Another of our favorite things about travel in Southeast Asia is the variety of transportation options available. Cities such as Bangkok have unique and interesting methods of getting around town that are not only enjoyable but are also often the most efficient ways to move from attraction to attraction; in fact, our Bangkok Multi-transport, which utilizes canal boat, tuk tuk, and sky train is one of our most exciting and popular adventures!
While there are no electric monorails in Cambodia, it’s possible that Thailand’s developing neighbor might actually offer a greater number of transportation experiences: Batdambang has the ‘bamboo train,’ rural home-stays frequently employ ox carts for visiting nearby attractions, and there are some luxury river boats that allow you to travel the Mekong River in style (stay tuned for an upcoming blog specifically featuring these!). All that said, the greatest variety of transportation you can experience in a single day is available for those exploring the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park, just outside Siem Reap.
Getting into the park:
While it is possible to hire a car or minivan to escort you the 5km from Siem Reap to Angkor, this commonplace option is only advisable in the height of the ‘hot season,’ when air-conditioning can provide some much-needed shelter, or for groups traveling with the elderly family or friends.
The most popular option is to visit the park by tuk tuk. Unlike tuk tuks in Thailand, the Cambodian tuk tuk isn’t a single vehicle but rather a small motorbike that pulls a covered carriage. The carriages seat four quite comfortably and have rooftops high enough to allow all passengers to easily see the sights while touring the park. Cambodian tuk tuks even feature roll-down plastic walls to enclose the carriage and protect riders from dust or rain!
Riding a bicycle into the park is also an excellent option. While the main temples, such as Angkor Wat, are a mere 5-10 km north of Siem Reap, Angkor features hundreds of temples within an area of roughly 1,000 square kilometers! Even if you are going for a leisurely tour around the centralized temples and you are fit enough to spend your entire day peddling around, a higher quality mountain bike will make your ride much easier and more enjoyable. A sturdy bike will also allow you to explore some of the more interesting areas of the park. Ta Nei temple, which is centrally located but down a seasonally sandy/muddy path, is inaccessible by car or tuk tuk. More adventurous riders will enjoy a ride along the top of the Angkor Thom enclosure wall. Both are great ways to avoid the crowds and enjoy the natural environment of the park.
When western missionaries and adventurers first discovered the temples of Angkor, the best way to travel was by elephant. Thanks to Compagnie des Elephants d’Angkor, it’s still possible to experience the thrill of ‘exploring’ the temples in such a manner, provided you give way to the tuk tuks and tour busses! After lumbering across the causeway leading into Angkor Thom, you will pass through an 800 year-old city gate that was not only built large enough for real elephants to pass, but also features larger than life sandstone elephants pulling up lotus flowers with their trunks! While half the elephants work the morning shift from the South Gate to Bayon temple, the other half work the evening shift, ferrying guests up to the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng: arguably the more enjoyable ride.
Those who have biked into the park and need a break upon arrival at Angkor Thom’s South Gate have a couple of other alternatives for exploring the sights in the old city, including electric car. Similar to those you might find at a western amusement park, these electric cars can seat up to 10 passengers; available by the hour, the cars travel quite noiselessly from temple to temple inside Angkor Thom, offering an eco-friendly way to rest your legs and enjoy some leisurely sightseeing.
Also available at the South Gate is a collection of boats that navigate the moat around the fortified city. Angkor Gondola offers a variety of Khmer-style boats that ferry small groups upon the city moat to the infrequently visited West Gate. If this peaceful and romantic ride along the forest-fringed waterway wasn’t enough, Angkor Gondola also leads guests on a short walk atop the city enclosure wall to one of the isolated Corner Shrines for sunset champagne overlooking the moat and forest.
Haven’t had enough adventure for one day? A quick must-ride mode of ‘transportation’ is available from Angkor Balloon. This large hot-air balloon is tethered to the ground just west of Angkor Wat so you don’t travel anywhere but up, but the short, spectacular ride provides an outstanding birds-eye view of Cambodia’s most famous temple, as well as nearby Phnom Bakheng.
Finally, those looking for the ultimate aerial adventure can opt for a helicopter or microlight tour of the temples. Although prohibited from flying directly over Cambodia’s ancient, religious monuments, helicopters and microlight aircraft can cover a great distance over a relatively short time and the aerial perspective is the best way to appreciate the immensity of the former Khmer capital, including its numerous sandstone pyramids, massive artificial reservoirs, and moat-enclosed temple complexes.
With so many options to choose from when exploring the expansive and attraction-filled Angkor Archaeological Park, it’s easy to understand why so many visitors are flocking to see this world wonder! Whether exploring on your own by tuk tuk or bike, or hiring a reputable cycling organization to lead you on a biking adventure, a little coordinated planning will help you have a far more interesting experience than the one offered to those stuck on tour buses, who are simply herded through the standard sights.