Renting a Bike and cycling around Angkor/ Angkor Wat – Was it worth sacrificing our bums, potential safety and at times sanity for the money we saved on a Tuk tuk or tour… The short answer was Hell Yes! But be prepared for a very hard but still incredible day!
(Because no one has ever made this joke before…)
Possibly the most famous and recognisable religious monuments in South East Asia, Angkor Wat is an incredible temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple during the Khmer empire it was slowly transformed into a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th Century. This monumental artefact measures 162.6 hectares! However, Angkor Wat is only one of many temples and places of religious significance in Angkor (Originally known as Khmer) the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which at one time, was populated by approximately 0.1% of the global population. Satellite imaging has since shown the city to be at least 1000 square kilometres. Angkor was abandoned in the early 15th century AD during a rebellion. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site (since 1992) and today is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.
With this knowledge, we decided it would be a great idea to reject all forms of horse powered transport and use good old brute strength (great idea I know). At the time it made perfect sense to us, rent a bike for $1-2 dollars a day or pay $10-15 dollars for a tuk tuk driver or even more for a tour. With the already hefty price of the ticket into Angkor ($37 for 1 day , $62 for 3 days , $72 for 7 days, free for Cambodians – lucky you!) we really couldn’t afford to do anything else.
RENTING THE BIKES
We rented our bikes from Cam Smile Visa Service, Taphul Rd, Siem Reap, but bike shops are literally everywhere in Siem Reap so you will have no problem finding one! We are pretty terrible hagglers, but Cambodians seem to be as well. The owner quoted us $3 each per day for 2 bikes , we told him we wanted them for $2 a day and he just said OK. Simple as that !
We hired 2 bikes for 2 days for a total of $4 which included a lock. The bikes had gears (if easy and slightly less easy to peddle count as gears?), a headlight and ‘reflectors’ which turned out to be so old/dusty they reflected absolutely nothing. Our bikes also had baskets, but we were warned not to put anything in there as it is easy pickings for scooter thieves. Pleased with our purchase we went on our way!
BUYING OUR TICKETS
If we could only afford $1 a day bikes you better believe we could only afford the 1 day pass! But if you buy your tickets after 5:00pm the day before, you will be allowed entry into Angkor for the remainder of that evening (most temples close at around 5:30pm)
So we headed off to the Ticket office – Note – The ticket office has now moved from the old location to a new rather inconvenient location about a 15 minute ride away from the park. The map is below for your viewing pleasure!
The journey was very straightforward, it’s basically one long flat road out of Siem Reap, a right and another long flat road to take you to the ticket office, it took about 15 minutes from our hostel (I’ve put in a map below). The bikes thankfully stayed intact (we had been dubious about their structural integrity , especially as Josh is 6’6 and weighs over 100Kg, we doubted many Cambodians have reached such a mass). We learned very quickly that the technique to driving on the road is confidence in the Cambodian drivers. They come very close and drive pretty quick but at the end of the day, they’ve been driving this way their whole lives, they know more than you and its them that should be worried about your jittery, uneasy driving than the other way around. As long as you aren’t wreckless during junction crossing or changing lanes, they will tend to move around you rather than you around them. It’s the other tourists on scooters that you need to be wary of, just make sure you give them enough room.
We got to the office about 4:45pm but we were still able to buy tickets for the following day. We wanted to watch the Sunset and we had read the best place to do this was Phnom Bakheng. We had about 45 minutes to get there, loads of time we thought…
SEEING THE SUNSET
From the ticket office to the main entrance of Angkor it took us about another 15/20 minute very fast ride. We were stopped at a check point just before the entrance and showed our tickets. Fantastic, we thought, we would have loads of time! But the map doesn’t do justice to how big this place actually is! It took us about another 15 minutes to get Phnom Bakheng, we ditched our bikes and again showed our tickets at the entrance to the temple. (You will have to show your ticket at almost every temple you intend to go to so don’t think you won’t need them after initial entry and DO NOT LOSE THEM!)
After dumping our bikes we power-walked (running was out of the question, it was 28 degrees about a 80% humidity and our legs were jelly from the ride) the 10 minutes up the hill to the temple. We were egged on by the various guards along the way shouting ‘hurry hurry!.. 5 minutes left.. you’ll miss it.’ we made it just as the sun set, not the most spectacular but it was enough for us. It was beautiful.
It has become apparent, however, that this was going to be much more of an effort than we first thought, the sun was not its most powerful self and we already looked like we’d showered in sweat and we were exhausted.
The next hurdle was biking back in the darkness. Most of the streets home were lit, albeit not well. But some stretches were pitch black, our reflectors hardly worked and our lights were run off the rotation of the wheel, so took a long time to light up enough to make any real difference. Luckily we had preempted this and brought our own torches. So if you are thinking of biking too, definitely do this if you have one! If not, try to use the light of your phone, but again this is risky as it’s an easy target for thieves.
It took us about 30 minutes to bike back to our hostel and we left our bikes at the entrance for the night.
Waiting for the Sunset
THE TWO ROUTES
There are 2 routes around the site, the long one and the short one. The long one is about 26km and the short is about 17km. We chose the short circuit as we only bought the one day ticket and we aren’t tour de france athletes.. This routes takes in all the major temples including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm along with a lot more. More than enough for us! if you click here, you can see a map 🙂
SUNRISE OVER ANGKOR WAT
You absolutely cannot go to Angkor Was without seeing it during the sunrise. So we got up at the ungodly hour of 3:45am, rode our bike on the delightfully empty route to the entrance and arrived just before open at 5:00am, we parked up our bikes and made our way over the bridge that joins the main park to the water-locked Angkor Wat. We got our spot on the left hand side of the temple behind the left lake, far enough to the left to see the 5 towers. Then we waited…we were bombarded with cafe workers offering us coffee or breakfast, all with wild and wonderful codenames they had given themselves. “Ladyyyyyy..” they would shout in that tone of voice you will become so familiar with.. “want some coffeeee?.. you come to my place its number 5 my name is Spiderboy remember!” we didn’t mind, they were always pleasant and there names became more and more inventive as the morning drew on. The sunrise was unfortunately covered by cloud, but amazing non the less. We stated for about an hour and a half until the sun was fully up, as the morning went on the temple became more and more crowded with tourist, tour groups and those paying their respects. We ate the breakfast we had brought with us and left to make our way round the smaller circuit.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat
THE SMALLER ROUTE
We had read that most tour groups go in the direction of Phnom Bakheny and work clockwise around the site. So we decided to go the opposite way, it was a good decision. After a much longer ride than expected to Banteay Kdai ( about 25 minutes! ) we were met with a near empty temple, this continued until we inevitably met the barrage of tour groups coming the other way but we were happy with our morning spent exploring in relative peace. It’s amazing how much of the ruins you are still allowed to explore !
However, by mid morning, we had already gone through the 4.5L of water we had brought and eaten most of the food we had packed. Our arses were also experiencing a pain we wish on no one! Even though the road is flat and with a good surface, the seats are not comfortable and hours of riding really takes its toll. We grew weary, became short with each other and the midday sun was showing all her might.
We took shelter inside the Terrance of the elephants and assessed our situation, what we thought was a good idea at the time, now, covered in sweat, dehydrated and in bad temper was seeming a lot less so. We reminded ourselves that we will probably never experience this place again in our lives, all we needed was to buy more water, stay in a shaded area for a while and stop acting so ungrateful! We rallied and spend the rest of the day, albeit at a much slower pace, with far more breaks, visiting the rest of the temples.
We left around 4:30pm, 12 hours after we had arrived.
We rode all the way back, at this point, we could no longer feel our legs or arses… but at least the breeze was nice though. We got back to our hostel, dropped off our bikes and headed straight for a shower. Exhausted but totally glad we did it !
And that was our day riding bikes around Angkor. Not the wisest decisions we’ve ever made but definitely an adventure and but totally worth the dead arse we had the rest of the evening!
OUR TOP TIPS
Take as much water as you can possibly carry. It will be hot, you will sweat, you will get dehydrated. Drink as much and as often as possible!
Bring snacks to munch on through out the day, not chocolate though , it will be liquid before the sun has even risen. This will give you the energy you need! There are an abundance of restaurants for lunch/breakfast but sugary snacks will always help will you energy
Expect a dead bum and jelly legs, if you know its coming…it won’t help but at least you’ll its inevitable
You will need to wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees and wear comfortable good grip shoes, the ‘stairs’ to the temples are more like ladders and you really don’t want to be scaling these in flip-flops
SUNCREAM! Even if its cloudy, you can still feel the sun’s heat so lathering up is essential!!
Find shade and take it slow! Yes, there is a lot to do but powering through will only exhaust you quicker and you will end up seeing less, plus alway keep in mind your 6km journey back to Siem Reap! You need enough energy at the end of the day to make it back without becoming food for the monkeys at the side of the road.
We Hope this helps if you are thinking of renting bikes or to just get a general idea of what to do at Angkor