Angkor Wat
More than sunrise and sunset
Published: Apr 06, 2015 05:23 PM Updated: Apr 07, 2015 10:42 AM

I always have a mixed feeling toward the holiday tips people post online. I appreciate their efforts to give detailed information on the place I'm going to explore, but at the same time they can blunt the excitement of discovering a destination for oneself.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat Photos: Feng Yu/GT

 Before I went to Siem Reap in Cambodia, I browsed some Web pages, but limited myself to reading just the headlines and first few paragraphs of the articles.

I'd like to share what I learned about Siem Reap with first-time visitors. I will omit information that is clearly marked on the city's tourism map.

The national museum should be the first stop for any visitor. There you will gain a general idea of the history, culture and religion of the city and the country, which will help your stay in the following days, and add depth to your temple visits.

The price of entry to the museum is $12, with audio tours available for an extra $3. If you book at your hotel, it will usually include the price of a tuk-tuk from your hotel to the museum.

Bargaining is another skill you have to grasp. You will negotiate prices with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, as well as  roadside vendors selling fruit, drinks and souvenirs. There's a lot of room for bargaining.

If you have a local driver, it's a good idea to ask them to bargain on your behalf to get the best possible deals, as there are different prices for locals and foreigners. I also strongly recommend that you ask your driver to take you to the markets frequented by locals so you can stock up on food and drink for your day trips.

Hotel rates tend to be an exception to the bargaining norm. Thanks to the recommendation of a friend who works at, I chose the Golden Temple Residence for about $100 per night for a 55-square-meter deluxe suite. The fee included tax, Wi-Fi, breakfast, use of a mobile phone with a local SIM card, and airport transfers. Also included was a four-course Khmer Royal set lunch or dinner and a one-hour massage for two people. I had the Khmer Royal set dinner while watching a traditional Cambodian performance.

The four-faced smile of Khmer at Bayon Temple

Having a driver is necessary to make the trip to Angkor. I found one outside the hotel. Almost all of the drivers can speak simple English. I found one who could speak a little Chinese. It cost just $50 for the car and driver for a one-day trip to the outer circle, covering the temples of Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea, and Roluos. The highlight was Beng Mealea, which is identical to when it was first discovered.

For the so-called little and big circuits of temples, I paid $15 per day for a tuk-tuk. It is a good idea to take disposable masks, as the tuk-tuk rides can get dusty.

To take in the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat, we set off at 5 am from our hotel and tried to find a spot at a lotus pond, which is said to be the best venue for appreciating the sunrise.

Unfortunately, the day turned out to be cloudy, so we missed the sunrise. But it was still good to enjoy the process of people from all corners of the world gathering in the early morning.

Angkor Wat is worth a whole day, or even longer if you have enough time. Angkor Thom should also be on your itinerary. There you will find the famous smile of the Khmer people beside gorgeous relics.

An artwork at Banteay Srei

A one-hour boat trip on the lake and river system of Tonle Sap is far more expensive than the $40 three-day pass for the whole of Angkor Wat. During the dry season, the narrow waterways are muddy and dirty.

What's more, the whole experience is over-commercialized. With a very brief introduction to the river linking Tonle Sap Lake, the guide delivered speeches urging people to buy produce on the trips as a means of helping the local people.

However, while it is commendable to support people, the guide's suggestion to buy rice at local markets which could then be donated to orphan students was problematic because the prices were unreasonably high. We thought it better to give money directly to the teacher at the school.

The journey wasn't all bad. We saw the sunset from the river, which compensated for missing the sunrise at Angkor Wat and for the unpleasant experience with the tour guide.