Is Angkor Wat worth visiting?

When I mentioned I was visiting Cambodia to my friends and social media community, everyone got super excited and started giving me enthusiastic must-do’s and must visit place lists which were mostly for Angkor Wat, and went somewhat like these:

“You must take the 3 day pass, 1 day is not enough”

“There’s much more to other temples than the main Angkor Temple”

“You must must must not miss the sunrise at Angkor”

“Take the hot air balloon ride, you’ll regret if you don’t”

I started my research on about visiting Angkor, once we booked our tickets to Phnom Penh because, well, we had to! From history of the temple, to the interpretation of each figurine, from which temple to visit to what to wear in Angkor, my Pinterest got completely loaded with Angkor pins. My ideas and expectations about Angkor went sky high and I did not know what to expect, while continuously thinking about what new will I write for my blog, which new photos will I post on Instagram that aren’t there already.

Angkor wat

I decided to ditch the research and decided to get surprised.

And surprise I did..

Reaching Siem Reap

After spending 2 days in Phnom Penh we took an overnight bus to Siem Reap. We chose to ride with Giant Ibis bus which was a sleeper coach and so comfortable – mobile charging points, bathroom, blanket, water bottle. Slept through the night to reach at sunrise. And now I knew why people said Angkor sunrise is awesome. I could not visit the temple during sunrise, and honestly I have no regrets.

Bus charge: US$15 one way per person

After freshening up and heavy breakfast in our accommodation – we fixed up a tuk-tuk driver for the day – US$25. We reached the Angkor Wat ticket reservation centre. At 10am the crowd was heavy and lines were long. I was certainly feeling the excitement – so many people means the place ought be amazing, right? Reminded me on the long queues I stood to visit the Indian counterparts Tirumala Balaji temple, Sai Baba temple, Shirdi, Kamakhya temple, etc.

Angkor ticket centre

Types of passes:

1 Day: US$37

3 Day: US$62

7 Day: US$72

We only had 2 days in our hand so we stood in the 3 day pass line to get our photo clicked and printed on our entry ticket. After 30 minutes we got it done and headed off to ‘Long tour’ for the day. The tuk-tuk driver dropped us off to the entrance and we were surrounded by guides who promised us informative history tour. After a lot of bargaining we sealed the deal for US$20.

Angkor wat garden

Disappointment no.1: The guide’s accent made it really difficult for us to understand some important facts. Also he was hurrying up to show everything which gave us very few opportunities to photograph some really interesting structures.

For Indians like me, temple means an idol of god or goddess, adorned in beautiful clothes and jewellery which is generally in the middle of the complex. We thought we will reach there soon as we started seeing some monks/priest perform some ritual. And this is the Buddha idol we came across way before the actual complex. There were very few people around the idol. Had it been India, there wouldn’t be space to breathe.

Statue of Budhha

After going through the doors which were actually big rocks, we could see the Angkor temple towers and got super excited. Marveling at the many snake headed figures on the side of the walkaway we came across the ‘famous’ puddle of water from where tourists capture the sunrise shots.

Disappointment no.2: turn around the puddle and you will see atleast 3 dozen shops selling 3 times expensive authentic souvenirs, artifacts, paintings and clothes. Walk a little further and be ready to dodge coconut water sellers and photographers wanting to print your photo with the temple within 5 minutes.

Shop in Angkor complex

We thought, well, every famous place has its share of sellers and these were all local people trying to make a living. So we pushed forward to the main temple still trying to make sense of the history which our guide was telling us, climbing through doors of big rocks. We reached the centre of universe as denoted by a stone located in the highest tower that symbolizes the mythical mountain, Meru.

Center of universe, Angkor

Disappointment number 3: It took us almost 2 hours to know everything and reach the main temple. There was no information/interpretation of any of the sculptures, wall carvings or towers. We had to trust on our guide and keep going.

We reached the other towers wherein Cambodian kings believed that gods reside at the top of the temple. The staircase supposedly could make human go to heaven if climbed. We grabbed on to the opportunity to climb the really steep steps. By this time our guide had left us in heaven and left. We soaked in the beautiful view of Angkor from the ‘heaven’ and decided to climb down back to human settlement.

View from Angkor heaven

We walked back to our tuk-tuk contemplating and trying to digest all the information that our guide gave us. Yes, we were in awe – it was amazing how the Khmer king managed to built this structure but disappointed. Although I had seen few photos photos of Angkor architecture I had assumed and expected a bigger grandeur rather than a dull, decomposing, fading, eroding ancient structure forgotten in time.

Final thoughts

Is Angkor Wat worth visiting?

Yes, if

1) you read its history well in advance and are able to put each structure and carving in the unending puzzle of temple complex.

2) you do not let your expectations go sky high expecting fancy stuff. Yes, it is a world heritage site but an ancient one.

3) you love ancient architecture.

4) you love visiting and ticking off must visit places listed in some list!

5) you love photography.

No, if

1) ancient history doesn’t interest/baffle you (guilty)

2) you do not want to walk around with a guide at his pace.

3) you have company of elderly people. Trust me my parents had issues walking over those big rocks for such a long duration in the heat. Also there is no provision or possibility to get a wheelchair. So if you are physically challenged, avoid visiting Angkor.

4) you are expecting some interpretation in form of a placard/mural. You have to figure it all out yourself. I was particularly disappointed with this because since the restoration is going on, why not put up information in important places? If I am paying US$62 for 3 days, the least I should expect is some information somewhere instead of spending more dollars on a guide.

And finally, sustainable travel tips:

  • Being an ancient world heritage site which is already dwindling with age, respect the structures by not sitting on them. Sit outside the temple in the garden.
  • Do not harm the structures by carving or writing on it
  • Do not enter places which are closed off, there’s a reason why they are closed.
  • Throw your garbage in the dustbins located at the entrance of each temple.
  • Choose sustainable local transport – bicycles, electric mopeds are available on rent. Even diesel tuk-tuks are available which give boost to local economy. I discourage riding elephants (yes, some tourists were using them as transport)

Planning a trip to Cambodia? Here’s a travel guide for all your questions.

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19 thoughts on “Is Angkor Wat worth visiting?

  1. Good reading this, as I plan on visiting maybe next year. It’s always easy to find positive recounts written by people who desperately wated to go there it’s hard not to believe it is just great. So it was good getting a more neutral perspective. Anyway, I am a sucker for photography as well as ancient buildings, so I think I definitely want to go. I’m just wondering if the crowds really make it hard for good photos. Probably being there since the early morning could help with having less people around? Judging from your experience there were loads of people in the late morning, when I thought that the most crowded was at sunrise instead!

    1. Hi Eva i went on August which is anyway a non tourist season, however there were a lot of people in angkor wat main temple and few other popular ones. I loved photographing the ruins with a promise to self of reading about the temples later online (which I’m yet to). The strategy to visit is chuck the typical small tour or big tour offered by the tuk tuk drivers. Decide where you want to go and just go there otherwise the crowd you meet in morning will literally be with you everywhere with same pace.

  2. I understand why you felt this way visiting the way it turned out. We spent 3 out of 4 days exploring the temples – a whole big bunch of temples, including but not limited to Angkor Wat – and found it wonderful. We did 2 temple days, 1 rest (explore Siem Reap) day, and then 1 more temple half-day and it worked pretty well. We had arranged for a guide for two of the days in advance – someone who came recommended to us by someone we knew – so that helped. All the information he provided us with was incredible interesting. We did not opt to see sunrise and after hearing stories and seeing pictures are glad we did – we saw sunset at one of the smaller temples instead and were really happy with that.

    1. That’s good to know Sarah. Although the main temple was disappointing ( which I feel was too many expectations from my side) i changed my frame of mind to visit rest of the temples. I’m a photographer and I enjoyed capturing the ruins.

  3. This is a very interesting post, I haven’t read many posts like this one yet. I’ve never been in Asia but of course I’ve heard of Angkor Wat and that it’s supposed to be very impressive and one of the coolest temples etc etc. So thank you for sharing your experience, from another perspective. I think that sometimes, people might not like a place, but don’t dare to say it out loud because the place is so well known, so they feel obligated to like it.
    I really like that you wrote down what you ACTUALLY felt.
    I’ve had a very similar experience with Chichen Itza (Mexico). It’s one of the world wonders and literally every traveler in Mexico goes and visits Chichen Itza. Everyone told me and my boyfriend that it’s an amazing place. We went there by ourselves (with a guide) and it was so dissapointing! It didn’t live up to our expectations at all! + there were also many annoying sellers… We had seen so many more impressive ruins in Mexico that aren’t famous at all.

    1. Thanks Cristina. Appreciate your feedback. I feel as a blogger we really need to be honest with our readers and make sure that I bring out the reality.

  4. It’s amazing how much tourism has changed in Angkor Wat! I first went in 2008 and although it was crowded, it was still somewhat leisurely to get around. We were able to get a Tuk Tuk driver who drove us wherever we wanted for 3 days. After 3 days, it was up to us how much to pay him. Nowadays it sounds crazy crowded and expensive.

  5. This place is included ON my bucket list. I am honesty curious about this place and reading your post answered some questions of mine. I might Go here next year to explore this place And its country more.

  6. It’s really good that you gave an honest account. I am so easily excited I have a feeling that I would love it (but then I am really interested in ancient cultures and history…)

    I think that the run-down-ness of it is actually part of its charm. If they rebuilt it to look shiny and new it would lose some of the atmosphere…

    Having said that, it sounds like you had to wait in line a lot. 🙁

  7. Ive never seen Angkor Temple but its definitely on my list no matter what people gonna say about that place. Its a tourist attraction and of course its gonna be crowded and overprices. Its everywhere like that. And I am ready for it 🙂 Great post tho thank you for all those information 🙂

  8. Interesting post. I think part of the reason you got disappointed was that you had very high expectations before arriving. That could leave one disappointed sometimes. Nevertheless great tips and pointers at the end. it’s something I’ll consider if I visit.

  9. I loved my visit to Angkor Wat earlier this year. It is in my opinion a must-visit. Indeed, there is so much to see and taking the time to soak in the various temples is necessary. The temple is rooted in history and not necessarily “run down.” It is old and should be expected. You offer great tips at the end and for me personally, the experience lived up to my expectations 🙂

  10. It was an interesting read, Ketki! I love when people write their heart out. It’s good to read different perspectives. People normally write good good things as to why to visit a particular place maybe because it’s not easy to write negative about a place other people vouch for. But experiences can differ. I too had a similar kind of experience at Fatehpur Sikri fort. I’d visit Angkor Wat because I love visiting historical places but certainly wouldn’t keep high expectations as you did because I’ve come across an honest post like yours 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thank you for your post. I’m heading to Siem Reap in December. I wonder if you would have had a better experience had you a different guide. I’m glad you were able to find the silver lining.

  12. Thanks a bunch for sharing your experience. It is definitely worth knowing all these things prior to visiting Angkor Wat. Your post is truly useful and a great read. When’s the best time of the year to go there?

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