In 1993 there were only 7,650 visitors to Angkor Wat. Now that number has reached over two million per year! It seems likely that it’ll only continue to grow in popularity. So, how can you beat the crowds? Or get a photo without anyone else in it? Here are our tips on how to avoid hordes of tourists at Angkor!
Get a three-day pass
Don’t underestimate the size of this place. It was once the largest pre-industrial city in the world, covering 400 square kilometers (284 miles). One day just won’t do it justice, unless you’re really not that into temples or history.
Take your time and don’t rush it. Angkor Wat is hot and sticky all year round, so if you overdo it, you likely won’t enjoy it as much. Unfortunately, in 2017 the prices were raised and three days will now cost you $62.
Rent a motorbike
There are several ways to get around the park: bicycle, motorbike, tuk-tuk, and car rental. Bicycles ($1-3 a day) offer the cheapest and most adventurous option, but you won’t get as far into the park.
We prefer to ride a motorbike ($7-9 a day) as this option offers you the most freedom and gives you a chance to cover more of the complex on your own. The breeze you get riding between sites that helps you cool off is also an added bonus. Be sure to check the oil in the bike you rent before you head out.
As for tuk-tuks ($13-20 a day), most drivers follow a similar route around the major sites, doing either the grand circuit or small circuit. You can also find some who will take you wherever you want to go, use these guys if you decide on taking one. Car rentals ($25-35 a day) would provide you with AC and a driver, but are also the most costly.
Start very early
There are only 4 sites officially open for sunrise now (Angkor Wat, Pre Rup, Phnom Bakheng, Srah Srang). All of the others unfortunately open at 7:30 am. You can still beat the crowds by arriving at some of the outlying wats when they open.
For example, if you go to Ta Prohm (famous for being in the Tomb Raider film) first thing in the morning at 7:30 it will obviously be much quieter than later on when it becomes a complete circus.
Visit in the offseason
Most people travel to Angkor from November – February during the dry season. Avoid March-May which is the hottest and most unbearable time of year. We’ve read in certain guidebooks and websites that the wet season should be avoided due to muddy roads and torrential downpours, but this hasn’t been our experience.
We’ve visited twice now, once in August and once in September. If it does rain, it shouldn’t last all day. Check the forecast before heading out! The benefits are that it’s greener, the moats are full of water, it’s less dusty, and there are significantly fewer tourists.
Angkor Wat is, of course, the main attraction. Built in the 12th century and dedicated to Vishnu, it is the largest and most significant temple of the entire complex. Most people start the day here hoping to see sunrise and the majestic silhouette of Angkor against vivid colorful skies.
Sunrise is certainly worth doing, just don’t expect to be alone! Arrive extra early if you want to be upfront to take photos, preferably by 5:15 am.
Entering the complex there are two ponds of water on each side of the walkway. The one on the left has significantly more people, as you can see all five of the towers unobstructed from that angle. However, if you go to the right side you can capture a similar photo with a few hundred fewer tourists.
Alternatively, head to the back of Angkor Wat on the east side for the first rays of sunlight illuminating it. The least crowded time to visit inside the temple is lunchtime. If you have a three-day pass, try to visit twice at different times of the day.
Avoid this temple for sunset. It’s a riotous affair with people and vendors everywhere. Not to mention that sunsets, in general, are not one of the major highlights of Siem Reap. If you want to visit this temple consider a different time of day. Early mornings are far more peaceful!
A small and quiet structure that was built to honor Buddha, this one won’t be too busy at any point during the day. If you arrive early, you’re almost guaranteed to be here alone. Awesome off the beaten path spot!
King Jayavarman VII, known as the greatest Khmer king, dedicated this temple to his father. Once a large university, this one takes some time to explore. We recommend giving yourself at least an hour here as it’s full of hallways and several courtyards, as well as many excellent trees.
Make sure to explore the grounds around the temple too! We went in the afternoon, the sheer size of this place ensures that it’s never super crowded. Keep an eye out for the sweet old woman in the hallway who gives out bracelets as blessings!
One of the oldest temples of the Khmer Empire, Bakong was built in the 9th century. It’s one of the Roluos group temples, 15 km southeast of Siem Reap and away from the main complex. This is a great one to hit for sunrise. Officially it opens at 7:30 am, but there’s no one stopping you if you arrive earlier.
Journey down the beautiful red dirt roads and you’ll encounter this lonely beauty. We really enjoyed the solitude! You can also hit Preah Ko on the way out, another member of the Roluos group, famous for the intricacies of its carvings.
Visit this temple at any time and it shouldn’t be swarming with people. It’s quite small but worth a visit for ten or fifteen minutes. You’ll notice some pathways that wander through the jungle in the surrounding area.
Walking along these shaded trails is really nice after 10 am when the temps begin to rise! These paths lead through more ruins eventually connecting to Phimeanakas and onto the north side of Baphuon.
The walls of Angkor Thom
The Angkor Thom complex has five gates, and most of them you can get on top of! This was one of the best things we did in the Angkor complex. After passing through the opening of the south gate, you’ll notice a dirt trail leading into the brush.
Follow this path (by bicycle, motorbike, or on foot) uphill to reach the top of the wall. It’s possible to ride all the way around to the west gate and there are some beautiful views up there, especially around sunset!
The Death Gate, one of the five leading into Angkor Thom, is a little harder to find. But you’ll be rewarded for trying! Rumor has it that convicts were lead through this gate to their execution long ago.
Here’s how to find it – entering Angkor Thom from Angkor Wat turn right into the roundabout going around Bayon. Then take your first right (on the East side of Bayon). You’ll see what looks like a dirt parking lot and straight ahead you’ll find a long path lined by trees.
Follow it all the way down to Angkor Thom’s death gate. You can also take the dirt trails on either side of the gate to get up on the walls! Highly recommended!
A forgotten group of five ruin sites across the road from the Leper King terraces, behind the food and vendor stands. These temples are easy to overlook. We had these mostly to ourselves in the middle of the afternoon. You’ll also find some nice wooded trails back there!
Built in the 10th century, this temple is a bit further east of the Srah Srang reservoir. There is nobody here early in the morning, but the crowds arrive closer to sunset. Continue on to East Mebon afterward, another less-visited site, or consider hitting Ta Som nearby before 9 am to avoid the big tourist buses.
This temple is unique because it’s mostly unrestored and largely remains in the state it was first discovered in. It’s famously known as the Indiana Jones temple. However, it’s 77 km away from Siem Reap and 40 km away from the main group.
You MUST arrive before 9:30 am to avoid the large groups and tour buses. But this is easily one of the best temples! Keep in mind there is an additional $5 entrance fee to Beng Mealea.
It will cost more to get out there, but you can stop at Kbal Spean and do a forest hike among ancient river carvings, or combine it with a visit to Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women).
Banteay Srei is famous for its intricate carvings and red sandstone, but be aware that it’s a small temple and gets very hot and crowded later in the day.
We hope these tips help you avoid tourists at Angkor and have a great trip!
Do you want to visit Angkor Wat or have you already been? Anything we missed?