What to Know Before You Visit Siem Reap, Cambodia

When people ask me my favorite trips, Cambodia almost always comes up at the top of the list. My trip to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat Temple complex was inspiring, refreshing, and humid! I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in world history, religious history, Indiana Jones, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, or inexpensive travel in Southeast Asia! But there are a few things to know before you go. Here are the essentials!

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1. Visit the Angkor National Museum First

I knew embarrassingly little about Cambodia and its history before visiting. I had seen the temples on Survivor when they were in Cambodia several years back, and it fascinated me. I still don’t know enough about Cambodia to even scratch the surface of their history and struggles. But I highly recommend visiting the Angkor National Museum when you arrive, before you visit the temples, to begin to understand the complicated history of the temples and the region.

The museum is open at 8:30 every morning and closes at 6:00 or 6:30pm, depending on the time of year. Admission is $12, plus $3 if you’d like to take photos inside, plus $3 for a guided tour via headset.

2. Bring American Cash

While Cambodians do have their own currency, the Cambodian riel (KHR), all the businesses we visited took American dollars, and you will have to pay for your Angkor Wat Temple Complex Pass with American dollars, so it’s best to bring some with you, or you can get it at an ATM there. Approximate value: $1 USD = 4000 KHR

I got a USD $2 back in change fromt a road-side stand for lunch one day!
Keep reading: The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Money

3. Get the Right Pass (and Keep it with You)

Passes to visit the Temple Complex come in one-, three-, and seven-day increments. Currently the prices are $37, $62, and $72, respectively. You’ll pay in American dollars, either in cash or with a credit card, and you will have your photo taken. You also must have your pass with you to visit any of the included temple areas. I recommend the three- or seven-day pass; one day is not enough to even begin to grasp the historical significance and vastness of this incredible Temple Complex.

My pass to the temples! (Prices have increased since my visit and are subject to change at any time.)

4. Take a Tour and Hire a Tuk Tuk Driver

You will be approached by Cambodian tour guides to show you the temples, and that’s what you should definitely do. This is not a scam! There is no signage and no posted information about the temples, so you will need a guide to show you the important parts and explain why they’re important. We learned so much from just an hour-long tour!

Additionally, you can hire a tuk tuk diver for a whole day, and he will show you all the best places. The Temple Complex is far too large to walk it all yourself, even if you have a whole week, so you will be glad you hired someone. It will not be that expensive, and it will be worth the price, as some of the sites you’ll want to see are a 20-30 minute tuk tuk ride away. Our accommodation actually hired a local guide for us, so ask at your accommodation if they can do the same for you. You will not have to worry about getting scammed.

5. There’s More to See than Just the Angkor Wat Temples

The whole area is collectively called the Angkor Archaelogical Park, but there are more than just the Angkor Wat Temples there. Banteay Srei, Angkor Thom, and my favorite, Bayon, are the temples I recommend most. Your tuk tuk driver might also show you more along the way, but if you have limited time and have to pick and choose, those are the most impressive.

Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple
Angkor Thom (of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider fame)
Banteay Srei Temple is one of the most beautiful because so much of its details have been uncovered and restored.
More here: Ruined: Beauty in the Broken Places

6. Don’t Skip the Cambodian Landmine Museum

Speaking of more than Angkor Wat’s Temples, don’t forget to visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum. This small museum is so important to help you understand the strength of the Cambiodian people and the almost unimaginable struggle they have been through. Cambodia is one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world, even today. There are still unexploded landmines buried all over the country—so it’s also incredibly important not to trudge your own path when visiting.

Dozens of Cambodians are still injured or killed by landmines every year, and it will still be decades until all the mines are cleared. Many have already been cleared, and this museum helps fund that effort. The man who started the relief efforts and the museum is Aki Ra, an ex-child soldier for the Khmer. Years later, he went back to villages where he had planted mines as a child and began to uncover and defuse them himself, by hand. He and his wife also took in children who had been orphaned and injured by the mines. The entry fee is only $5, and the museum is open from 7:30am-5:30pm 365 days per year.

7. Dress Conservatively

I know it’s hot, but this is not the moment for a strapless mini sundress! Wear loose clothing, and make sure your legs and shoulders are covered at all times, especially inside the temples. Linen is your friend, despite its tendency to wrinkle; maxi and midi skirts will help you stay breezy; and capri-length leggings are fine as long as you pair them with a loose top.

My friend and I styed cool and kept ourselves modest!
Need help? Check out my Packing Page for packing lists and strategies!

8. Be Respectful as Cambodians Recognize Respect

Along with dressing conservatively, try to be as respectful as possible. Ask your tour guide, tuk tuk driver, or a staff member at your accommodation what you need to know to be respectful in the temples. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Don’t smoke in or around the temples
  • Don’t laugh and be loud or disruptive
  • Don’t use these temple as your personal photo shoot area
  • Don’t take anything from the temples, even a rock; take photos instead
  • Do not eat or drink inside the temples; hydrate outside the temples

9. Bring Sunscreen, Bug Repellent, and Get Your Vaccines!

Even if you visit during the rainy season, you will need to wear sunscreen. And because the temples are in the Cambodian jungle, you will need bug repellent. It’s also important to apply them in the correct order for effectiveness:

  1. Sunscreen, which needs to soak into your skin for 15 minutes
  2. Bug repellent, which should be applied on top of skin in which sunscreen has already soaked fully

Here are my preferred options:

Additionally, talk to your doctor about what vaccines you need, and ask for an anti-malarial prescription. Do this at least three months in advance of your trip if possible, as some vaccines require a waiting period between doses.

All that lush beauty comes with illness-carrying bugs!
Need a little help? Check out Your Guide to Travel Vaccines and Immunizations!

10. The Rainy Season is May-October

Don’t let the rainy season stop you! It won’t likely rain all day long, but the whole complex will be lush and green because of the increased rainfall. I visited in June, and while it was humid, it did not rain all or, or even every day of the trip!

More here: Surviving Rainy Day Travels

Want more? Check out my Cambodia Page!

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One response to “What to Know Before You Visit Siem Reap, Cambodia”

  1. […] Nearby Karnak Temple is actually the second-largest religious complex in the world, only behind the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Cambodia. Luxor Temple is well worth a visit, but I recommend visiting it first, and Karnak […]

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