Visiting The Temples at Angkor in Cambodia on a 2-day Tour with a Private Air-Conditioned Car and Guide

Giant face at Bayon Temple in Angkor near Siem Reap Cambodia
Angkor Wat and the other thousand year old temples built by the great Khmer civilization are collectively one of the wonders of the world. Siem Reap, Cambodia is the jumping off point for a visit to the temples at Angkor but it's still at least a 30 minute drive from the center of town to the closest temples. Many people choose to take a tuk tuk from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. We chose to hire a private guide and driver to take us to Angkor Archeological Park in air-conditioned comfort. Read on to learn more about our two day tour of the temples in and around Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Why Hire a Car and Driver at Angkor Instead of A Tuk Tuk?

Why not just hire a tuk tuk to visit the temples at Angkor? It's certainly a cheaper option for visiting the sights around Siem Reap. There are a number of reasons that a private car and guide makes sense. Read on for the rationale behind our splurge. 

There's Air-Conditioning

Guide and driver for our tour of the temples at Angkor in Cambodia
We visited Cambodia in April and frankly, it's freakin' hot in and around Siem Reap at that time of year. Temperatures topped out at about 100 °F (40 °C). Living in Ireland, we aren't built for the heat and decided that riding around in air-conditioned comfort was worth the extra cost for our comfort and safety (there is a real risk of dehydration when visiting the temples where shade is limited and it's hard to escape the heat).

Know Where to Go for Tickets

The temple complex at Angkor is very popular with tourists. Our guide, Pal, took us to the exact right line we needed to be in to queue for tickets to the temple complex. We bought a 3-day pass (yes, we only visited for 2 days, but the 3-day pass is cheaper than two single day tickets). We definitely saved time because we didn't have to scratch our heads to figure out where to go at the ticket booth.

Learn the History of the Angkor Temples and Khmer Civilization

Art panels at Angkor Wat
I believe that we got more out of our visit to Angkor by hiring a private guide to accompany our driver. Drivers in Cambodia generally don't speak English. If you want someone to accompany you around to the temples to explain what you're seeing and the history of the place, a private guide is a must. Pal spent a lot of time telling us about the Hindu stories captured in the extensive artwork around Angkor Wat. The stories revolved around the perpetual struggle of gods versus demons and the churning of the oceans that led to the emergence of various characters.
Art panels at Angkor Wat
Art panels at Angkor Wat

Cold Towels and Water

By hiring an air-conditioned car, we also had large quantities of bottled water included in our tour. Cold water and a cold towel greeted us after each stop in the temple complex.

Find the Best Spot for Photos

Angkor Wat at sunrise

By hiring a private guide to visit Angkor Wat, we also ensured that we'd position ourselves in the best spot for photos. We decided to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and Pal knew exactly where we should stand and what time we should be there.

Avoid the Crowds

Crowds at Angkor Wat at sunrise
Our guide, Pal, also really helped us avoid the crowds. The photo above shows where most of the people were standing to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. The area we were standing in was just as picturesque and much less crowded. I didn't have to run the gauntlet of selfie poles to get my shots! Our guide also knew which order to take us through the temples to avoid the busloads of Chinese and Korean tourists that tend to descend on these wonders of Cambodia.

**There's Air-Conditioning**!

I can't emphasize this enough. By hiring a private car and guide, you get an air-conditioned respite between temples. This in itself was worth it for us. We saw a few sick-looking people who might have had heat exhaustion from walking around the temple complex.

Read on to learn more about the wonders that we saw while exploring the temples at Angkor in Cambodia with our private Lexus and driver. 

Day 1 - The Temples Around Angkor Thom

Exploring the Royal City of Angkor Thom

Gods lining the entrance to Angkor Thom City in Cambodia
We started our visit to the temples at Angkor Thom, the royal city of the Khmer civilization in Cambodia. The approach to Angkor Thom is lined on one side with gods and the other side with demons.
Demons lining the entrance to Angkor Thom City in Cambodia

Bayon - The Temple with the Faces

Face at Bayon Temple near Siem Reap Cambodia
Dozens of faces carved in stone stared down at us at Bayon Temple. Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II, archeologists suspect that at least some of the faces were done in his likeness.
Faces of Bayon Temple at Angkor in Cambodia

Ta Prohm - The Temple from Tomb Raider

Tree embedded in the temple at Ta Prohm in Cambodia
Our next stop was Ta Prohm. Also known as the "Tomb Raider Temple", Ta Prohm features impressive trees that have embedded themselves in the temple ruins. Ta Prohm feels very much like the setting of an Indiana Jones movie.

Angkor Wat - The Temple with the Towers

Towers at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat is Cambodia's most iconic Khmer temple. We visited in the late afternoon and entered through the back entrance so we could make the most of the light at this time of day.
Towers at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat temple  near Siem Reap in Cambodia
Buddhist monks and Buddha statues adorned in gold added a pop of color to the second level of the temple.
Buddhist monks and statues in Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat also features ornately carved portraits of 12th century women; about 2000 in total! The devata statues seem to add an element of mystery and elegance to the temple.
12th century woman carved into the temple wall at Angkor Wat
We did a lot of walking in the humid heat under the beating sun so called it a day after seeing these three impressive temples.

Day 2 - Sunrise Over Angkor Wat and a Drive Further Afield

Experience Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
We decided to start our second day with a 5 am pick-up so that we could catch sunrise over Angkor Wat. Note that many tour companies charge extra "hazard pay" (~$25) for the early start so make sure you're aware of any hidden costs before departing. We watched a perfect sunrise over Angkor Wat and then watched the clouds dance over the temple complex. It was truly one of the most amazing things that I've seen in my life to date.
puffy white clouds just after sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Climbing Bakan at Angkor Wat

Stairs leading up to Bakan at Angkor Wat
The advantage of visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise is that you can get a good spot in the queue when Bakan opens. Bakan is the third level of Angkor Wat and is a place of active worship by Buddhist monks. At select times of day, tourists can ascend an incredibly steep staircase (70 degree incline!) and stroll around the temple for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Bakan at Angkor Wat

Pre Rip - The Temple with the Bricks

Pre Rip temple at Angkor in Cambodia
After visiting Angkor Wat, we continued on to Pre Rip, one of the older temples at Angkor and made with a different style of masonry. We enjoyed watching the sun dance over the golden bricks.

Eastern Mebon - The Temple with the Elephants

Elephant sculpture at Eastern Mebon temple near Angkor in Cambodia
Next up was Eastern Mebon, the temple with the elephants. Each corner of the temple was adorned with a large and impressive elephant. We learned that each elephant was carved in place making them even more impressive.

Neak Pean - The Temple with the Reservoir and Hospital

Neak Pean Temple itself (once a Khmer hospital) was quite modest but the setting blew me away. 
Neak Pean temple and former hospital in Cambodia
Situated on an ancient reservoir, we walked across a wooden bridge through water. Dead trees from the constant ebb and flow of the water added a unique ambiance.
Dead tree in the reservoir at Neak Pean in Cambodia
I even spotted a hawk on one of the trees, my first major bird sighting in Cambodia. So bad ass.
Eagle at Neak Pean in Cambodia

Preah Khan - The Temple with the Trees and Doors

Tree growing from Preah Khan temple in Cambodia
Preah Khan reminded me a bit of Ta Prohm because of the trees emerging from the temple ruins.
Tree growing from Preah Khan temple in Cambodia
We walked through doorway after doorway in a scene that really did feel like something out of Indiana Jones.
Door frames at Preah Khan temple in Cambodia

Banteay Srei - The Temple with the Yellow and Pink Stone

Ornate decoration at Banteay Srei temple in Angkor Cambodia
Banteay Srei is one of the oldest temples in the Angkor temple complex and was built with yellow and pink stone. The stone itself allowed for intricately carved decorations all around the temple. This Khmer temple is tiny but so impressive.
Banteay Srei temple in Angkor Cambodia

Banteay Samré - Bridging Designs

Banteay Samré temple near Siem Reap Cambodia
Our last stop was Banteay Samré, also one of the older temples at Angkor. Banteay Samré bridges the styles that we saw at Banteay Srei (the pink and yellow stone) but features curved towers and pillars in the window frames that foreshadow the architecture at Angkor Wat.
Window and columns at Banteay Samré temple near Siem Reap Cambodia
We are so glad that we hired a private air-conditioned car and driver to take us around to the temples at Angkor near Siem Reap, Cambodia. We made all the arrangements through our hotel (Memoire d'Angkor). At the time of writing, the car, driver, and private guide cost less than $200 USD in total for 2 days. Hiring a tuk tuk for the day to take you to the temples is definitely cheaper, but for us, the splurge was worth it as a tactic to deal with the heat and get more insight into the temples we were seeing.

Have you visited Siem Reap? How did you choose to explore the temples at Angkor Wat? Leave a comment below and let us know about your trip.

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Sidewalk Safari: Visiting The Temples at Angkor in Cambodia on a 2-day Tour with a Private Air-Conditioned Car and Guide
Visiting The Temples at Angkor in Cambodia on a 2-day Tour with a Private Air-Conditioned Car and Guide
Experience the Temples at Angkor near Siem Reap Cambodia via a private car and driver. A photo-rich post by travel blogger, Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari.
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Sidewalk Safari
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