Now with low cost options getting you to Siem Reap for easily half the price of traditional airlines, the ancient city of Angkor Wat is now happily within the 'getaway' rage of short trips. Still, go there uninformed and unprepared and you'll be in for some nasty surprises. Here are some tips for first timers visiting the lovely ruined city and its vibrant counterpart Siem Reap.
1. Taper Expectations
While Bangkok is fairly developed and has the usual skyscrapers and shopping malls that we're used to, Siem Reap is nothing like that. It is still a laid-back town with low rise blocks and non-existent shopping. It will never hold a candle to the likes of Bangkok or Shanghai, but it doesn't need to. Siem Reap is decidedly local, and has its own set of charms. You won't see many international brands and boutiques here, save for the most pervasive labels on your drinks, and you'll get a noticeable sense that locals have made their own unique way of life here. Facilities are not the best, and the roads are mediocre, but this shouldn't matter if you choose to venture here.
2. Rest Well
Temple-ing as it is affectionately called in this part of the world, is tiring. It really is, and nothing exemplifies that better than a pair of crutches my companion had to use for a week upon coming back from our expedition. Some temples are challenging to climb (being awfully optimistic here) and some are downright treacherous. Should you aspire to see the best views and examine every small crevice that the Angkor complex has to offer, be prepared for a great workout. Return from that workout to a bustling nightlife and you could be on your way to watch the sunrise with last night's happy hour still coursing through your blood. Very unhealthy and not recommended.
3. Get a Guide and Driver
While the new generation of tourists would scorn utilising a paid guide service when going on their adventure of self-discovery, it can (in some instances) be essential. This is one such occasion. While it may be tempting to hire a tuk-tuk for a day and winging it like a true millennial, strongly consider arranging for your transport beforehand and having an experienced local guide. While the internet is an endless source of knowledge about everything and anything, having someone explain the history and sociocultural context of the ancient civilisations as well as how the current inhabitants of Siem Reap coexist with the ruins is priceless. Also, really don't cheap out and hire a tuk-tuk instead of a car, as the roads are incredibly dusty and temperatures incredibly sultry. You have been warned.
4. Watch for Hidden Gems
Every tour out there promises an Angkor Wat without tourists or the best spots to view everything. This, however, you should take with a pinch of salt. While crowd avoidance is certainly possible, and there are great views that not all will be aware of, the real hidden gems aren't necessarily instaworthy. Watch for little slivers of beauty, be it the gentle lapping of waves along the Angkor Thom moat, or throwing scraps of meat to hungry stray dog.
While this short article is certainly not sponsored in any way, we do have operators in Cambodia we wholeheartedly trust. I personally have gone on a trip to Angkor Wat with who I believe to be the best guide there is, and it'd be a shame to miss out on that. Do check out our Angkor Wat tour packages featured on our website here.