(Updated January 11, 2013 with photos)
My site is still a little buggy after the great crash of 2012. I will update soon with some photos and links to illustrate the story but for now here is just the story.
Biking the Angkor Wat complex is the best way to experience the temples and to interact with the locals, here is how I did it all while avoiding crowds as much as possible. This itenarry can be done with a Tuk Tuk as well but it will be much more expensive and you will miss out on a lot as you zoom around.
DAY 1 (Purchase Ticket + Free Sunset)
Arrive and purchase your ticket at the visitors center but only enter the park after 5:00pm and they will not punch your ticket for the day so you can get a free sunset, if they want to punch your ticket just wait until it’s free to enter. The Phnom Bakheng temple is a popular spot for sunset but I would just do like the locals and grab a spot next to the Angkor Wat moat and relax as the sun sets. Picknic at the complex or bike to town and grab dinnerthen go to bed early, day two is a long one.
DAY 2 (Sunrise + The Grand Loop)
With your ticket in hand bike out to Angkor Wat, it’s about 6k from town. The park opens at 5:00am and there are lots of people who come out for sunrise so if you want a front row seat the earlier the better. Watching the sun rise over the iconic temple is a beautiful sight but not very serene because of the hundreds of other people jockeying for position for the best photo. I captured a time lapese by placing my GoPro Hero3 in the water on a tripod then I put on my headphones and listened to some relaxing music from Explosions in the Sky. After Sunrise head north to Angkor Thom, Bayon and Preah Kahn, when we did this there were only two other tourists we spotted and even the souviner vendors were not out yet, it was a magnificent way to experience the temple. From there we worked our way around the Grand Loop going clockwise and as the morning went on we encountered more and more tourists until we reached the end. The Grand Loop is 30K and we completed it around 11:00am just as the temperature was getting really hot. From here we went back and took a nap then enjoyed a night exploring the town of Siem Reap.
Day 3 (Relax and enjoy Siem Reap)
The 3 Day ticket is valid for three days in a seven day window so we decided to take break for a day from visiting temples and relax. Although our lodging was great it did not have a pool so we went over to The River Garden Hotel where if you buy food or drink from the bar you can swim for free. The food and service was great although and it was just the relax that we needed after the previous day’s 42k bike ride.
DAY 4 (Sunrise)
Phnom Bakheng is a hidden gem for Sunrise, the temple is perched high atop a hill and it has a great view of the rising sun over the jungle canopy. I don’t know if the temple is officially open for sunrise but we just kept biking along past Angkor Wat and there were no guards to stop us from hiking the trail to the temple. I counted eight people total at the top of the temple including us. It was a very serene experience. After Sunrise we went back into town for breakfast and enjoyed another day by the pool.
DAY 5 (Petite Loop & Sunset)
After recovering from the epic bike ride around the Grand Loop we set off to explore the Petite Loop, we started a little late going anti-clockwise so there were some significant crowds. At Ta Prom if you get off of the wooden walkway and explore some of the surrounding areas you can find some peace and quiet to enjoy the surroundings. The Petite Loop ended with Angkor Wat, we timed our arrival for around the hottest part of the day and we were only two of a few people who were foolish enough to visit at this time and it allowed us perhaps a smaller crowd than usual to visit the temple. Bike back home clean up and for our final sunset we wanted to visit Pre Rup which is one of the more distant temples so we broke down and hired a Tuk Tuk for the ride, it was worth it and there were not too many people at the temple, we got a good seat and watched our final sunset over the jungle.
- Take a bike at least one day, you will be rewarded with a great experience and it’s not that tough.
- Bring sunblock and bug spray.
- Check the weather, sunrise can sometimes be a little cool depending on the time of year.
- Make sure to stay hydrated, there are plenty of places to get food and drink along the way.
- Select a rental bike with working gears. The complex is pretty flat but you will appreciate the gears on the 30K Grand Loop.
- Bring a headlamp and tail light for your bike. There can be a lot of traffic for sunrise and at one point while making our way for sunrise my brother nearly walked into a hole in the ground.
- If you’re feeling adventurous try hitching a ride with a passing motor bike, they go pretty slow but it’s a little dangerous so use caution. I hitched a ride with a truckload of locals when I put my hand out and one of the young men onboard grabbed on and towed me down the road back to town while all of the others boys and girls were laughing at the spectacle.
- There are lots of people selling food, drinks and souvenirs and they can get a little annoying if you let them. My approach with both children and adults selling souvenirs was to engage them in conversation and get them off the topic of sales with simple questions in english like, where are you from, how old are you (for kids only) and what is your name. I think that they enjoyed the attention and it offered a brief break from selling souvenirs. The khmer people are very kind and I enjoyed some great conversations by taking this approach.
- Take care of your ticket, it is checked often and if you loose it you will have to purchase another.
- There was some confusion on when the temples actually open to the public but we set off and were never denied access even though we arrived around as early as 5:30am.