Jon and I are currently travelling through Cambodia, such a beautiful (and dusty) country, and the people here are the so welcoming. We kicked off our journey in Siem Reap, where we visited Angkor Wat right on our first day – perfect timing as we found out. Just a few days later we went to see Banteay Chhmar, which lies 170km north-west of Angkor. Both are Khmer Buddhist temple sites, yet they are very different from each other. This post is not to say go to one or the other, but rather to encourage you to see both if you ever make your way over here.
Accessability & Costs
Angkor Wat lies just outside of Siem Reap, so you’ll get there pretty fast, even if all the other tourists leave the city at the same time as you.
To visit Angkor Wat there are a few different options. In February 2017, the ticket prices to the Angkor Wat complex nearly doubled (we visited Angkor on the last day of January and were lucky that the old prices were still in place). Now, a single day visit costs $37 (from $20), a three day pass is $62, and a seven day pass is $72.
However, you also need a way to get around the temples. The entire site measures 162.6 hectares, you don’t really want to walk all that. Since tourists are not allowed to rent scooters in Siem Reap, you will need to catch a tuk tuk or rent a bicycle. Don’t forget that the Cambodian heat is pretty intense, so although it is the cheapest way to get around (you can rent city bikes for a couple dollars) a bike might not be the best idea.
To get a tuk tuk, just ask your hostel to arrange a tour for you. They are usually able to get a good deal for you. We opted for the “small” tour, which included Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, The Bayon, Ta Keo, and Ta Prohm, and costs $14. The big tour would also take you to Preah khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, Pre Rup, and only costs a dollar more. In my opinion, however, you can only see so many temples in a day and appreciate them all in the way they deserve. We paid $3 extra to start our tour at sunrise – definitely do this. It’s not only incredibly beautiful, but also saves you some hours in the boiling heat. We left our hotel just before 5AM and got back around 2PM, so even the small tour will keep you quite busy for the day.
Banteay Chhmar is located 63km north of Sisophon; Sisophon itself is about 2hrs away from Siem Reap. If you are taking the bus to Battambang after you explored Siem Reap to the fullest, just hop off at Sisophon on the way, and spend an extra day there. You might even be able to do Siem Reap – Sisophon – Battambang in one day, depending on the bus schedule, or your hitchhiking skills. But if you have an extra day to spare, stay over night.
From Sisophon, it takes an hour by car to get to the temple. Your hotel will be able to arrange a ride for you, but this is likely to cost you around $50. Instead, walk to Chamkako Market and catch a ride there for $10 per person. The taxis here are just normal cars and not registered, but there’s no reason to be scared. The guys are reliable and will get to your destination safe, and wait for you until you’re ready to head back.
Admisson to Banteay Chhmar is $5, and for $10 more you get a local guide to show you around (definitely do this!).
Before I start, I want to say that the temples at Angkor Wat are astonishingly beautiful. I loved seeing the ruins and would recommend it to everyone going to Cambodia. Yet, all the beauty and the majestic feel is being compromised by the herds of tourists grazing over the temple grounds. Yes I am completely aware that I was one of them.
When we arrived in the early morning, everybody stormed to the temple to get the best spot to watch the sun rise above Angkor. People were running around, shouting to their friends, leaving their trash all over the place. And I asked myself “What the fuck is wrong with you? This is a sacred place, it might not be to you, but it is to the people here. Show some respect.”
I don’t even have words for some of the people there. Some French guys did handstands on the temple ruins. Chinese people pushing you out of the way. Girls wearing booty shorts and tank tops. Again, all these things have to do with respect. There’s a dress code at Buddhist temples for women: don’t show your knees, cleavage, and shoulders. To be fair, sometimes when we find temples walking through the city, I am showing skin as well. But usually we carry something around to cover up, or I don’t enter the temple. However, you plan your visit to Angkor Wat, so you please keep in mind the dress code when you get ready in the morning.
We still explored every bit of the temples, and tried to block out the masses. I would say it worked quite well except for Angkor Prohm, which was the cherry on top. There were so many people, we couldn’t even move forward anymore. We got out there pretty fast and left the crowds behind.
Unlike Angkor, where you have to navigate your way through a labyrinth of noise and obnoxiousness, Banteay Chhmar is a peaceful and quiet oasis. The great thing about this temple is that it is a community based project, which makes it really easy to connect with the locals here. They are happy to show you around the temple grounds and tell you lots about the history. A nice contrast to the sheep herding at Angkor is that the guides at Banteay Chhmar really take their time to tell the temple’s story and to answer your questions – they don’t rush you from one stop to the next.
You can walk around the ruins, climb up and down, and enjoy the tranquility. There were leaves all over the ground, which made it seem as if nobody else had been here in a long time. In fact, not many people actually stop by to visit. We asked our guide how many visitors they typically get and he said around ten people every day, sometimes not one of them wants a guide. But to be fair, I hadn’t realized how much of a difference local guides make myself until fairly recently.
So yeah, if you make it all the way over to Cambodia, plan an extra day or two to see the less touristy sights as well. You won’t be disappointed!!