Wat to Do in Angkor

Everyone calls it Angkor Wat. Technically Angkor Wat is just one of the famous temples, but there are over 70 others to be appreciated as well! As a Unesco World Heritage Site, Angkor is listed as one of the most important archeological sites in all of Southeast Asia, and the largest religious site in the world. The ruins provide a glimpse into what life was like in the ancient Khmer Empire from the 9th to 14th centuries.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of climbing over tumbled stones and tiptoeing through cool, dark ruins, Angkor should be at the top of your bucket list. The sun glides over the ancient city with a tantalizing glow that makes you want to quit your job and become an archeologist. Dedicate at least 2-3 exploration days to give the surreal wonderland the time it deserves.

 

Planning your trip

The Angkor Archeological Area encompasses over 400 square kilometers. It would take weeks to see all of it. The ticket offices offer either one-day ($32) or three-day passes ($60). One day is not nearly enough. 

Let me repeat that. One day is not nearly enough.

Opt for the three-day pass even if you’re only planning on going for two days. It’s still cheaper than buying two one-day passes. If you really only have one-day, try to hit the major must-see’s like Angkor Wat for sunrise, the many faces of the Bayon, semi-restored ruins of Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider), and at least one of the smaller temples on the East Baray.

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Remember that Cambodia gets very hot, and the middle of the day is absolute murder. You WILL sweat through your pants. Plan to go in the morning, or just the afternoon. If you’re planning an all-day marathon, leave a few hours during peak heat to sit inside for lunch or sip a cold coconut in the shade.

An entire day in the sun will be extremely exhausting and you won’t be able to appreciate the legendary temples if you’re hot and cranky

We didn’t realize how enormous Ankor is. It can take 10-15 minutes to get from place to place, if not longer. Do your homework. Look at a map of Angkor, star your “must-sees,” and build your day based on regions around those sites. It’s much more manageable if you organize your day by groups.

We bought a guidebook for US$10, which made it very easy for us to pick our favorites. The book explains the history and original design of each site, and it also gives you a recommended route through them, pointing out key features along the way. It’s an easy way to avoid feeling cluelessly lost in an ancient world of stonework mazes.

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Getting Around

Being that everything is so far apart, walking is not a realistic option. If you’re traveling solo and/or strapped for cash, at least rent yourself a bicycle. You’ll sweat yourself silly, but it won’t take as long as walking. Better yet, rent a scooter if you’re a competent driver.

The best option though, Ankor by tuk-tuk. If you can expend the cash to rent a tuk-tuk for even one of your days, you’ll be able to explore so many more regions. Make a new friend and split the cost. Tuk-tuks can take you to the further areas of Ankor, and with few people wandering around, you’ll get some amazing alone time in one of the most serene sites of the world. Plus, tuk-tuk time is AMAZING for resting your legs and getting out of the sun for a bit. You’ll just really optimize your time and energy if you rent a tuk-tuk.

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Not to mention, most tuk-tuk drivers grew up in Angkor. Generations and generations (far more than you can honestly comprehend) have lived within these ancient walls. Their knowledge is unparalleled, and will greatly enhance your experience.

Try to avoid the time-wasting confusion that we had, and pick a time and place to meet up if you’re in a big group. Otherwise you’ll spend 45 minutes, like we did, waiting for each other at opposite ends of the temple. Also make sure you have your tuk-tuk driver’s name, license plate, and cell phone number if possible.

 

What We Did

We opted for the three-day pass, even though we only went for two days. As a group of 6, we were able to split the cost of two tuk-tuks, which ended up saving us time and energy, so we were able to pack in more sites per day. Plus, our guides were super informative and knew exactly where we should go, in what order, at what time of day.

We started our first day at about 1pm, so by the time we bought our tickets and really got into the grounds, the sun was low in the sky and people had already started to leave. It’s still hot, but it’s more manageable and way less crowded. Our second day was over by lunch. Albeit, we started before the day even began. By early afternoon, the high heat and exhaustion had us waving the white flag. We ended our day with lunch and went home for a well-deserved cat nap.

Here are some groupings of sites that we organized our trip by:

 

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is the famous walled city that remains to be the most recent location of the capital of the Khmer Empire, founded by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. Inside the epic walls are loads of magnificently restored temples, namely Angkor Wat and The Bayon. These inner temples are normally busiest in the morning, right after everyone watches the sunrise. The South entrance itself is a breathtaking preview of what lays just inside. Well worth a stop.

Angkor Wat, unless you want to see it immediately after sunrise with everyone and their mothers, is best explored in the afternoon.

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Watch as the setting sun casts a perfect golden glow across the 200+ faces of Bayon - Ankor’s most iconic temple.

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Afterwards, we drove past the Elephant Terraces to the East gate.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Like most other visitors, we wanted to catch the blazing sunrise over of Angkor Wat. We were picked up at 5 in the morning, which gave us plenty of time to get comfy before the sky went alight. If you’re insistent on being right up at the water for your perfect shot, try leaving a bit earlier. It gets tightly packed up front.

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Once the sun rises, everyone will rush to go inside. We opted to head straight for the farthest temples first, where there would be less visitors.

Baray of Preah Khan

The temples on the north side of the East Baray are generally smaller temples, and significantly less people in the morning.

Preah Khan

This far-out temple is mostly unrestored, with walls crumbled in and tunnels blocked by rubble. What was once a city/temple/university is now a beautifully deconstructed work of art.

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Walking around this temple in the early morning gives you a bit of scope as to how rigorous the creation of these buildings must have been, and how magnificent the architectural design is, down to the carved images in the crumbled stone.

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Neak Pean

The calm lake in the glistening morning light is reason enough to visit Neak Pean.

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The temple is made up of four pools, representing the four elements, connected to one central source pool with a shrine in the middle. Originally built as a hospital, the pools were meant for sick visitors to bathe in healing waters. Look for the intricate animals sculpted on the central temple!

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Ta Som

This small temple was built as a a dedication to Jayavarman VII’s father, Dharanindravarman II. One of the gopuras, or entranceways, is overgrown with an old strangler fig.

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In opposite corners of the central sanctuary, there are late cavernous rooms that were once libraries. Around the outsides, there are big open pavilions to have a stroll around.

East Baray

The East Baray was built as a water retention system, used for either irrigation or religious purposes.

East Mebon

This Hindu temple dedicated to Shivu is one of the older temples on the archeological grounds, built by Rajendravarman in the late 10th century. While it appears to be a temple-mountain, it was actually an temple-island back when the East Mebon was a filled. While it was once surrounded by water and only approachable by boat, it now stands as an obvious mountain among the flats of the dried reservoir. Look for the guardian elephants on each of the corners of the second tier! 

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Srah Srang

This reservoir still has water! It’s not full… but it’s still beautiful in the golden Cambodian glow.

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Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm was selected by the École française d’Extrême-Orient to be minimally repaired, in efforts to provide visitors with an authentic experience as to how many of the temples were rediscovered after being surrendered to the jungle for centuries. Wooden boardwalks guide you around the ruins, passing stoic fig trees and crumbling piles of stone. 

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Plus, it was featured in Angelina Jolie's Temple Raider.

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Being one of the most popular temples, it’s usually pretty touristy. Expect to queue for a photo with the big trees...

Further Adventures

We didn’t make it to the farthest temples on our third day, but that’s our first stop whenever we go back! These are among the least visited sites in the entire acrchaelogical area, but also some of the most worthwhile. 

Banteay Srei is at the top of a hill, only accessible by a one-way road. Before noon, the road goes uphill. After 12pm, it switches and you can go downhill. Also, tuk-tuks can’t make it up the hill, so you have to rent a van or book a separate tour. It makes it a bit difficult planning-wise.

Phnom Kulen

This requires an additional $20 entrance fee separate from your original ticket, because it’s not technically part of the archaeological site, but rather a part of Phnom Kulen National Park. 

Kbal Pean

If you’re up at Phnom Kulen National Park, you can go see the sacred fertility waters nearby, Kbal Pean. Otherwise known as the “River of 1000 Lingas,” this Hindu shrine is unlike any of the other temples. The sandstone riverbed has been carved into  motifs depicting an array of Hindu gods, including Shivu, Vishnu, and Brahma. 

If you’ve got the time and are willing to shell out a bit more cash, you can make an entire day of venturing out to Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean, and Phnom Kulen  for a day among the unspoiled sites!

More Pictures

Kickin it on Koh Phi Phi

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Young Leo’s secret has been blown. Made famous by thriller cult movie The Beach, the Phi Phi Islands in the Andaman Sea host thousands of beach-goers every year - no sketchy map necessary. 

Koh Phi Phi Don is the main island. A pedestrian-only matrix of brick pathways weave around the central part of the island, with most restaurants, hostels, tattoo shops, and souvenir shacks concentrated all in one place. If you’re not here to party, try to get away from this part of the island - head east towards the resort villas along Long Beach for a quieter escape. 

That being said, Koh Phi Phi is notorious for its party scene. Party party party. But if you’re looking for other things to tell your mom about, it also has unbeatable diving, brilliant blue beaches, and a lively international atmosphere. 

BE WARNED: Koh Phi Phi is notorious for people getting sick. I fell victim to the shockingly common bacterial infection that lots of visitors contract from eating on Koh Phi Phi. All food has to be shipped to KPP, and in the hot climate that is Southern Thailand, the food doesn’t always stay frozen for the entirety of the shipping line. Which means that some food might make you sick. We recommend staying away from meat, but even as a vegetarian, I ended up in the World Clinic. They took care of me extremely well. My room even had Netflix.

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Getting to Koh Phi Phi

Phuket has a pretty big international airport, so if you’re coming from far away, start there.

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Koh Phi Phi is part of at network of ferry stops, including Phuket, Koh Lanta, and Krabi. There are multiple trips per day, so you’ll have a couple of options to fit your schedule.

Partying on Koh Phi Phi

So many party hostels. Just head to the beach on the north side of the island, and take your pick. Some offer packages with boat cruises. You don’t necessarily have to be staying with them, but you get special drink options if you do. Ibiza House Pool Party, Slinky Hostel, Stones Bar Dorms, Phi Phi Bucket Hostel, and both Blanco locations.

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We stayed at one of the Blanco’s. There’s one on the beach and one just a hundred yards off the beach. If you’re planning on staying up all night, beachfront Blanco is your spot. We stayed off the beach, opting for longer “quiet" hours.

Boat Cruise

A.K.A. booze cruises. There are multiple options, all offering basically the same thing: half day cruise around the Phi Phi Islands, kayaks, snorkels, a beautiful sunset, and booze. Some of them are all you can drink, some of them you’ll have to pay for each drink. The price difference will only be helpful if you’re not going to drink at all, or you’re ACTUALLY only going to have one drink. Otherwise, open bar is worth it. Blanco does a great rate for the package that everyone offers. They’re also the only ones that were allowed to continue their tours for a while when Koh Phi Phi cracked down on all the monkey business.

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Speaking of which, your first stop out of the port will be monkey beach! Have fun, but respect the monkeys. You might not believe it, but they’re stronger than you. If you piss them off, they will lunge at you. They will also steal your food if you bring any. If you get close enough, they might climb up your leg, or arm, or up onto your head and shoulders. Get that monkey selfie.

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After the monkey beach, you get to crack some beers and get the party started. Blanco plays some great tunes and the group is young and fun. Make some friends and play some flip cup. The Blanco boat has a bunch of kayaks and snorkels and SUPs for you to play with. They make a stop at Pileh Lagoon in the afternoon for you to fool around with the toys and do backflips off the top deck.

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When you get to Maya Bay, Blanco party hosts will take you ashore to explore the white sandy beaches that Leo once walked in the year 2000. You’ll head towards the back of the island, learn all about “Blowjob Beach,” and climb around the wild island made famous by the movie. You’ll even get to replicate the jump photo from the movie with your new best friends!

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Blanco has a simple but filling buffet to fulfill your drunk munchies. After a beautiful sunset on the water, they’ll bring you back to the main docks and set you free. Have a shower and eat some more food, but make sure to head back to the Blanco on the beach for an afterparty! 

Long Tail Cruise

For the less boisterous bunch, you can still see all of Phi Phi’s best beaches without the boozy backpackers. Go to the main port in the morning (7-8ish) when the waters will be less crowded. Find yourself a friendly captain, asking price 180 baht for 3-4 people for 3 hours.

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He’ll know where to take you: Monkey Beach, Maya Bay, Loh Samah, Pileh Lagoon, and Viking Cave. It’s a great way to see all the hotspots at your own pace and with fewer people. 

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It’s a National Park, so you can’t technically fly your drone (we waited to fly it once we were back at Phi Phi Don). Also, if you step foot on the beach at Maya Bay, you’ll have to pay a park entrance fee. But snorkeling in the water is free! Bring a floaty and a speaker, maybe some food and drinks too! 

Kayaking

One of the best activities on Koh Phi Phi is renting a couple of kayaks off the main beach and heading out into the bay to explore the island's stunning coast. Prices can range from $3-$6 per hour (single vs double kayak) to $20 for the whole day. You can rent them on Tonsai Beach or from Loh Dalam Bay.

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Depending on how ambitious you are, you can use them to explore some of the more popular areas, like Monkey Beach, or just to get off the crowded beach and into the crystal clear waters around the bay. Bring a speaker, some water, SUNBLOCK, and find an empty buoy in the middle of the bay to tie up your kayaks and go for a dip. It's a fantastic way to explore Koh Phi Phi and work off some of those questionable decisions you made last night.

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Long Beach

Long walk to the Beach is more like it... if you go towards the main docks, and make a left along the beach (eastwards), just follow it all the way until the walkway ends. You’ll start to follow a path with cute villas along the way. There are small handwritten signs pointing you in the right direction. Once you eventually get to Long Beach, you’ll realize why it has that name.

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Pick any spot on the beach and just kick back for the afternoon. Pencil your name in a time slot for a coconut oil massage if you’re keen. Grab an ice cream or a fruity shake from one of the beachfront stands. If the walk is too far for your unavoidably dehydrated body, hop in a longboat back to town for only $3.

The Viewpoint

Take the long hike up to the Viewpoint for some killer views of the island. Make sure you go down to the second viewing platform for a little more space and fewer people in your shot! The earlier you go, the fewer people you’ll find at the top - and it won’t be as hot as later in the day.

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Diving

In addition to being one of the best islands to party on in Southeast Asia, Koh Phi Phi is also one of the best places to dive! The crystal blue waters are picture perfect, making for great visibility under the surface. When arriving on Koh Phi Phi, you have to pay an "environmental fee," which covers the costs of maintaining trash-free beaches and underwater ecosystems. Plus, the vibrant reefs are home to big fish, turtles, and even reef sharks!

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There are loads of dive shops to choose from. Anna finished off her PADI open water course with Sea Frogs Diving. She reported back with nothing but good things, praising the instructors for their professionalism, and good food on the boat! Veg-head options available :)

Digs on Koh Phi Phi

  • Banana Bar - mexican rooftop restaurant and bar with amazing sunset views, conveniently around happy hour!

  • Patcharee French Bakery - delicious pastry breakfasts for before a morning longboat tour!

  • Papaya - great local cuisine!

  • Anna’s - another great local option!

Best of Malaysia

A breakdown of our favorites

Best Experiences to Do for Free

  • See the towers in Kuala Lumpur

  • Mossy Forest in Cameron Highlands

  • Hiking paths in Cameron Highlands

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  • Wandering around the Unesco Heritage Site of Georgetown on Penang

  • Visit the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands

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Best Experiences to Splurge On

  • Slowboat to monkey beach and turtle beach in Penang National Park

  • Shopping in KL malls

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  • A weekend on Langkawi

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Best Instagram-Worthy Spots

  • Tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands

  • Towers of KL

  • Batu Caves in KL

  • Street art of Georgetown

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  • Piers and jetties of Georgetown at sunset

  • SkyBridge on Langkawi

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Best Restaurants & Bars

  • Changkat Street in KL - great area for going out

  • Zouk - biggest club in KL

  • Grandmama’s in KL mall

  • Night market in KL

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  • Geographer Kuala Lumpur

  • Merchant's Lane Cafe in KL

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  • Cameron Curry House in Tanah Rata - we went three times

  • Food stalls in Tanah Rata

  • Travellers Bistro & Pub in Tanah Rata

  • Jungle Bar in Tanah Rata

  • Teksen Restaurant in Penang

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  • Mr Shwarma in Penang

  • Tipsy Tiger Bar in Penang - great for their cheap liquor, bar crawls, and free body shots;)

  • China House in Penang

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  • Scarsdale’s Fish Restaurant on Langkawi

  • The Kasbah on Langkawi - amazing burgers, outdoor lounge seating, and all around chill vibes

 

Best Places to Stay on a Budget

  • Reggae Mansion in KL

  • Map Travelodge in Tanah Rata

  • The Frame Guesthouse in Penang - for a quieter, more minimalist stay in Georgetown

  • Honey Badger Hut Hostel on Langkawi - they have cool huts for private rooms and resident cows to keep you company on the patio at night

  • Vila Thai - huge hostel with big dorms, and they have scooter rentals and massages available even if you’re not staying there

  • Tipsy Tiger in Penang - if you wanna parttyyyy, otherwise you’ll be up all night anyway

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Things We Didn’t Get To, but Wish We Did

  • All of the east coast beaches!

  • Sabah region of Borneo, but more specifically:

    • Orangutan Conservation Centre

    • Sun Bear Conservation Centre

    • Rainforest Discovery Centre

    • Mount Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu

    • Pom Pom Island off the East Coast