Angkor Wat is as much aesthetically pleasing as it is physically challenging. Long hot days, climbing over stunning relics. Well, there is probably a worse way to wear yourself out.
However, there are a few ways you can make your experience a bit less strenuous financially and emotionally and thus more enjoyable. We’ve listed them for you below.
Nothing is free
Like people all across the world, Cambodians are looking for ways to make money and support their families. However, their tactics can seem a little strange to visiting foreigners which is why you should remember that almost all services in Cambodia cost money.
While the friendly tuk-tuk driver might give you free directions to your hotel, this doesn’t apply for the unofficial guides who can be found lingering around the Angkor Wat temples. They may start walking behind you, describing the history of the temples and its cultural significance to you even if you don’t ask them to. At the end of their spiel, which could last anywhere from 5 minutes til the time you decide to leave the temple, they will probably ask you for payment. After all, they’ve just spent their time passing on accurate and relevant knowledge about the tourist attraction.
If you find yourself in this situation, immediately insist that you don’t want a guide and walk away. Engaging in conversation and even nodding at what the guide is saying will imply that you are accepting his service. You need to make it clear that you don’t need any help and are not willing to pay for this service.
If you do wish to hire a guide, make sure you agree on the price it the beginning.
Nearly all of the temples in Cambodia are surrounded by fruit stalls, souvenir stands and young Cambodian children selling bracelets, fridge magnets and other goodies. While they do seem cute and can barter the pants off any tourist, the ethical question of whether to buy things from children should be one that you consider before making any purchases.
The Cambodian government does have informative signs about how to behave in temples in which they advise neither buying from child sellers nor giving sweets to child beggars at temples with the reasoning that this encourages children to play truant.
Of course, in some instances children are on holidays from school and are just helping their parents out with the family business. Nevertheless, the question is worth some thought.
What to Wear
Angkor Wat is a source of pride for Cambodians and a culturally, religiously and historically significant place for many people. It’s important to respect this in the way you dress and behave at the temples.
While the Cambodian sun is very powerful and long sleeves and pants might make you feel like you’re in a sauna, covered shoulders and legs (down to your knees) is a good starting point. You can wear long, loose pants that offer some ventilation and take a scarf with you that can be used as a shoulder wrap. This is also a good way to protect yourself from sunburn and disapproving glances from the ticket officers.
Be Firm But Fair
Cambodia has a tradition of haggling, which is why your polite ‘no’ (or ridiculously low counter-offers meant as a joke) might be taken as a sign that the price is just too high by many of those who sell souvenirs outside the temples. To really make yourself understood, you can try saying “No, thank you” in Khmer, which sounds like “ot-tay a-koon”.
Also use your body language to show that you’re not interested. Stopping and admiring the goods is a sign that you’re interested in buying them. A firm but polite “no, thank you” or “ot-tay a-koon” and a brisk walk with a forward glance shows that you’re not interested in buying anything. You don’t need to yell, get annoyed or be rude in any way. Just make sure you’re being obvious with your body language.
All in all, you’ll enjoy Angkor Wat no matter what. It’s a gorgeous part of the world and the Cambodians are beautiful, friendly people. And these simple steps will save you some frayed nerves and potentially embarrassing moments on your trip.