Searching for Buddhist calm and a peaceful, spiritual reawakening amongst the magnificent ruins of the ancient Khmer civilisation? Well, forget it. At times, Angkor Wat makes Times Square seem deserted. In peak season (Nov-early Mar) you will find yourself deluged by the coachload trillions disembarking en masse with clip-on shades, chest-high slacks and a heretofore unparalleled devotion to lurid synthetics, all traipsing mindlessly after an oaf with a megaphone. Sadly, the ruins are quite literally being ruined. Nonetheless, Angkor still delivers top scores on the awe-ometer and if you work it right you can enjoy a degree of peace and reflection in this architectural masterpiece without too many rude intrusions. Bear in mind, the tiresome tourists are like mosquitos who are most active at sunrise and sunset, but vanish before lunch. If you can bear the heat and rain, go out of season and tour the sites during the day.
The Angkor complex and its temples open for sunrise and close after sunset, and the only real way to fully appreciate them is to hire a local guide (see V. Useful). Don’t be conned by your tuk-tuk driver, who won’t know the difference between a Linga and his finger. You’ll need a pass; one day – $20; three day – $40; or seven day – $60. Passes can only be bought at the main entrance booths on the road to Angkor, or better yet, get your hotel or guide to organise it for you while you lounge poolside. Annoyingly, passes can’t be bought in advance, and start from the day of purchase, though smarty pants will buy a pass after 5pm, use it immediately to catch Angkor Wat at sunset, and it’s valid for the next day. So, what to see? One day will see you running around like a headless chicken, two days is sufficient to breeze through temples and squeeze in a massage, while three allows you to explore the here and now. (Seven days will mean you are an archaeologist and immune to temple-itis). Thankfully, most of the sites are an easy car ride from each other and tend to follow a ‘Small’ or ‘Grand Tour Circuit’. Don’t think about trying to see everything, there’s far too much, and besides, there are other life-enhancing things to attend to, like retail, spa and copious amounts of gin-based beverages. Cin, cin!