The best place to base yourself for a few days of temple discovery is charming Siem Reap, about a six-hour bus trip from Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh. Even if you’ve only come to Siem Reap to see the UNESCO World Heritage site (as many do), make sure you leave yourself enough time to explore the eclectic and bustling town. Cute cafes, laid-back street-side bars and restaurants and lots of opportunities for aimless wandering make Siem Reap a must-see in and of itself.
While there are ample spots to rest your head in Siem Reap — from cheap hostels to high-end boutique hotels, one of the best options is the ultra-friendly MotherHome Guesthouse (or their sister property MotherHome Inn). Sip your tropical welcome drink as you check in while wiping your brow with the immediately proffered cooling eucalyptus towel (offered every time you enter the hotel and extremely welcome after a long day of touring temples). Large, airy rooms, buffet breakfast (included in the room rate), ever-smiling service and an ideal location in the center of town (all for under $30 a night) contribute to the property’s charm.
You can see the temples by renting a motorbike, a bicycle or by hiring a car and driver or a tuk tuk to take you to the various sites spread out around the sprawling Angkor Archeological Park.
Bicycles and motorbikes can easily be rented by the day from various vendors, but we chose to arrange three days of transport with a local tuk-tuk driver who came to our hotel at an agreed-upon time to take us to the temples. He was able to provide some basic information about each site, which was helpful but not as detailed as what you would get from hiring a guide.
Once there you can either get a one-day pass, three-day pass or a week-long pass. We suggest at least a three-day pass ($20) as there is a significant amount of ruins to visit.
What you end up seeing will depend directly on how much time you have. The Angkor ruins, which comprise of the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century are vast, varied and spread out so even two days isn’t enough to see everything.
Your first stop will likely be the stunning Angkor Wat, the largest monument in the temple complex and one that ends up on most of the postcards and guidebook covers you might come across.
A few more must-sees (if you only have a day or two) include Angkor Thom (including the Terrace of Elephants and the awe-inspiring stone head carvings of Bayon Temple), Banteay Srei (small but intricately carved), Ta Prohm (surrounded by jungle and a must-see for the ancient roots taking over the ruins) and Bantaey Kdei (an area that has not been restored, so it offers a true glimpse into the past).
When traveling in Cambodia to see the temples, you’re likely to hear other travelers talking about getting “templed out” which basically means getting overwhelmed with visiting temple after temple. The best way to make the most of your trip to Angkor is to build in some rest days in between site visits. This ensures you’re viewing everything with fresh eyes and maintaining a sense of excitement throughout your trip. We spent three checking out temples but took one day “off” in between trips. This also allowed more time to explore Siem Reap.
You should wear a hat and stay hydrated in the heat. It's also important to dress appropriately, which means comfortably and respectfully (no sleeveless tops or short skirts).
Pack your bags and join us next time when Frequent Flier heads to Ko Phi Phi, Thailand for a dose of laid-back island life.
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