Visitor Code of Conduct
While the temples of Angkor are not a million miles away from the beaches of Sihanoukville, it is important to remember that the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people. Since the relocation of the ticket booth in 2016, the authorities have begun cracking down on inappropriate dress at the temples. Expect to be sent back to your guesthouse to change if you are wearing sleeveless tops, hot pants or short skirts. Local authorities have recently released visitor 'code of conduct' guidelines and a video to encourage dressing appropriately, as well as reminding tourists not to touch or sit on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.
Visitors have the choice of a one-day pass (US$37), a three-day pass (US$62) or a one-week pass (US$72). The three-day passes can be used over three non-consecutive days in a one-week period while one-week passes can be used on seven days over a month.
In 2016, the Angkor ticket booth & main entrance moved to a new location out by the Siem Reap Convention Centre, about 2km east of the old checkpoint. It's part of a gleaming new complex that also includes the ambitious Angkor Panorama Museum. Tickets are not sold at the old ticket checkpoint.
Passes include a digital photo snapped at the entrance booth, so queues can be slow at peak times. Visitors entering after 5pm get a free sunset, as the ticket starts from the following day. The fee includes access to all the monuments in the Siem Reap area but not the sacred mountain of Phnom Kulen (US$20) or the remote complexes of Beng Mealea (US$5) and Koh Ker (US$10).
All the major temples now have uniformed staff to check the tickets, which has reduced the opportunity for scams. These days all roads into the central temples (including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm) have checkpoints as well; foreigners who can't produce a pass will be turned away and asked to detour around the temples between 7am and 5pm. Visitors found inside any of the main temples without a ticket will be fined a whopping US$100.
Dodging the Crowds
Angkor is well and truly on the tourist trail and it is only getting busier, with over two million visitors annually, but – with a little planning – it is still possible to escape the crowds. One important thing to remember, particularly when it comes to sunrise and sunset, is that places are popular for a reason, and it is worth going with the flow at least once.
It is received wisdom that as Angkor Wat faces west, one should be there for late afternoon, and in the case of the Bayon, which faces east, in the morning. Ta Prohm, most people seem to agree, can be visited in the middle of the day because of its umbrella of foliage. This is all well and good, but if you reverse the order, the temples will still look good – and you can avoid some of the crowds.
Only four temples are open at 5am for sunrise: Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Sra Srang and Pre Rup. The most popular place is Angkor Wat. Most tour groups head back to town for breakfast, so stick around and explore the temple while it’s cool and quiet between 7am and 9am. Sra Srang is usually pretty quiet, and sunrise here can be spectacular thanks to reflections in the extensive waters. Phnom Bakheng could be an attractive option, because the sun comes up behind Angkor Wat and you are far from the madding crowd that gathers here at sunset, but there are now strict limitations on visitor numbers each day.
The hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng is the definitive sunset spot. This was getting well out of control, with as many as 1000 tourists clambering around the small structure. However, new restrictions limit visitors to no more than 300 at any one time. It is generally better to check it out for sunrise or early morning and miss the crowds. Staying within the confines of Angkor Wat for sunset is a rewarding option, but it is quite busy at this time. Pre Rup is popular with some for an authentic rural sunset over the countryside, but this is also crowded these days. Better is the hilltop temple of Phnom Krom, which offers commanding views across Tonlé Sap lake, but involves a long drive back to town in the dark. The Western Baray takes in the sunset from the eastern end, across its vast waters, or from Western Mebon island, and is generally a quiet option.
When it comes to the most popular temples, the middle of the day is generally the quietest time. This is because the majority of the large tour groups head back to Siem Reap for lunch. It is also the hottest part of the day, which makes it tough going around relatively open temples such as Banteay Srei and the Bayon, but fine at well-covered temples such as Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Beng Mealea, or even the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat. The busiest times at Angkor Wat are from 6am to 7am and 3pm to 5pm; at the Bayon, from 8am to 10am; and at Banteay Srei, mid-morning and mid-afternoon. However, at other popular temples, such as Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, the crowds are harder to predict, and at most other temples in the Angkor region it’s just a case of pot luck. If you pull up outside and see a car park full of tour buses, you may want to move on to somewhere quieter. The wonderful thing about Angkor is that there is always another temple to explore.