Angkor Wat is one of the only large-scale temple complexes in the world that allows people to independently explore its ruins, which is why it is important to prepare your eco-friendly visit to Angkor Wat.
Big bus tourism is having a negative impact on the structural integrity of the ruins, not to mention clogging the roads, so before we start on our eco-friendly guide to Angkor Wat, here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Avoid the crunch of tourists at sunrise / sunset spots; it’s no fun, and you’re likely to bump into the ruins by accident
- The area suffers from catastrophic over-fishing; avoid eating fish where you can.
- The elephants are fairly poorly treated; please don’t take elephant rides.
- Don’t give money or candy to kids as it promotes begging vs. staying in school. Rather, contribute back to the community by shopping at spots like Rehash Trash.
- Don’t buy rattan handicrafts; rattan is collected in the wild and supplies are dwindling and forcing people further afield
1. Plan your must-see items
- Plan to visit the three top temples (Ankgor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Phrom). Missing these three is like going to the Louvre and not visiting the Mona Lisa. However, like the Mona Lisa, these are all great experiences if not surrounded by tourists, and pretty mediocre if you have to elbow your way through a thousand people, potentially damaging stunning relief sculptures in the process.
- TOP TIPS: Most tour buses go back to the hotels for lunch. Get an umbrella, grab some low-plastic travel gear like refillable water bottles (with built-in filters!) and slather on some sunscreen. You’re going to be hot as anything, but you’ll have the temples largely to yourself.
2. Figure out your priorities
- If you’d like a temple to yourself, plan to visit one of the random ones a bit further afield – think of either the Bakong Temples or Bantenay. You know your travel style best – take some time to research!
- Do you want to visit local markets and try delicacies like roasted, stuffed frog or insects? Both are actually fairly eco-friendly options…
- Would you like to view sunset or sunrise at the temples? I don’t recommend it unless you’re an avid photographer, as it is busy as anything.
3. Plan your itinerary
- A great way to reduce your environmental footprint is to avoid zig-zagging across the whole complex. If you have a 3 day pass, you can plan out an easy itinerary. What we would recommend is:
Day 1 in Siem Reap
- Arrive in Siem Reap, explore the town a bit then go across to the ticket office to pick up your 3 day ticket.
- Arrange transport for the next couple of days, if need be (you can hire a Tuk Tuk for around $15-20 for the day if you start negotiations early enough).
- Either: enter via the South Gate and have a relaxed sundowner beer in the park overlooking Angkor Wat, or check out a remote temple for a sundowner, as they typically clear out earlier. I’m particularly partial to having a beer in one of the hammocks while watching the sun set over Angkor Wat.
Day 2 in Siem Reap
- Take a tour with one of the local bike providers (such as Grasshopper bikes): https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/day-bike-tours/angkor-sunrise-discovery-bike-tour/
- Plan for a detour to visit some of the lesser-known temples
- Wrap up with dinner in Siem Reap (check out our guide to eco-friendly restaurants, hotels, and gift shops in Siem Reap)
Day 3 in Siem Reap
- Get out of your comfort zone and visit the homes of local artisans in the morning.
- Spend lunchtime visiting temples when the tour buses are gone.
- Get dinner in Siem Reap.
4. Pack your bags
- Bring a tupperware
- Bring a water bottle with an integrated a water filter to avoid single-use plastic (see our recommendation water bottles)
- Bring an umbrella for the rain or the heat (you’re likely to have one or the other)
- Long-sleeved shirts, long skirt/ trousers, sunscreen,
- Bug spray (citronella works just fine!)
- Sturdy sandals or running shoes for clambering up some of the steeper temples’ steps
- Hat and sunscreen
5. Find awesome, eco-friendly places to eat, shop & sleep
- I truly believe that the only way to push more people in Cambodia to behave in an eco-friendly manner is to show that businesses who are eco-friendly are absolutely CRUSHING it. That way, there’s an economic incentive for other businesses to stop with all the plastic bags, the straws, the imported food, elephant slavery, and other such nonsense. I’ve brought together a list of my favorite eco-friendly spots in Siem Reap here.
- If you see any other hotels / restaurants / tour groups that deserve a shout-out, let us know in the comments!