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Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

London, United...
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Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Hi all, I will be in Siem Reap shortly for a few days. I'd like to visit some of the historic ruins around, but at the same time avoid going to places with too many people.

Would anyone have suggestions for places to visit where it might be a bit quieter? I'm ok with going a bit further out, although ideally I'd like to stick with day trips (I'm staying inside Siem Reap itself, so would rather not go more than 1 hours drive).

Also, I'm guessing the best way to do this is to hire a private car/taxi? Are there drivers who can stay with you for the entire day, and shuttle you from place to place?

Thanks!

Wanaka, New Zealand
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1. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Somone posted an excellent trip report on just this topic a few days ago.

Kurashiki, Japan
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2. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Yes, that's usually the way it works, hire a tuk-tuk or car w/driver, they will be with you all day. They drop you off at each temple, and wait for you near the entrance. Best way to avoid crowds is to head out at teh crack of dawn, and also high noon is time when a lot of the tour groups head into town for lunch, leaving some of the temples free of visitors.

Los Angeles...
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3. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Here's my post a few days ago on the topic...it can be challenging. I also forgot to mention Preah Khan (the other preah khan that is east of Beng Melea.) An amazing site in its own right and very unvisited...also, I just finished making a website for the driver I've used three times (he is truly amazing!) its www.driveangkor.com

Avoid the crowds at Angkor trip report

Aug 28, 2013, 1:03 PM

This was our 5th trip to Cambodia over an 8-year period. The last time was two years ago. The country has changed enormously in that time but nowhere is this more evident than in Siem Reap. It's a booming metropolis at this point! Quite amazing in terms of difference from 2005. One of the biggest changes is the huge volume of tourists to Angkor, particularly large bus tours. For many of you traveling independently to see the park via bicycle (highly recommended!) or tuk-tuk you might feel overwhelmed when showing up at a site. After visiting the park for two weeks (I'm one of those people who actually feels a 7 day Angkor pass isn't enough!) I formed some insights on how to beat the crowds. Below are some suggestions if you want an Angkor experience that allows for quiet contemplation and, even in this day of huge crowds at the park, some solitude in an off the beaten track temple or two.

First off, the most heavily visited temples are, in this order, Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, Ta Som and Beng Melea. Most of the day tours visit these six temples only. You will most likely experience huge crowds unless you visit them first thing in the AM (6:00-8:00) or much later in the day (4:30 til closing).

I managed to actually be alone at Bayon, Ta Prohm and Ta Som by using this strategy. I visited all three first thing in the morning as the sun rose. And the early morning light is quite nice for all three places.

The best time to visit Angkor is sunset. Sunrise is horrible if you are not into ginormous crowds. Viewing it from the east as the sunsets is actually quite nice and similar in some respects to the sunrise only with no people (everyone is at Phnom Bakong and Pre Rup!) Also, viewing Angkor Wat from the west as the sun sets is one of the most beautiful sites imaginable, as the temple looks golden in the late afternoon light...

Banteay Srei is a tricky one. It's a small site and a small temple that gets some of the hugest crowds. We tried first thing in the morning and it was BUSY. Many of the tours start their day here and work their way down to the other temples. Late afternoon is extremely popular due to the temple taking on a pinkish color in the setting sun's light. Mid afternoon was pretty busy too with buses. I found the nicest time here to be late afternoon due to the light but accept crowds on this one for the most part. Solitude seems like impossibility here and the best you can hope for is less than more people. So go in with realistic expectations!

Ta Som can also be visited in the late afternoon. It's a quick stop for the buses that just direct their tourists to see the strangler fig over a gopura at the far end of the site...so even if you show up and it's crowded you can wait a bit and it will slow down between buses.

Beng Melea is pretty crowded at all times of day EXCEPT 4:30 or so til closing. Then it becomes deserted as all the bus tours head for their sunset spots. This place in the late afternoon/early evening light is just magical so visiting any other time than 4:30 to closing seems pointless in my book, if you have the choice of course and are making your own itinerary.

If you want to truly be alone at Angkor there are several options worth considering. Even with the most recent crowds we managed quite a few solitary temple experiences by visiting some of the minor temples and outlying ones. Here are my best picks to getting your own private viewing of a temple if that's important to you:

--Angkor Thom wall walks. This is a great way to see a part of the park while guaranteeing virtual solitude. Walk along the Angkor Thom walls. You can enter from any of the gates and simple walk along the wall to the next gate. You'll be rewarded with beautiful vistas (including sunsets and sunrises depending upon which direction you take) and a small inevitably empty temple at each corner (the Prasat Chrungs). I particularly like starting at the south gate and walking west or the west gate and walking south. The west gate is really atmospheric since it is covered by jungle in a way the others aren't. The corner temple in the southwest corner is in great shape and one of those Angkor temples no one sees. This also happens to be an amazing sunset spot that so few people bother with (bring a flashlight) and shows the sun setting over the west baray in a stunning way.

--Baphuon, Phimeonakeas and minor Angkor Thom temples: These get less visits (although a fair amount of spill-over traffic) than the Bayon. The temples to the north east (up until a year or so ago they were just known as sites 485-487!) of the Bayon are virtually deserted and well worth a look...

Banteay Kdei: This temple has one of the most striking strangler figs cascading over a wall at the rear of the site. No so heavily visited. One of my all time favorite temples. You are guaranteed solitude early in the day or late in the day and manageable crowds middle of the day.

--Preah Khan: All the romance of Ta Prohm with none of the crowds! This site is huge so it can handle large amounts of people, yet not so heavily visited. Visit earlier in the day (before noon) any you will be rewarded with less people and cooler weather.

--Ta nei: This is a temple hidden in plain sight behind Ta Keo. Due to its location off a muddy dirt road none of the buses stop here. It's one of my favorites.

--Baksei Chamkrong: Another temple hidden in plain sight. Beautiful for it's proportions it proves that great things come in small packages. Visible from the main road that goes from Ankor Wat to the Angkor Thom south gate, the buses slow down but never stop for it. No idea why. It's a veritable gem and very important archeologically. Weird...

--Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok: These are the other mountain temples besides Phnom Bakeng. Phnom Bakeng is overrun by mobs at sunset. Visit in the morning for killer views of Angkor Wat in the distance. Phnom Krom provides stunning views over Tonle Sap and is my hands down favorite sunset spot. Very peaceful and contemplative plus you can drive right up to the top (easy!) Phnom Bok is another under visited (practically never visited) temple that is worth stopping at for it's killer views as well as the Plumeria/frangipani trees that strangle two side-by-side towers. When blooming this is a drop dead gorgeous sight and smell that rivals many of the other wonders of the park. The reason for this temple being so neglected probably has to do with the 600 steps you have to climb to get to it. Grueling in heat and humidity of the rainy season, less so during the dry, it's still worth the hassle.

--Bakong: This pyramid temple at the Rulous group is not so heavily visited and easily combined with a boat ride to some of the floating villages on Tonle Sap. It's quite stunning in my estimation...

--Koh Ker: Worth the extra miles, especially for Prasat Koh Ker, a pyramid temple that is unique and breathtakingly beautiful. You will share the view with some grazing cows. The lack of crowds reminds me of my first visit to Angkor in 2005. Hard to believe when you compare it to the hoards that visit today.

--Banteay Chhmar: This is what Beng Melea was like 5 years ago. We visited a few weeks ago and were the only people there the entire time. They are doing some restoration work but it is simply amazing and worth the 3 hour drive to see a temple so closely intertwined with jungle. Breathtaking!

--Preah Vihear: You may have to share this with some really proud Cambodians since this mountaintop temple on the border with Thailand was recently won back after a decades long fight by Cambodia. It's also important in 20th century Cambodia since it was where Thailand pushed back tons of refugees during the civil war who were forced to fall to their deaths or climb down and navigate a plane of landmines. It’s estimated that more than 40,000 refugees died here. It also became a sort of last stand for the Khmer Rouge when Vietnam invaded (Pol Pots house where he died is nearby and can be visited in the same day trip). Added to that it was also where the us-supported Lon Nol made HIS last stand against the Khmer Rouge in 1974. So it's a pretty important place to Cambodians yet very under visited by tourists. Highly recommended. The views are stunning and the temple itself is the amazing.

Chauy Sey Tavoda and Thommanon: These two temples are pretty heavily visited but normally as a quick pit stop by the buses. Hang out and you'll see the tours ebb and flow allowing you some quiet in between buses.

Banteay Samre: A little further out and not so heavily visited. One of my favorites. It's got a beautiful golden color in the mid to late afternoon light. Well worth the effort and worth seeing!

Kbal Spean: I've had a hit or miss experience with this site. Love the location in the jungle but you can be rewarded after a mile uphill climb with crowds or the opposite. Hard to predict. I like this place in the middle of the day because it is shaded, seem less visited then and is a great place for a swim. The waterfall is small and sitting under it on a hot day is an experience you'll never forget!

In the end the best strategy for visiting the temples is get the idea of the small and large circuit out of your head if you are traveling independently. Prioritize the temples you want to see and plan to see them in the earliest part of the day (6 am to 8 am) or the latest part of the day (4:30 to sunset) while combining with some of the lesser visited places in the middle. And think about trips outside the park to break things up. Banteay Chhmar is totally worth it as is Preah Vihear. Koh Ker can be combined with Beng Melea (start a little later and end the day at Beng Melea when it is deserted.) Also, keep in mind that many of the bus tours from Thailand and Vietnam are weekend getaways for the growing Thai and Vietnamese middle class. These trips typically leave Friday afternoon from Bangkok or Saigon/Hanoi and travel all night to arrive at Angkor Saturday. They stay overnight Saturday in a local hotel and see sunrise Sunday so Saturday and Sunday ate incrementally more crowded as a result. Just something to keep in mind (these are great days for day triple to places like Banteay Chhmar or Preah Vihear.

If you need help arranging an itinerary or getting hooked up with a driver (I've used the same guy on my last three trips and he is kickass!) feel free to message me.

Best wishes for a great trip if you are headed off to Angkor in the future!

Vancouver, Canada
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4. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Wow # 3. That is the most informative post . We are visiting in January ,so i am taking notes. Also i will check out your drivers site. Thanks.

Vancouver, Canada
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5. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Just to let you know,we have been in contact with Mr . Sochet .He responded very quickly and we have arranged for him to be our guide for our stay in Siem reap. Thanks again

Los Angeles...
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6. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Awesome! He's fantastic and you'll really enjoy your time here. Feel free to message me if you have questions about itinerary or anything.

Melbourne...
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7. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

our guide recomended going to the main ones right on lunch time and then some of the ones with less focus at other times. It either seemed to work in our favour or we were very lucky as we hardy saw anyone at Ta Prohm and Bayon - we also did Banteay Srei i the middle of the day as most peeps would either start or finish there. I dont think there would be a good time to try Ankor Wat - there always seemed to be people everywhere!

Sydney, Australia
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8. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Wow, thanks for that detailed report Michael/Jose! That's really helpful. Fortunately we're going on a weekday so hopefully the crowds won't be too bad.

Kurashiki, Japan
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9. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

They are bad every day of the week. The weekend attracts more locals & school excursions. You will not notice the difference between a Tuesday & a Sunday.

Reno, Nevada
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10. Re: Siem Reap ruins - avoiding crowds

Does the time of year make a difference with the crowds? I'd be going in early December. Thanks for the fabulous ideas. I might need to spend more time than I had originally planned.