Cycling Around Angkor Wat Temples

If Angkor Wat is on your Cambodia itinerary, it’s likely you will be using Siem Reap as a landing pad for your trip to the UNESCO Heritage site, and there are a few different ways you can get from Siem Reap to the Angkor temples. On our first day in the area, we hired a guide to trail around after us as we explored Angkor Thom and The Bayon, but on our second day we hired bikes to see Angkor Wat for ourselves.

Exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat by bike

Monk at Angkor Wat

 

Architecture at Angkor Wat

Getting to Angkor Wat

We rented bikes for $2 near our hostel in Siem Reap and set off unaccompanied. It was the first time that I had rode a bike since I was about eight years old. Weaving jerkily through a mess of wagons, trucks and motos was a stressful start to our 5.5 km journey from the streets of Siem Reap; but we soon left the town behind for the long, smooth stretch of open road that took us to the religious site.

A bus load of Cambodian schoolgirls in polo shirts pulled up next to us in traffic and they all pointed and laughed at our huge white cleavages. Clearly they weren’t used to Western female figures.

Parking our bikes opposite the majestic Angkor Wat and dodging the aggressive vendors peddling water and ice cream, we approached the magnificent site. Amid the gaggle of sweaty tourists, a young couple dressed in lilac silk stood out. I guess they were Cambodian royalty because they were flanked by security and shaded from the glaring sun by umbrellas.

renting bikes for angkor wat

We weren’t quite so elegant.

Being silly at Angkor Wat

Why should the Angkor Wat temples be on your bucket list?

The stone structures that shape Angkor Wat contrast vividly with the blue sky and lush Cambodian greenery to present an iconic image that attracts backpackers from all over the world. The formations are all that remains of the Khmer Empire, which encompassed much of South-east Asia between the 9th and 14th Centuries and played a formative role in the political and cultural development of the region.

Angkor is a major site in Cambodian national history exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, as well as containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic significance. A breathtaking display of both artistic creativity and spiritual devotion, Ankor Wat should be on every traveller’s Bucket List – somewhere between getting a Diana pic at the Taj Mahal and taking shrooms in Thailand.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap bicycle tour

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia and it has thus been preserved as much as possible without compromising its authenticity. Angkor Archaeological Park is spread over 400 square kilometers and exemplifies two basic themes in Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later ‘galleried temple’, in a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

Biking to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap

Wanderers will love the fact that visitors to the Cambodian temples are free to roam around the grounds and essentially discover Angkor Wat for themselves.

the colours of angkor wat

It’s not uncommon to be confronted with a wash of bright colours when you turn a corner inside the galleries. Within many of the structures are statues that locals have dressed and tourists will bump into people touting incense who will tie a thread bracelet around your wrist for a few Riel. Rip off? Nah. It’s all part of the experience. Burning incense creates a heady scent that permeates the already stifling air and makes you feel almost spiritual.

what is inside angkor wat?

I was surprised at how devoid Angkor Wat is of red tape, even though officials are taking steps to conserve the historic site. You can even scamper up the stones to get a different view – although be warned that some of the climbs are seriously steep!

Exploring Angkor Wat

Some of the stone carvings at Angkor Wat are very similar to those we saw the day before at The Bayon.

beautiful stone carvings at angkor wat

Shame about the bins.

doorways at angkor wat

In addition to the other animals that grazed on the grass, wild monkeys tormented tourists around Angkor Wat, and we were careful not to get too close. I didn’t feel like getting a Rabies shot in Cambodia.

animals at angkor wat

This image doesn’t even begin to capture Angkor Wat’s size. The architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to a high level of social order and ranking within the Khmer Empire.

The view from top of Angkor Wat temple

Using the toilets at Angkor Wat was an experience in itself. It was the first squat toilet we had encountered since that Doctors surgery at the Full Moon Party when Tom got third degree burns during fire limbo. While we queued, we spied on some young monks hanging out their orange robes to dry in the sun.

A young monk at Ankor Wat

Just think – for centuries Angkor Wat was the beating heart of the Khmer Kingdom. One can only attempt to envision what life was like around Angkor Wat when it was first constructed, and visiting the temples made me wish I had a time machine.

The best way to see angkor wat

The guide books say that the best time to visit the immense Angkor Wat is at sunrise, but if you’re fond of losing your shoes after a night of partying with other backpackers (like me), the afternoon is still a great time to see the temples.

Find accommodation for your Angkor Wat experience

Plan your Cambodia adventure with the Lonely Planet guide 

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41 Comments

  1. March 11, 2015 / 2:47 pm

    Ahh those temples are too cool! Also, I wonder if that slot on the horses back was for the addition of a cloth tail to the statue. That, or the artists attempt at anatomical correction.

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 11, 2015 / 3:33 pm

      Haha, I didn’t even notice that!

  2. March 11, 2015 / 5:11 pm

    Angkor Wat is pretty darn amazing…at all times of the day…love this post!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:45 am

      Thank you Corinne!

  3. March 11, 2015 / 7:37 pm

    I can’t even imagine how cool and amazing Angkor Wat is. I haven’t been but its on my list! “Ankor Wat should be on every traveller’s Bucket List – somewhere between getting a Diana pic at the Taj Mahal and taking shrooms.” – fab line!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:44 am

      Thanks Samantha 🙂

  4. March 11, 2015 / 9:38 pm

    Very nice pics! Love the candid shot of the young monk drying out his robes.

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:44 am

      Thanks! It’s one of my favourite shots, even if I did feel like a massive sneak for taking it!

  5. March 12, 2015 / 1:18 am

    After watching a documentary on the civilization that built the complex, and fully comprehending the scale, I think cycling around the place is a fantastic idea – really helps you appreciate the size of the project.

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:44 am

      Ooh I’d love to watch something to learn more, can you remember what it’s called?

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:42 am

      Thank you Eden for your lovely comment!

  6. March 12, 2015 / 10:39 pm

    Just looking at your pictures make me wish I had a time machine too! Every time I read about Angkor Wat, I’m still surprised by how huge it is. Definitely on my travel bucket list!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:43 am

      It really is an incredible architectural masterpiece Jessica. Love your blog!

  7. March 13, 2015 / 11:39 am

    Haven’t been there yet, but definitely on my list. This place is so beautiful 🙂

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 13, 2015 / 11:43 am

      It’s even more stunning in real life!

  8. Ale
    March 13, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    so beautiful!! I love riding a bike and go discovering new countries!!

  9. March 14, 2015 / 3:37 pm

    Amazing, literally one of the things we are most looking forward to when we set off backpacking next year. I had never heard of cycling around here before but to be honest it looks like you can see so much more but still at your own pace, will be an option we will look into. Brilliant photos!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:42 am

      You definitely should, it’s nice when you’re travelling to feel like you’re in control of where you’re going for once too – I certainly miss that when I’m in a tuk tuk!

  10. March 14, 2015 / 5:45 pm

    We’re definitely going to cycle when we get to Cambodia!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:41 am

      It’s such a cheap, easy way to get around!

  11. Andrea
    March 14, 2015 / 6:50 pm

    Only $2 what a steal! I have yet to rent a bicycle, but need to put the pedal to the metal! Aha liked the comment about not being quite as elegant 😉

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:41 am

      Thanks Andrea, I was really apprehensive considering I hadn’t cycled for so long but I’m really glad I did it now!

  12. March 15, 2015 / 4:02 am

    Fun post and it looks like you had a fantastic time. Great photos and I loved all the special details; my favorite being the toilet and rabies shot. LOL

  13. March 15, 2015 / 11:57 am

    Wow Cmbodia looks amazing! Very nice pictures you have taken, I wll put it in my bucket list!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:40 am

      Yay!

  14. March 15, 2015 / 3:07 pm

    Hats off to you for being so energetic! Bet it was good to be able to visit at your own pace. We wouldn’t have survived cycling when we went, it was so hot we were sweating buckets (nice) and had hired a tuk tuk to trundle us around…after each temple we would leap back into the cab and will the driver to go faster to get up a bit of a breeze. Unfortunately we had the slowest and safest driver in town 🙂

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:40 am

      It was seriously hot when I was there Heather but I figured cycling was a good way to get a tan – so vain haha! Wish I could say the same about the drivers I had in Cambodia – they were all crazy!

  15. Elena
    March 15, 2015 / 8:59 pm

    Cycling around Angkor Wat must be the best way to explore the temples and see everything…or almost everything. great photos

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:39 am

      Thanks Elena!

  16. March 16, 2015 / 2:17 am

    Loved this post! I visited in 2011 with my brother and best friend, we had an amazing experience. Angkor Wat is beautiful any time of day and what history! I enjoyed remembering our once in a lifetime experience through yours. Thanks for sharing.

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 16, 2015 / 8:39 am

      I’m thinking of going travelling with my brother, how did you find it?

  17. March 16, 2015 / 2:22 pm

    I loved Angkor Wat and I loved riding out my little cruiser to get there! We rode our bikes out there later in the day so when we were on our way back it wasn’t so sunny + hot.

  18. March 16, 2015 / 2:49 pm

    We also spent a couple of days biking around this amazing historical landmark. Angkor Wat is fantastic, and riding a bike around is the best way to get away from the most visited temples and spend some intimate moments in the less frequented ones. Nice pictures!

  19. March 17, 2015 / 10:14 am

    Beautiful place. Shame I havent really seen much of this side of the world. I will try and change that soon though. Need to update my passport as I have run out of pages so under that is done I can get my arse anywhere.

  20. March 17, 2015 / 10:15 am

    The day I first went to Angkor Wat was a very, very special day for me. I applaud you for riding a bike over there. With the sweltering summer heat and predatory macaques, I opted for a comfy tuk tuk ride. Angkor Wat and the rest of the ruins are just amazing. I loved Siem Reap, loved Cambodia. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

    P.S. Love the booty shot with the statue! I do the same kinda stuff when the silly moment presents itself. 😉

  21. March 17, 2015 / 10:15 am

    Beautiful place. Shame I havent really seen much of this side of the world. I will try and change that soon though. Need to update my passport as I have run out of pages so under that is done I can get my arse anywhere..

  22. March 17, 2015 / 12:26 pm

    As much as it’s said that most places like Angkor Wat get ruined because of mass tourism, it does not seem like it from your pictures. Would you agree?

  23. March 23, 2015 / 9:12 pm

    Angkor Watt is so beautiful, it is highly on my bucket list and hope to visit it this year!

    • Dannielle Lily
      March 30, 2015 / 12:51 pm

      I hope you get to go Andreja!

  24. June 3, 2015 / 4:23 pm

    Angkor Wat is breathtaking!! Haha I love how those pictures are too un-blogger-ish! :))

    Anyway you set out unaccompanied? Does this mean there are options for guided bike tours? Oh please tell me there are! I’d love to be on one!