Cambodia’s mystical temples of Angkor rank among the world’s great sights. The epic remains feature hundreds of intricately-carved temples and shrines spread over a huge 154-square-mile area – the most famous being Angkor Wat.
As Angkor is a destination on most people’s bucket list and ever more people are visiting each year, avoiding the masses is not easy during your visit. To appreciate the breath-taking detail of the temples without jostling for position at every key sight, you’ll need an expert guide in tow – which is where we come in.
Our local expert Andy Booth and his team regularly conduct footfall surveys around the busiest temples to establish where the biggest crowds gather at particular times of day – and then designs his guides to do the opposite. Their systematic approach to crowd avoidance not only means they know what time to go where, but also which viewpoints are less frequented and how to take you through secret entrances to out-of-the-way spots.
So, while hundreds gather at Angkor Wat’s west gate to watch sunrise, you’ll instead enter the back way via the much quieter east entrance to find an equally good perch. While most groups visit Angkor Thom in the morning, you arrive in the afternoon. Most packages stick rigidly to the main routes, too, so be sure to request to visit some of the minor – but equally atmospheric – temples. Here you’re likely to find some solitude and the time to really appreciate your surroundings.
Andy’s advice is simple. “Timing is everything,” he says. “Do as the locals do and rise early, allowing you to see popular sites before the bus groups. Temple crowds are thinner, the air cooler and the light better for photography.”
Sunset at the temples really should be a peaceful highlight. Avoid pushing and shoving to catch a photograph through the crowds who amass atop Phnom Bakheng; instead, try floating atop the ancient moat of Angkor Thom on a leisurely boat ride with a G&T in hand, accompanied by the sound of birdsong.
Rise early and head straight to Ta Prohm and exploring its famous, tree-root wrapped temples in relative seclusion. Once the bus groups begin to arrive, undertake a 15-minute forest walk to little-visited Ta Nei. A peaceful contrast to its better-known neighbours, this temple’s ruins make the perfect setting for a picnic breakfast – and there’s a good chance that you’ll have them all to yourself.
Tonle Sap Tranquility
Templed out? Take a boat trip out on nearby Tonle Sap, the world’s richest freshwater fishing ground, to see its stilted villages. There are package tours galore, but opt for a private experience aboard Ella – a custom made boat moored in the quiet fishing village of Mechrey. Knowledgeable guides will take you to authentic areas where locals outnumber tourists.
Forego that crowded hotel restaurant and have dinner in an intimate countryside restaurant. To get to Villa Chandara, you must journey by boat across an ancient reservoir then walk through unspoiled farming villages. Then settle in for free-flowing drinks and an 11-dish celebratory Khmer menu, as local musicians provide a soothing soundtrack by flickering candlelight.