turn right into the gallery and follow a counter clockwise path. You can buy guides that help you interpret the bas-reliefs. Get your children involved and take turns to narrate the stories and help identify the main characters on the wall.
- Stairs to Heaven. The epitome of Angkor Wat is ascending the infamously steep staircase up to “Heaven”. The stairs are also quite narrow and if going up wasn’t scary enough, try descending! If you suffer from vertigo, climb down the stairs backwards.
ANGKOR TIP #11
Banteay Srei. Known as the “Citadel of the Women”, this is the only temple not to have been built by the monarch. It is located approximately 25km from the main Angkor site and is often not visited by tourists. We highly recommend you take the time to admire the intricate and exquisite bas-reliefs on the miniature structures. The whole temple itself is considerable smaller than the other famous temples but so worth the visit. We suggest you take a car instead of the tuk tuk for greater comfort and speed. On the way back, drop in at the Landmine museum. This is the perfect educational stop for the kids and teaching them the atrocities of the Khmer regime as well as the selfless acts of the volunteers who sweep the lands in an attempt to make Cambodia a safer place.
ANGKOR TIP #12
The Rest of the Temples. There are literally hundreds of temples in Angkor ranging from small ruins to the more renowned structures. It is impossible to see them all. Here are the 10 must do temples in order of significance.
1) Angkor Wat – but of course!
2) Bayon Temple – features over 200 massive stone faces in all directions.
3) Ta Prohm – the jungle temple and the most photographed tree in the world!
4) Angkor Thom – Enter via the south gate to see the 54 Gods and 54 Demons.
5) Banteay Srei – We love this so much we dedicate a standalone tip.
6) Phnom Bakheng – Hindu temple mountain. Great spot to watch the sunset.
7) Preah Khan – One of the largest temples in Angkor that has been left unrestored.
8) Pre Rup – a mini Angkor Wat.
9) Banteay Kdei – A Buddhist temple left neglected and covered in vegetation.
10) Ta Keo – Made of green sandstone, this is an unfinished temple worth visiting.
In all its beauty and grace, Angkor took our breath away. Every temple offered us goose bump moments and we will forever be awed by its existence. Do yourselves a favour and put it on your bucket list!
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