Go early, at sunrise. That’s how you avoid the crowds.
This is the only consistent advice I’ve ever heard about visiting Angkor Wat. Suck it up, wake up early and get there for sunrise. I think a better suggestion might be to not visit between Christmas and New Years, at least if crowding is a concern. Because we were in the car at 5am just like what appeared to be thousands of other visitors. Whoopsie.
That is not to say that it was a bad experience, but it was far from a calm, quiet morning in the park. It was chaotic and crowded, but the monuments have stood up well to the elements and remain a spectacular sight, even if filled with lots of other tourists.
After sunrise we took a short break at one of the cafes adjacent to Angkor Wat to have a noodle soup breakfast and fresh coconut water to steel ourselves for the rest of the day as tourists.
The main complex at Angkor Wat is the primary draw to the region but it was not my favorite part of the day. It is an incredible structure and the fact that it is in such good condition centuries later in amazing. But, for me, the real win was getting to wander through Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom, mostly because they are not as pristine as Angkor Wat is; they show the effects of time and of nature reclaiming that which it wants, even after the massive clearing & construction efforts from so long ago. Plus, the trees growing right up through the temple ruins just look cool.
The smaller temples are also more open to exploration by visitors, something which probably is not great for their long-term viability but which means that clambering up the ancient steps to see what things used to look like is possible. And that sort of stuff is way more fun than just walking around at ground level.
We arguably did the tour the lazy way, using a driver with an air conditioned car to move through the park. If that’s cheating then, well, I guess I don’t play fair. I’m sure the tuk tuk option is fine, too. But at the end of our 8 hours out and about we were quite happy to have air conditioning for the drive back into town. Plus he was pretty good at explaining what we should expect to see as we wandered through each of the main sites and being at the other end when we got through.
We had but one day in town to explore the temples on foot. That was probably less than we should have spent to get to see everything. Mostly because we certainly didn’t see everything. But two days is probably wrong, too. After the long day exploring we both agreed that doing that all over again the following day would probably be too much temple time; taking a day off to relax in town in the middle would be a nice way to split things up. And I suppose that our snap decision to see the temples from above on a helicopter tour our second morning in town probably helped, too.
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