I’ve noticed that a lot of travel blogs will say “the ULTIMATE guide to Angkor Wat” or “The ONLY way to do Angkor Wat” as if their one trip was the perfect way to travel through the temples.
I stopped listening to most of these blogs after realizing that no matter where the writer went, it was the absolute best experience of their lives. No bad restaurants, no boring temples, no diarrhea, the trip was all rainbows and sunshine. Once you start exploring these locations yourself, you realize that they exaggerate A LOT.
I mean, I get it. “I went to Angkor Wat and had an awful time” isn’t an SEO friendly headline. But be honest. Not everything you did was a “must do” or “must see”. I want to know if a popular attraction is a waste of time.
Every traveler is different, the experience I’m looking for is different than what a 20 year old wants or a 50+ year old married couple wants. There’s no way to have a comprehensive guide that’s going to cover every demographic.
So instead of lying to you, I’m trying a different approach. My experience as a 32 year old American man who’s too old to party with the young backpackers but still too young to drink tea and walk through museums all day.
My traveling consists of roughly 40% adventuring, 30% sightseeing, and 30% partying. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is the PERFECT guide.
If it’s not, you’ll at least get some insight into what you might like and what you definitely will not like. As a millenial on the very edge of the generation, I like to maximize my fun-to-time ratio. I hope I can help you do the same.
My trip left a lot of areas unexplored and a lot of questions unanswered. There’s no way I could tell you that this is the ideal Angkor Wat trip, but if you’ve never been there, you can at least learn something from my experience.
No sugarcoating, no half truths, this is the brutally honest guide to Angkor Wat.
Stay at Onederz Hostel
Onederz Hostel has it all, rooftop pool, A LOT of travelers to talk to, a robust bar with happy hour specials, good food, and plenty of places to relax.
I stayed in a private room for $15/night because I am as one English traveler put it “a posh bitch”. It was like staying at a 3 star hotel. The hostel with shared rooms is in a separate building across the street which allowed me to enjoy the party atmosphere then escape to my silent, private building, free of roommates snoring, fucking, and farting.
The architecture is new, modern, clean, and comfortable. The rooftop pool is the ideal place to meet people and it even has a DJ. Well, it was a reggae Cambodian man with a bluetooth speaker playing YouTube mixes who kept asking me for beer, but isn’t that what DJs are anyway?
It’s a 2 minute walk from pub street and tuk tuks for hire wait outside at all hours of the day. I can’t recommend it enough.
If you are looking to get drunk all the time, I would stay at Funky Flashpacker. Their pool party starts at 9 AM and doesn’t stop until 9 AM the next day. I stopped by out of curiosity and the party was absolutely lit.
I’m an old(er) man now so staying there looks like a nightmare to me but if I was still a young whippersnapper this would be my temporary home.
Hire a Personal Tuk Tuk Driver
So you’ve settled in your hostel and now you’re ready to conquer Angkor Wat. The first step is to find a tuk tuk driver who:
A. You like
B. speaks at least a little English.
Don’t book a tour through Tripadvisor unless you want to get ripped off. You can also go through your hostel but you’ll get a better price hiring one off the street.
It should cost you about $10 for the entire day, if they’re charging more than that just find another one. There are endless tuk tuk drivers lining the streets so you have all of the power in the negotiation. Once you start walking away they’ll agree to almost any price you name because they want the business.
Get to Angkor Wat at Sunrise
My first day at Angkor Wat, I met up with a friend from Hawaii who was randomly in Siem Reap at the same time. She was working here and had the hook up for the best tuk tuk drivers. We started our tour at 11 AM.
After nearly dying of heat stroke in Chiang Rai I knew this was a bad idea but went along with it anyway because I’m naive and thought it might not be as hot. The 6 hour tour the first day was picturesque but I was sweating like a pedophile at a playground.
What really disturbed me was our driver was wearing pants, a long sleeve button up shirt, and a hat but didn’t sweat a drop the entire day. It was inhuman. I’m pretty sure he’s one of the escaped androids from Westworld. Basic human biology didn’t apply to him.
I wanted to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat so I got my ass up at 4 AM the next day and the experience was much more enjoyable. You get 3 hours of moderate heat and thin crowds before the Chinese invade and the temperature skyrockets. Plus you get to take a photo of the sunrise over the main temple which is stunning. It was cloudy when I went (I hate you nature) and it still looked pretty cool.
My point is, going any time after 10 AM is going to be a sweaty mess and packed. The earlier you can get there, the better.
Remember What Your Tuk Tuk Looks Like
Everybody takes tuk tuks through Angkor Wat and they all look identical. The drivers all mill about as your exploring the temples and most of them look identical as well.
Make sure you remember EXACTLY what your Tuk Tuk looks like and your driver looks like otherwise you’ll be wandering around aimlessly looking for it for god knows how long.
Choose Your Temples Wisely
Most tuk tuks have these laminated cards that showcase a selection of tours with photos of each temple. Each guided tour will take you to 7-10 temples. In retrospect, I would have researched the best ones and planned my own route. I went in without any prior knowledge and wasted a bunch of time at some boring ass temples. 1-2 hours of research will make all the difference.
There’s also an option to shoot a rocket launcher at a cow for $600 if that’s your thing. I was really close to trying it but I’m not a monster. I didn’t want to murder a cow unless we were going to use it for delicious hamburgers afterward.
If you ignore my advice or hate doing research, then just skip the temples that look underwhelming. You don’t have to stop when the driver tells you to.
In my opinion, these are the “must see” temples:
The first and the most obvious one is the main temple which is a huge compound that has several areas to explore. It’s also the most crowded.
Ta Prohm Temple
The Tree Temple from Tomb Raider. This was by far my favorite and gives you the best photo opportunities of the bunch. It’s also massive and has plenty of secret areas to explore. I was unable to find any secret rocks that opened up an entrance to a tomb. Not saying they don’t exist, but I didn’t find them.
The stairs on this one are a treacherous bitch to climb but the view they provide is gorgeous. The bridge up to the temple is pretty dope as well.
This temples has big ol’ heads that look like Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Most of the temples are of similar design and in similar states of disrepair. This is one of the more distinct and well preserved.
The Rest is up to You
The rest, and there are countless others, are pretty indistinguishable. I’m not saying you won’t find value in them, I just don’t think they’re worth seeing.
Don’t go in thinking you need to see every temple. You don’t. A few are worth your time and the rest are slightly different versions of the same thing. I can’t stress this enough, plan your route BEFOREHAND. You only have so many hours before the heat forces you back to your hostel, make the most of them.
You Only Need Two Days at Angkor Wat
Don’t come to Siem Reap expecting to spend an entire week at Angkor Wat. It’s one of the coolest things I saw in Asia but it goes by fast. It’s like the Grand Canyon, once you see it you’ve seen it. You can look at it over and over again but why? Soak it in, take your photos, then move on.
Once you do a full day at Angkor Wat, see the Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake and go to Pub Street for a night or two then you’re good to move on. Don’t get me wrong, there’s other stuff to do, but in my opinion it’s just not worth your time.
Get Drunk at Pub Street
For a small, undeveloped city, Siem Reap has a fantastic party scene. Pub Street is a massive collection of bars, clubs, and restaurants that offer endless options for everything from a quiet, romantic evening to a sleepless night of debauchery.
All, and I mean ALL of the bars will have cover bands playing the same 10-15 songs so be prepared for that. Also, the Cambodian woman singers sing rap songs and say the N-word without hesitation. I don’t think I’ve seen anything funnier than a 4 ft. tall cambodian woman singing Nicki Minaj and telling the crowd to “eat my ass like a cupcake”.
Here are my tips for navigating the nightly block party:
Don’t Listen to Google for Restaurants/Bars
Follow your instincts when it comes to finding restaurants or bars here. DO NOT USE GOOGLE FOR RECOMMENDATIONS. A lot of the local owners have figured out that tourists search Google for suggestions so they post hundreds of fake 5 star reviews.
I went to 3 of the top bars that I found when searching the “best bars in Siem Reap” and they were all beyond terrible. The top results are “The Angkor Wat? Bar” which has all of the bad qualities of a dive bar and none of the good, the “Soul Train Reggae Bar” which is even worse. I went there with some people I met from DC and it ended up being us 3 and a DJ who said he had “been on meth for 3 days straight” and “felt like God”. He said he was Jackie Chan. We called him Crackie Chan.
If you like the vibe, go in, don’t worry about what the internet says.
My Favorite Bars
The Temple Club
You have to walk past two floors of ear shattering EDM and disorienting lights but the rooftop is well worth it. It has a pond in the middle and comfortable seats aplenty. Downstairs is the most lit club on Pub street after 11 PM. Do some happy hour upstairs then walk down and dance the night away.
The Temple Balcony Bar
90% of the bars have ‘Temple’ in the name so these may be slightly hard to find. This is the place for cheap drinks and top 40 music if that’s your thing. It has pool tables and these floating couches you can hang out on. They also have massive beer towers and entire bottles of liquor for roughly $20 each.
There were some old drunk Australian dudes that provided endless entertainment. Please watch the video above.
My Favorite Food
Cambodians grill every animal under the sun. We ate ostrich, kangaroo, and alligator along with the more traditional choices like chicken, steak, and prawns.
As a proud carnivore with a taste for blood I was in heaven. My philosophy is: if it has legs and a pulse, let’s murder it and see if it tastes good.
They also sell massive pitchers of mojitos and other delicious cocktails. They put too much ice in them which makes it hard to pour but that’s a minor gripe with the prices being so low and the meat so plentiful.
Red Piano Sok San
This corner bar looks like a tourist trap with their “Tomb Raider Drink” promotion poster and central location in Pub Street but don’t be fooled. They have some fire food. ‘Fire’ as in the slang term for delicious and ‘fire’ as in really, really spicy.
I ate here both nights and had an exceptional experience both times. It’s a solid, safe choice if you’re looking to sample Cambodian cuisine with the lowest possibility of food poisoning.
Don’t go to Cambodia just for Angkor Wat
After I toured Angkor Wat for 2 days I immediately fled to Koh Tao in Thailand because I was overly eager to scuba dive. I missed out on Phnom Penh, Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, and several other destinations that I’ve since heard great things about.
Even with my extended stay in Asia, I sometimes feel rushed to try and see everything. There’s a nagging desire to see everything and leave no stone unturned. That mentality is dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years, pick a destination and become immersed in it. Integrate yourself as much as possible with the local culture. Get lost. Don’t sprint around with a tour guide for 2 days then leave.
Seeing a country fully rather than bits and pieces of 3-4 different countries is much more satisfying. If you’re running around constantly not only will you be exhausted, you’ll miss out on some of the more authentic, inspiring experiences.
Leaving unanswered questions and “what ifs” will always haunt you. I took my time in Thailand, spending 4-6 days in each city, and had a much better experience. I basically had a layover in Cambodia and while I enjoyed it, I left with regrets.
So that’s my last piece of general advice as you travel through the world. Give yourself time to take a place in. You’ll be much happier. If you miss some activities or can’t make it to a certain country, it’s not a bad thing, it gives you a reason to come back.