The backpacker’s guide to visiting Angkor Wat

After the end of the civil war and the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, it took Cambodia several years to rebuild the country and discover it’s huge tourism potential. Backpackers were amongst the first foreign visitors to Cambodia in the late 90’s and the number of independent visitors has been growing ever since!

But why did backpackers fall in love with this country full of contrasts? Let’s find out!

As a start, the Cambodian people (or Khmers as they prefer to be called) are one of the most welcoming and friendly people in the world! Despite their very low income and difficult living conditions, it’s not uncommon for Cambodians to invite foreigners to their home and share their food with them.

Secondly, Cambodia was able to preserve most of its authentic culture, even in its biggest cities: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. In contrast to capitals like Bangkok and Singapore, it’s for example impossible to find a McDonalds in the capital of Cambodia.

On top of that, Cambodia is probably the most budget friendly destination in South East Asia. Even if you are traveling on a limited budget, it should be easy to find reasonably good sleeping and dining options. For example, many guesthouses offer a basic room with fan for 3 to 5 dollar a night. And if you don’t mind to eat at the local food stalls, you can find a yummy (and authentic!) Khmer dish for 1 to 3 dollar.

But of course, the number one reason to visit Cambodia is the mysterious ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat! This UNESCO world heritage site will pull you back into it’s magical past like no other ancient site in the world!

The Angkor Wat archeological park is located close to the city of Siem Reap, the second biggest city in Cambodia and the touristic heart of the country.

Since Siem Reap is full of good low budget guesthouses and hostels, it shouldn’t be a big problem to find cheap accommodation in the 3 to 7 dollar range. Plenty of websites offer a nice overview of Siem Reap hotels and it’s recommended to book a room upfront (especially in the high season from November till February).

However, since most guesthouses are located close to the city center, you will need some kind of transportation to visit the temples, which are located a couple of miles out of town.

A first option is renting a bicycle. This is the most budget (and environment) friendly option since it will only set you back 1 to 2 dollar a day. This is our preferred mode of transportation in the dry season when the weather is not so humid and there is no rainfall. The road to the temples is well maintained and relatively flat. And there are plenty of trees along the road to protect you from the burning sun.

A second option is to book a tuk-tuk to drive you around the whole day. Finding a  driver is not a problem. You will see an abundance of them around the Old Market and Pub Street area. But before committing to one, keep some tips in mind.

First of all, make sure that you choose a driver with a reasonably good English. Also, choose a tuk-tuk that looks relatively new and well maintained. Don’t forget that you will spend the whole day in this vehicle! And last but not least, clearly agree upfronton a price and pickup / drop off times. Usually a full day service should cost about 12 to 15 dollar, but don’t be shy to bargain if the driver proposes a higher price!

Hopefully this blog post convinced you to visit Angkor Wat and Siem Reap! Even if you are backpacking through Thailand and don’t plan to visit the whole of Cambodia, Angkor Wat is still a ‘must do’ side trip! It’s relatively close to the Thai border and we can guarantee that visiting this magical place will be an experience that you never forget!