Discover the Best Method for Touring Angkor Wat

by | Dec 19, 2019 | 0 comments

Couple exploring Preah Khan temple at Angkor Archaeological Complex

Touring Angkor Wat is on everyone’s list when heading to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are multiple options for doing it though. Some people take a guided tour, while others hire a tuk tuk driver or rent bikes. Read this article to understand your options and determine which method best fits your travel style.

Woman standing outside Angkor Wat
Laura with Angkor Wat in the background.

Peddle a Bicycle

Riding a manual bicycle will be the cheapest option for seeing Angkor Wat. If you don’t mind exercising in hot weather, and are on a tight budget, then this route could be for you.

Pros

  • Cheap. Bikes can be rented for about $5 USD per day. Depending on where you’re staying, your hostel/hotel may offer rentals, otherwise there are plenty of shops in town. Aing Kimsan Bicycle Shop and Cavar Biking Siem Reap are just a few of the names we saw while there.
  • It’s good for the environment. You can’t get much greener than riding a manual bicycle around the city.
  • Having your own two wheels will let you see the temples at your own pace. Just hop-on and hop-off as you fancy.
  • The road to the temples is relatively smooth and flat, so you won’t have to worry about going up any steep hills.
Cat sleeping at Banteay Samre temple.
Sleeping kitty at Banteay Samre Temple.

Cons

  • The Angkor Archeological Complex is a lot larger than you may think. It’s 9km (5.6 miles) from Siem Reap’s city center to just the entrance of the park, so be prepared to peddle a lot.
  • Cambodia can get very hot, and exercising in it could easily lead to dehydration or heat stroke. Additionally, the bike won’t come with built-in sun protection. So make sure to dress appropriately, bring lots of water, and take breaks as your body requires.
  • Bikes only go as fast as you peddle. If you’re looking to visit a large number of temples, or only have one day to spend, then this may be difficult to accomplish on a bike.
  • There’s no designated bike lane in Siem Reap, so you’ll need to feel comfortable riding on the edge of the road with cars, tuk tuks and tour buses whizzing by. They usually give you some space, but it can still be unnerving if you’re unused to it.
  • There’s no tour guide to tell you about the temples you’re visiting. However, the biggest temples (such as Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom, and Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple), have tour guides for hire standing outside. There were also people selling books about the temples if you’d rather just read the facts. The book seemed to cover most of the main temples in the complex, which is likely a better value although less personal of an experience.

Responsible Travel Tip: Many children wander the temples trying to sell you things. Please refuse to purchase from them as it reinforces their parent’s behavior in keeping them out of school. If you want to support the locals, only purchase from adults.

  • Bicycles don’t come with headlights, so it could be difficult riding in the dark if you plan to visit Angkor Wat for sunrise or sunset.
Bayon Temple faces
Bayon Temple.

Rental Tips

  • Not all companies offer helmets with their rentals. Since you’ll be riding on the street, this is something we highly recommend. If you are not offered a helmet straight away, ask about it before leaving the shop. It’s likely they have them available in the back.
  • Make sure your rental includes a bike lock of some sort. You would hate for the bike to get stolen and have to pay the company for a replacement.
  • Never give your passport as a means of deposit. This is your most important travel document. Instead look for a company that will take a cash deposit. Not all companies list if they’ll accept cash deposits online, so you may need to ask in person.

Rent an E-bike

Renting an e-bike is a middle-of-the-road solution. It’s inexpensive enough to still work with tight budgets, while removing the need for you to peddle everywhere you go.

Ebike parked outside Victory Gate Angkor Wat
E-bike parked outside Victory Gate.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive. You can rent an e-bike for as little as $10 USD a day. We recommend going with Bayon Electric Bike Rental or Blue Electric Bike Rental Service. Although we personally didn’t rent from either of these two companies, we received good reviews from other travelers who did (you can read about who we did rent with, and why we don’t recommend them in our personal story below).
  • Having your own wheels will let you see the temples at your own pace. Just hop-on and hop-off as you fancy.
  • E-bikes are better for the environment compared to vehicles that use gasoline.
  • Most of the e-bikes come with headlights, so you can safely ride in the dark if you’re looking to watch the sunrise or sunset at the temples.
Man exploring Ta Prohm Tomb Raider temple
Wandering Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider) Temple.

Cons

  • Although the bikes are electric powered, they’re still slower than motorbikes.
  • In addition to being slower than motorbikes, e-bikes (at least the ones we rented) lacked oomph. We regularly were maxing out our speed, meaning there was no extra burst of power available to use in avoiding accidents. At one point during our trip a biker almost crashed into me and I was powerless (literally) in being able to swerve out of the way.
  • The bike doesn’t have sun protection (besides perhaps the helmet), so dress appropriately and bring lots of water to stay hydrated.
  • At some point throughout the day you’ll have to charge the bike’s battery (maybe even multiple times depending on how far you travel and fast you ride). Most restaurants inside the park have charging stations, but you’ll have to pay for a meal as compensation for using their power tap. Just note that all the restaurants inside the park are overpriced by Cambodian standards.
  • There’s no designated bike lane in Siem Reap, so you’ll need to feel comfortable riding on the edge of the road with cars, tuk tuks and tour buses whizzing by. They usually give you some space, but it can still be unnerving if you’re unused to it.
  • There’s no tour guide to tell you about the temples you’re visiting, so either hire an independent guide, buy a facts book, or go it alone.
Woman walking along stone bridge to Baphuon Temple.
Entrance to Baphuon Temple.

Rental Tips

  • Not all companies offer helmets with their rentals or require their renters to use them. Since you’ll be riding on the street, this is something we highly recommend. If you’re not offered a helmet straight away, ask about it before leaving the shop. It’s likely they have them available in the back.
  • Never give your passport as a means of deposit. This is your most important travel document. Instead look for a company that will take a cash deposit. Not all companies list if they’ll accept cash deposits online, so either read other customer reviews or ask in person.

Take a Guided Tour

A guided tour is a good option for people who want a packaged visit, including a designated sightseeing route, travel schedule and guide while inside the temples.

Woman exploring Ta Prohm Tomb Raider temple
Exploring Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider) Temple.

Pros

  • Many guided tours are purchased as part of a larger experience package, and include stops beyond just the Angkor temples. This is great for people who are looking to see more of Cambodia in a short amount of time and want someone else to plan the logistics for them.
  • Tours usually include pickup and drop off at your hotel each day.
  • You’ll be driven around inside a large coach bus, with more comfortable seats and usually aircon.
  • Often tours include a tour guide, who will accompany you throughout the trip and explain the history and important elements of all the sights you visit.
Stone guardian statues on bridge to Angkor Thom.
Stone guardian statues on bridge to Angkor Thom.

Cons

  • The tour takes a set route. You will be unable to pick and choose which temples you visit.
  • You’ll have a limited amount of time allotted to each temple. If you’re someone who likes to wander or go at your own pace, this option may not be the best fit.

Tour Tips

  • Make sure to tip your tour guide as they’ll be accompanying you throughout the day and providing lots of interesting information of the sights. Generally 10% is expected per person if they’ve done well.
  • Also tip your driver for the day. $1-2 USD is the general rule of thumb.

Hire a Tuk Tuk Driver

Hiring a tuk tuk is perfect if you have a larger budget and want to personalize your route through the temples.

Tuk Tuks driving over bridge to Angkor Thom.
Entrance to Angkor Thom.

Pros

  • You’ll be chauffeured between sites, in a vehicle that has an overhead covering, helping keep you cool during transit.
  • It’s quick to get from one temple to the next. This is great if you have limited time to spend in the Angkor complex and really want to maximize your time.
  • You can pick which temples to visit, how long to spend at them, and which to skip.
  • Often the person you hire will provide pick up and drop off at your hotel.

Cons

  • Getting a private driver for the day does cost more than renting a bicycle or e-bike. If you go with a driver your hotel recommends, then they’ll likely have a set rate. Otherwise, you’ll need to find someone on the street and try to negotiate. For reference, on a one day hire we paid $25 USD to do the large Angkor circuit, plus an extra $10 USD to add on some extra temples out in the surrounding countryside.
Man exploring Baphuon Temple.
Tom at Baphuon Temple.
  • A driver is not the same as a tour guide. While they will get you to the temples, they do not go in with you. For the biggest temples (such as Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom, and Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple), there are independent tour guides standing outside which you can hire.

Tuk Tuk Tips

  • If you want to see temples outside of the main complex (generally referred to as the large or small circuit), then expect to pay extra for the gas it takes to get there and back.
  • If you’re driver has done well that day, consider giving them an extra tip. $1-2 USD is acceptable for good service.
Tree growing out of Phnom Bok Temple.
Phnom Bok Temple.

Rent a Motorcycle

Unfortunately a motorbike is not an option when visiting Angkor Wat. This is because it’s illegal for tourists to rent motorbikes while in Cambodia (unless you have a Cambodian drivers license). If you notice foreigners riding motorbikes in the city, it’s likely they are expats and have (hopefully) gone through the proper channels to legally drive in the Cambodia.

Now that’s not to say you can’t find a motorbike shop that’ll rent to tourists. However, if you’re caught by the police, you will need to hope they accept a bribe, otherwise you may be faced with charges. As we do not condone the practice of bribes, nor want any of our readers to get arrested, we do not recommend this route for seeing Angkor Wat.

Terrace of the Leaper King.
Terrace of the Leaper King.

If you want a motorbike experience, but don’t want the hassle of dealing with the legality, consider hiring an e-bike instead. Since they’re technically bicycles, it’s not illegal for tourists to drive them in Cambodia. We even saw some e-bikes that were powerful like standard motorbikes.

Our Personal Experience

Why We Selected E-bikes

We chose to rent an e-bike on our first day visiting the temples as a way to have more freedom and be earth friendly. Since the tickets to the temples was expensive though, we chose to rent from the cheapest of the companies in town (Ovelocity); the price was right at $8 USD per person, and they had high reviews on both Google and TripAdvisor.

Ovelocity claims you can make it around the large or small circuit on their bikes, but not both without the battery running dead. Additionally, due to the size of the battery, you have to swap it at their one station inside the park before heading back to town. Originally we were okay with this plan, as we had already decided to visit the temples over multiple days, and liked the idea of a free battery swap (compared to other e-bikes which require you to charge up at a restaurant inside the park, and pay for an overpriced meal as compensation).

E-bike at Angkor Wat temple complex
Waiting on the side of the road, battery completely dead.

Getting Stranded

In practice things turned out much different than we were promised. About half way around the small circuit my battery went from full strength to zero in a matter of minutes. There we were, stranded in between temples, without cell service. And to top it all off, the bikes we rented had the pedals removed, so we couldn’t even manually get ourselves to the charging point. It was only thanks to a kind tuk tuk driver calling the rental company for us that we managed to get help. The driver helped explain to the front desk where we were stranded and that we required a replacement battery to be delivered.

We then proceeded to wait TWO hours on the side of the road before a scooter pulled up with our new battery in tow. After that, the replacement went quickly and we were soon on our way again.

Motorbike with replacement batter
Replacement battery finally delivered.

Back in Action…Or So We Thought

At this point Tom’s bike was reading three quarters charge, and with being over halfway around the small circuit, we were optimistic both bikes would make it to charging point without anymore issues. We should have knocked on wood. Before even reaching the next temple Tom’s battery started to drop rapidly like mine had before. We knew it’d be difficult to get another replacement battery delivered, so we decided it best to skip all remaining temples and just beeline it directly to the charging point.

Minute by minute we raced the clock, secretly urging the bike to last just a little longer. To make a long story short, we made it, limping into the parking lot. Literally, by the time we pulled into the charging station people were walking by us faster than our bikes were moving. It was embarrassing. And since we didn’t get to even half of the temples we wanted to see that day, we decided to skip e-bikes on our second day out and instead hired a tuk tuk to cut down on transit time.

Couple standing at the Victory Gate in Angkor Wat temple complex.
Standing in awe at the Victory Gate.

Would We Rent E-bikes Again?

Yes, we loved the flexibility and freedom they offered, not to mention the cost savings compared to hiring a tuk tuk or professional tour. However, we’d make some serious changes to our process:

  • Since the replacement battery we had delivered arrived by motorbike, it offset any good we did for the environment by renting e-bikes that day (not to mention our tuk tuk hire the following day). If we were to do it again, we’d opt for one of the more premium e-bike companies in town. They only cost a few dollars more, and give greater flexibility since you can charge the battery at any restaurant inside the park. Sure, charging will cost you a meal, but it beats getting stranded on the side of the road for a few hours. It also means you can take whichever sightseeing path you want versus the set route Ovelocity requires you to follow.
  • Pick e-bikes that include pedals. We’re unsure why Ovelocity removes the pedals from their e-bikes, but it really made things difficult when our batteries died. If we had pedals, we wouldn’t have felt the need to skip temples in order to ensure we could make it to the charging point in time. Peddling + electricity also gives you a bit more oomph as most of the e-bikes tend to be slow (especially if you’re used to the horsepower of a motorbike).
Sunset at Pre Rup Angkor Complex
Sunset at Pre Rup temple.
  • If you pick up the e-bikes the night before your temple visit, top up the battery while sleeping. This wasn’t possible with the Ovelocity design, so it’s likely the battery drained quite a bit before we left the next morning. Starting the day with a full battery will let you go as long as possible before charging is required.
Share your preferred method for touring Angkor Wat with us in the comments below.

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