How to visit Angkor Wat safely
Top Tips For a Safe Trip to Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The ancient temples of the city of Angkor – the capital of the Khmer Empire – are some of the most beautiful in the world. Spread over a site spanning 401 acres, Angkor holds the record as the largest religious site in the world.
Constructed during the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, Angkor was originally built to honor the Hindu God Vishnu, but was soon transformed into a place of worship for the Buddhist community as the religious makeup of the Khmer Kingdom changed.
It’s not surprising that a visit to Angkor Wat is on many traveler’s bucket lists; it’s often considered to be just as historically significant as the pyramids in Egypt or even Pompeii.
Planning a trip here can be a challenge because of safety factors. However, there are lots of precautions you can and should take that can make your trip to this beautiful site run smoothly.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Siem Reap is easily reached by air and on land by bus from all over Asia. It’s around a six-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh. Hire a scooter, a local tuk-tuk driver, or a bicycle for the day to see all the temples, which are a few miles out of town.
Top Tips – For a Safe Trip
1. Book a Day Tour with Your Hotel or through the Information Centre
There are many companies offering different tours around Angkor Wat. From the moment you arrive in the city of Siem Reap, you will find that most Tuk-Tuk (or to use the colonial French term, “remorque”) drivers will offer to show you the sites for a discounted price.
While it might sound tempting, it is best to avoid agreeing to let a driver take you around, however trustworthy they may seem and however much they try to assure you that they will show you everything you want to see.
Once the driver has picked you up, it’s common for them to change their minds and want extra money to take you to the different temple sites instead of just Angkor Wat. In some cases, they can either leave you stranded or pull over before you get to the next destination, wasting your time and energy as they try to haggle a higher price.
Instead, be sure to book a tour through your hotel or hostel, who can arrange for a trusted driver to pick you up. You can agree on the price in advance, pay the hotel or the hostel before you go, and be guaranteed to see all the temples.
Alternatively, in the town of Siem Reap, visit an official tourist information center, where you can book a tour with a trusted guide who will pick you up from your hostel or hotel.
2. Ensure Your Driver Picks You Up From Inside Your Hostel or Hotel
A common trick is for Tuk-Tuk drivers to hang around hostels and hotels, so when it’s time for you to be picked up by your tour guide, they will approach you and pretend to be your driver when really they are not.
The best and easiest way to counter this is to ensure your driver collects you from inside the hotel or hostel. This will usually be recommended by the tour company and your hostel. This ensures you will be taken to each site safely by a trusted driver.
This applies even to sunrise tours. Because it is easy to assume that there are so few drivers travelling the roads at 4-5am that a driver hanging around your hotel at the time is probably your driver.
3. Consider Renting a Grab Driver for a Day
While renting a private Tuk-Tuk for a day might not be your cup of tea, renting a Grab driver to take you to the temples can be a safer option.
It is possible to rent drivers for the day rather than booking a driver for a single trip; this adds more transparency to the process, as you can see your Grab driver’s name, registration plate, and rating. All Grab journeys are covered by personal liability insurance and all drivers must have a drivers’ license and undergo thorough checks.
4. If You’re going to Cycle Round The Temples, Go in a Group
Another option those on a budget might consider is renting a bicycle to ride from Siem Reap out to the temple sites. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat itself, which is 4.1 miles or 6.6km from the city center.
Always pack plenty of water and lather on the sunscreen, as you will be out in the heat for much of the journey.
It’s also worth travelling together in a group. Not only does this make the trip much more enjoyable it also ensures you have safety in numbers. If you are travelling alone early in the morning to catch the sunrise, you can stick out far more than if you were travelling during the day. It’s not to say you won’t be targeted if you’re in a group, but it makes it less likely.
5. Watch Out For Pickpockets
Pickpockets exist in every country, and there are not any more or less in Cambodia than there are in other countries in Asia, but you should always take precautions. Be wary of people trying to distract you while someone else picks your pocket.
While you are waiting for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, there will be lots of vendors trying to sell you breakfast. Some of them even nickname themselves and have their own jingle so you remember them. Look out for the vendor calling himself 007, Mr. James Bond, who is ready to offer you some ‘breaaakffast!’
It can be very light-hearted and the vendors will often come and serve you breakfast after you have found a place on the crowded grassy banks opposite the temple. But it can also be a bustling, noisy, chaotic experience, as vendors try their luck amongst the flock of tourists hunting out the best spot to watch the sun emerge from behind the temple. Keep hold of your wallet and hold off paying until the vendor has served you your breakfast when you’ve sat down, are more settled, and able to assess what is going on around you.
6. Don’t Pay the Beggars – Even Children
Cambodia is a poor country, and as a Westerner, it can be heartbreaking to see the levels of poverty in a nation still reeling from the horrific genocidal regime of Pol Pot. But if you give a child beggar money or even food, it can put you at risk.
Once they know you are prepared to give them something for free, they will not stop and might follow you. More kids might also join; before long, you can be surrounded by a large gang and harangued until eventually one of them grabs hold of your wallet when you’re not looking.
It also discourages the parents from sending the children to the place they belong – school – because they see them as more useful to the family in the short term, begging on the streets, than getting the education they deserve.
7. Book an Organized Tour
The easiest way to ensure you have a safe experience is to take an all-inclusive organized group tour package.
Our complete Siem Reap package is a four day trip including a stay at 3* boutique hotel in Siem Reap, airport drop-offs and pickups, a dedicated and expert driver and guide, and all Angkor Wat entrance fees. We even include a boat trip along the less crowded Tonle Sap Lake.
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Safety – Possible risks
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Cambodia is a great value, with food and alcohol costing a few dollars and accommodation costs ranging from a few dollars a night to $50 and up. It depends on where you stay and how you want to travel and eat while you’re in town. The biggest cost will be the pass to Angkor, which starts at $37 for one day, and the cost of any driver or day tour you decide to take. Our own four-day guided tour is $300 all-inclusive.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Dress conservatively when visiting temples; they are religious sites, and although tourists do tend to turn up in pretty revealing clothing, you don’t want to be one of them. Try not to point when asking for directions, and never point towards another person. A slight bow with your hands in a prayer position is the standard greeting in Cambodia. And always with a smile, of course! There are a handful of people offering elephant rides at Angkor Thom. Although the owners are just trying to make a living, the practice is inherently cruel and abusive and shouldn’t be encouraged.
Reality Check – Be Aware
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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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