When we selected places to go on our round-the-world trip, we immediately put Angkor Wat on the list. We slotted in a two-week stay in the nearby town of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Turns out over 2 million other foreign visitors did the same last year. We travelers are all faced with the challenge of visiting great places that draw huge numbers of tourists who obscure one’s view. Rule 1 for visiting a major site: avoid the crowds.
We biked to Angkor Wat our first day. Our hotel loaned the bicycles to us. The western side of Angkor Wat is the main entrance, so we biked to the eastern side. No one was there except a couple of gate guards and a few locals hoping to make sales near the gate. Monkeys played by the roadside.
One day we visited two of the earlier structures to get some perspective on the construction that took place over a 500 year period. We started with Baksei Chamrong, completed before 968 AD, and Phnom Bakheng, built at the end of the 9th century. We saw only a handful of other tourists.
We knew the south gate at Angkor Thom was one-way and at times is clogged with traffic. We studied the map and asked our tuk tuk driver, Leo, if it was possible to enter through the west gate. Yes, indeed! We took truly back country roads saw very few people. The tuk tuk turned onto a rough dirt road that had been badly damaged in a flood a few years ago. We clutched the sides of the tuk tuk as we jostled along. Finally Leo pointed up and stopped. We looked and saw the face over the west entrance to Angkor Thom.
Leo drove us on to West Prasat Top, which is under restoration. We had seen no one else for the last half hour. One of our best memories will be seeing the ruins by ourselves, in that quiet afternoon.
“Lessons for visiting major tourist sites” is a 3-post series. This is the 1st post.