Tips for exploring the Siem Reap temples
EVERY single year, millions of tourists from around the world flock to Siem Reap to lay eyes on the majestic Angkor Wat and its surrounding ancient temples. Located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, these historical structures built from the early 12th century onwards never fail to leave its visitors in awe of the once mighty Khmer Empire.
Surprisingly, not many people are advised on the preparations needed to safely and enjoyably navigate the Angkor Archaeological Park that spreads out around 400 square kilometres. That’s a lot of ground to cover, a lot of steps to climb and hundreds of photos to take.
So, what can you do to make your day or days easier when taking in these epic historical temples?
I have seen some tourists who underestimate the amount of walking that needs to be done and end up wearing slippers instead. Take it from someone who did just that and spent many times stubbing her toes on stone steps and having tired, achy feet by the end of the day – having good shoes matter.
What may seem like a mere afterthought is actually very practical, if you’d like to enjoy your time out at the temples. Wearing proper, comfortable shoes with good support is not only important, but necessary to ensure you enjoy your strolls (and climbs).
Comfortable clothing may mean different things to different people. When it comes to the Angkor temples though, just think about using clothes that don’t weigh you down, keep you cool and absorb your sweat. Shorts and T-shirts are allowed as these temples are not used for religious functions anymore.
Yes, there will be loads of that thanks to the heat and humidity (as well as some major stair-climbing). Needless to say, a small towel will help in this situation as well.
Hat or cap, umbrella, sunglasses, sunblock – all are important in ensuring you take care of your skin and protect yourself from the harsh rays of the sun. Your umbrella can also come in handy in times of sudden rain, which can happen in Siem Reap at a moment’s notice.
Bring along a lightweight bag or backpack to put all these essential items in. You’ll be thankful you did when you’re standing under the sun, trying to take that perfect shot of the temple in the middle of the day.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Carry along a bottle or two of water or even some isotonic drinks to help you re-hydrate. There will be loads of stalls near the temples where you can purchase more water as the day goes on, so you need not worry about replenishing your supply.
Do note that the stalls around the temple area sell fresh fruits and juices as well.
If you’re on a special diet and don’t intend to eat unnecessary junk food found at some stalls, bring your own snacks for sustenance. It can be a long and tiring day if you don’t take some much-needed snack breaks in between to recuperate and re-energise.
Think raisins, nuts, bananas, apples and such. It’ll fill you up longer and is a lot kinder to your body.
Get a guide and driver
Temples like Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon have so much history behind them that it would be a shame not to have an expert guide explain them all to you. A guidebook is great, no doubt. But nothing beats having a local’s take on the history of the temples and what they truly mean to them.
A tuk-tuk driver is a great way to get around from one temple to another. So, it’s best to hire one that comes highly recommended and is willing to go the extra mile for you. Just be sure to tip them well for their excellent service.
Ask anyone you know who has already been to Siem Reap for recommendations. You can also try asking your hotel for some help or even look up sites like TripAdvisor for tips on local guides and drivers.
Light your way
It is especially important to bring along a torch light each when heading out to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Your guide may have one for you, but it’s always good to have one for yourself. The stone steps can be rather precarious if you’re unsure of your footing in the dark.
You wouldn’t want to sprain an ankle or end up in the moat by accident!
Walking sticks or hiking poles may not be popular choices for some, but it goes a long way to help you get up and down some very steep steps at the temples. It is especially handy as you come to the end of the day and need some extra support after all that strenuous walking and climbing.
Plan temple visits
There are hundreds of temples to see at the Angkor Archaeological Park. Besides the major temples that most tourists go to, there are small temples that are also worth the visit.
This may be a bit too much to handle all in one day. So, it’s best to spread out your temple visits over a few days and if possible, into shifts of mornings or afternoons only. There will probably be less chance of you feeling overwhelmed and fatigued, or what some people call “all templed out” – the last thing you would want is to be too tired to see another temple.
Many senior citizens travel to Siem Reap every year. They usually come armed with walking sticks and umbrellas, and climb those steps at their own pace.
With a little preparation, Siem Reap and her majestic temples will be less daunting to handle. You’ll even be able to appreciate them more despite the massive crowds around you, especially since you have everything you need to enjoy a stress-free visit.
All that would be left is for you to soak up the special, history-filled moments while walking amidst one of the world’s most incredible ancient cities.