Angkor Wat by Bicycle
There are many ways to tour the temples of Angkor: by tuk-tuk, by moto, by air-conditioned coach, with a guide or without. During my 2009 trip to Angkor Wat, my Dad and I bought three-day passes and toured by tuk tuk, with my Dad and his encyclopedic memory of the guidebook serving as our guide. This being my second trip to the world-famous temples, I wanted to explore Angkor Wat by bicycle.
I had read ahead of time that bikes can be rented in the old market area for a mere 1-2 dollars a day. Keeping in mind that negotiating/haggling of any kind is one of my greatest weaknesses and least favorite aspects of traveling, I decided to flex some of my bargaining skills when the shop I popped into quoted me $2 per bike.
“How about a group discount. One dollar each for five bikes?”
Not bad for a first try! I could feel those negotiating muscles getting a little sore, so I decided to accept inflated and unfair tourist pricing for the rest of the day without question. Once you reach a price you will have to leave a passport or large cash deposit, as there have been problems with tourists abandoning the bicycles at the temples when they get tired. Seriously? Would you abandon a rental car in Spain even if you got carsick or the radio was playing nothing but Europop for hours on end? Well, maybe that last one was a bad example. But truly, I think you’d have to be a special kind of person to rob a person in a third world country of their only source of income because you became fatigued while voluntarily cycling. Rant over.
The most dangerous part of the day is getting out of town, where you will battle motos, bicycles, cars and pedestrians for space on the road. Once you emerge from the worst bit of traffic in the Old Market area, you have about 8km of biking north on the straight flat road until you reach the temples. You will have to pull off the side en route to purchase your one, three, or seven-day pass. While we attempted to stay on the shoulder of the road, bicycles are considered totally legitimate forms of transportation to take down the middle of a Cambodian highway.
Hitching a ride with a motocycle
Don’t expect to cover the entire circuit of temples by bike unless you start very early and have much more resilience than this slacker. The ride begins to become something really beautiful at the end of the 8km road from town, when you will turn left to ride along the south and then west stretches of the moat that surround Angkor Wat– the most famous of the Angkor Temples. Along the way we passed children playing in the moat water and monkeys scampering across the streets. Soon we arrived at the entrance to Angkor Wat- the view that launched a thousand postcards.
Angkor Wat Map- Click to enlarge
Angkor Wat is most popular at sunrise, but we are just not sunrise kinds of people. Due to the time of day at the flooding that has been plaguing Cambodia and scaring away tourists, we felt that we kind of had the place to ourselves. Well, compared to the usual mob scene that is any major tourist destination around the world.
After few hours lazily wandering around the grounds of Angkor Wat, we rode North towards Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is the great walled city that is home to Bayon, the other jewel in the Angkor temples crown. The path is flat and wide and flanked by enormous trees that provide much appreciated shading from the hot Cambodian sun. The original gates of Angkor Thom are still standing, and at their very narrow width they can cause quite the traffic jam. I loved the spectacle of it. It’s not every day you are waiting to pass an elephant and a tuk tuk.
One of my favorite parts of my 2009 trip to Angkor happened right inside the South Gate of Angkor Thom, and I was secretly hoping that we might have a similar encounter this time. I was in luck.
Well, not really luck considering the monkeys are fed constantly by tourists who buy bananas and other snacks off roadside vendors. Feeling empowered by my recent bought of physical activity, I decided to give haggling a go again, this time with a seven year old girl selling bananas.
“You want bananas one dolla?”
“Hello young lady. How about 3,000 riel [about 75cents]?
“Okay!” Cheerfully hands over one dollar.
I think I’m getting better at this.
Once I was able to remind myself that this wasn’t a zoo and tear myself away from the monkeys, we headed on to Bayon. Bayon’s most famous feature is the hundreds of faces carved into the stone, staring placidly towards the four cardinal directions.
Rather than exit Angkor Thom through the North Gate and continue on to Preah Khan like a typical tour might do, we cut the route turned and exited through the East Gate towards Ta Keo and Ta Phrom. This part of the ride was stunningly beautiful, bringing us through thick forests with tiny wooden bridges spanning streams and the occasional ancient temple ruins poking through the foliage. We mostly kept silent and listened to the birds, except for the occasional sigh of contentment or chirping chorus of our bike bells.
Ta Keo isn’t one of the big draw temples, but it’s worth stopping by at. It is starkly bare in contrast to other richly decorated temples, leading scholars to speculate that construction was stopped before the decoration phase. It was also the only temple to be constructed totally of sandstone.
We got a pretty late start that day, so we started heading back to town after Ta Keo. But the next major temple is Ta Prohm, made famous by Angelina Jolie’s hit movie Tomb Raider. After Ta Prohm, you can carry on to Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang before starting the road home. At the time we did the ride, this part of the ride was a bit nerve wracking. Flooding was at critical levels and we often had to take a leap of faith and ride though knee high water flooding the roads. But it was all part of the adventure and the privilege of biking through one of the greatest ancient cities in the world.
Do you want to do the same? Here are a few practicalities:
• Budget $1-2 for the bicycle and bring your passport or $60 for a deposit
• Be sure to ask for a bike lock. Though we noticed we were the only ones actually using them, better safe than sorry.
• Bring a rain coat and plenty of water.
• For lunch, there is a nice air-conditioned restaurant across from Angkor Wat or for a cheaper more local experience there are plenty of food stalls near Sra Srang and the south wall of Angkor Wat. Fruit and water are sold everywhere.
• In town and on major roads, be very alert and careful. I found that when crossing a road, the key was to be bold and just have faith that everyone would get out of my way!
To see all my photos from Angkor, visit Flickr here.
Beautiful photography! I really want to visit Cambodia! When I do I want to explore it by bike! looks like fun
I know you’ll get here someday Sam, and you will LOVE it!
Wow wow wow what an incredible experience! You 4 ladies are so adorable on your bikes and in your dresses, love it!!! These pics are awesome, did you change your camera?
Thanks Andi! It’s the same camera I’ve been using for this whole trip, but I did upgrade in June before I left to a 15-85mm lens and a second 75-300mm lens as well as upgrade the body to a Canon t21. The body upgrade was mostly for shooting video 🙂
Ahh! That monkey sticking his tongue out melts my heart!! Angkor Wat by bicycle sounds like a great experience.
There are so many monkeys in this country, today a wild one ran outside our bungalow and I barely mentioned it to Mark. It’s crazy!
This brought back great memories of our visit on ’09. Happy we did the tuk tuk and not the bicycles and that there was no flooding. Remind people not to wear glasses around those monkeys. They will snatch them off your face and escape to a tree.
It’s true! The monkeys can be little kleptomaniacs. And yes, I just did the one day pass since we had done the three day together, but the next day when the rest of the group went back they did no by tuk tuk. There’s only so much your muscles can take!
Can’t wait to go there next month or in January – renting bicycles sounds like a great idea, we’ll keep that in mind!
Yay! Globetrottergirls and Alex in Wanderland in Southeast Asia at the same time! Now if we can just figure out how to cross paths…
Yes, we have to make it happen!! We are planning to visit the islands in the Gulf at some point, not sure how long you’re planning to stay?
We will be back in Koh Tao in early December and stay through the high season, likely until March or April!
Hey rememember that time WE were in Phnom Penh at the same time and DIDN’T cross paths? Still crying over that one =/
Ridiculously tragic! Someday…
Wow, this trip was amazing. You guys look like you had a blast, we are totally going to do this when we hit up Angkor Wat! WOW, getting so stoked for our trip now, thanks for the great post!
Thanks Mike! I have a lot more Cambodia posts to come, so hopefully more trip inspiration as well!
Another corker – was worth missing Halloween on KT even though it was pretty dang awesome.
Just one thing, from a stiggler for this kind of thing: there’s no such thing as the ‘third world’ – there’s only one; it’s just shared fuckin’ badly.
Glad Koh Tao was a good time for my favorite holiday (well, they all are my favorite really!) I was in Sihanoukville and it was a great time.
Thanks for the heads up on the terminology. I’ll try to break that habit, along with all the other bad ones!
Awesome shots. Loved Angkor Wat. We only had a few days so we didn’t opt for the bikes, but that looks like a blast.
I love that you toured the temples by bike! I so wanted to do this, only we didn’t have the time. Bayon was my favorite of all, and I agree with you, I’m so not a sunrise person (but had no choice in the matter!).
I’m strangely giddy to see your Cambodia posts, knowing we were there at the same time! I bet it was beautiful at sunrise…
This looks like so much fun, I’m dying to visit these ruins one day!
Oh, you really must. I’ve been twice and wouldn’t mind going again! They are absolutely amazing, a bucket list destination!
Oh I’m gonna try cycling around Siem Reap. It’s so cool!!
This is a great city to cycle in. Just watch out for motorcycles!
loved the photos!
I am going to Siem Raep in two weeks! So excited. I was wondering if it is necessary to hire a guide to do this bike tour or if it is ok to go by myself. I am going with two friends, but we are not sure if is that easy to get lost. From what i see you did great by yourselves.
Would you recommend it??
I’m actually not sure if it’s possible to hire a guide for this — guides into the temples are strictly licensed and regulated and I’m not sure if any offer bike tours. I would recommend doing what we did — hire a guide and a tuk tuk driver one day to get the layout and the history and then on another day rent bikes just to enjoy the atmosphere and the riding!
Best of luck!
Hey Alex & Camilla,
I did a bike tour on my first day and then went exploring on our own. It’s a great way to get your bearings and the touring company is a lovely NGO called KKO Cambodia. It’s a great off-raod tour where you see some amazing hidden temples. There’s a link and some more info on my blog.
Love this post Alex. Biking is definitely the number one way to see Angkor.
Thanks for the tip Anna! Glad so many others enjoy this way of seeing Angkor as well!
Oh my god, it’s you! I stumbled upon your blog through another travel blog, have gone through countless of your posts now because I like it so much, and when I came to this I realized that I have read this post before about a year ago.
This is the post that made me decide to tour Angkor by bike. When I got to the part about your bargaining skills it sounded extremely familiar, I read a bit more and looked through all the pictures and yes, this is the one! Thank you, I had a great experience because of this post :D!
Aw, thank you so much! I’m so glad I could help, that was one of my favorite days in all of my time in Cambodia. A very, very happy memory… so glad to hear you had one too!
Great post Alex! I liked your post about biking so much, that I’ve decided to include it on the AbsoluteVisit Angkor Wat page as one of the “Top Blog Posts” about visiting Angkor Wat! You can find it here https://www.absolutevisit.com/travel/Angkor-Wat/
Thanks for sharing your detailed experience with all of us!
Thanks Brad! Appreciate the inclusion 🙂
Congrats for your post!Excellent…exactly what I am looking at,very useful info.
Great blog! I am so excited for my two days in Angkor Wat now and feel relatively confident that I can do it by bike. With that said, I do have a lingering fear that I will get hopelessly lost.
Are the maps relatively easy to follow? Easy to ask others for directions? I contemplated renting a tut-tut but much prefer to do it by bike. Come on…tell me I can do it lol.
I am most interested in seeing the temples that you visited this day.
Hey Joey! I really wouldn’t worry about getting lost. One of the downsides of Angkor Wat is that it’s always teeming with people — but that will help you in this case! Maps and roads are relatively clear as well. The only thing I would caution is that you won’t be able to visit the more far flung temples. Good luck!
Biking Angkor Wat is without a doubt the best way to see the temples. It’s nice because you see everything clearer and you can stop to take tons of photos along the way. Clearly you took plenty of photos! Great photography!
Thanks Jeff! I appreciate that! I still love these sets of photos 🙂
Awesome photos! Siem Reap was great. I found the best way to move around, and help avoid the scams, was to just hire a hotel recommended driver for the day…it worked well.
I did that as well on my first trip to Siem Reap! This was a great alternative for the second time around 🙂
I’m planning to spend a 4 days vacation in seam reap this coming may and I’m on a tight budget. Do you think its possible to tour all the major temples in just biking?
Hey Chie! You will be able to see a lot of the major temples but certainly not all them. They are just too far and too numerous — it’s hard to see them all in one day in a tuk tuk! Getting a tuk tuk driver is cheap if you go in on it with friends. But if that is still above your budget, definitely rent a bike and see as much as you can 🙂
Hey Alex! I’m about to visit Angkor Wat. I was wondering if it is difficult or dangerous to navigate the roads from the rental place to Angkor Wat? Also are there maps provided? Hope to hear from you! 🙂
Hey Yilling, this was a very long time ago so the information provided in this post is probably more reliable than my memory 🙂 I hope I’m not contradicting anything I wrote, but I believe a rudimentary map was provided (if not, you can easily find one around town) and that the initial ride into the Angkor Wat park was quite nerve-wracking due to traffic, but felt perfectly comfortable once you were between temples. Hope that helps!
I’m not a person to comment on blog but wanted to tell you how I instantly fell in love with yours!
I came across this when I searched on google “bike ride in angkor wat”. Then I read your “about me” and how you’re from New York too! I was born and raised in NYC and just picked up my bag and moved to Sydney three months ago. The NYC photos made me feel nostalgic.
I don’t want to comment on all your posts, but really admire your post on the children of Cambodia (https://www.alexinwanderland.com/2011/11/10/children-of-cambodia/). India was the same way! Broke my heart to ignore them
Thanks for your posts. I’m heading to the Full Moon Party on July 13, Cambodia and Singapore to see some family then back to Sydney. Keep traveling, keep writing!
Thank you so much for this comment, Charlene! I really love hearing how people find me and it’s lovely to hear your positive feedback. Enjoy your fabulous upcoming trip, and I hope I see you around these parts again 🙂
Thanks for the informative and beautiful post. I noticed that you and your friends are wearing shortish skirts and shorts with bare shoulders. Did you have any trouble entering the temples?
Hey Chelsea, we did not! These days I’d probably dress more conservatively but I don’t recall any issues. These are more ruins than active temples, though it’s always best to err on the side of respectful. Hope that helps!
I totally loved exploring Angkor Wat by bike but it makes you realise just what an immense scale the whole structure was built on. We initially thought we could see most of the temples in one day but then soon realised that may have been more than a little ambitious! 😉 We hired a tuk-tuk driver the following day!
Ha, I think that’s the best way to balance things — a day on bikes mixed in with a day or two with a tuk tuk and guide!
Wow bicycles would have been a fun way to get around Angkor. We used Tuk Tuk’s and thought it was perfect.
If interested, I just posted about my experiences with a captioned photo driven post of the incredible temples here.
I’ve done a mix of both now and always recommend the three day pass and alternating 🙂 That way you get a bit of exercise and a bit of guiding. Good balance.
This looks so fun, I’ve just found a link on google images. My girlfriend and I are backpacking SE Asia this autumn and will be doing this! Do you have to be particularly fit to cycle there?
Hey Tom! Well, the roads are flat but the distance cycled to cover even a small amount of temples is pretty long so I’d try to be in at least decent shape. The good news is you can always hop in a tuk tuk with your bikes if you go too far and need a lift back 🙂 Enjoy!
I would like to hope I’m in good enough shape, I’m only 23 and not overweight etc but hardly the fitness fanatic either! Tuk-tuks are able to your bikes back as well ourselves?! That’s excellent!
Those tuk tuk drivers are an accommodating bunch, and rarely turn down a fare 🙂
Great! It’s just handling the heat then, those skirts look nice and cool – I think even I might need one!
I am so scared of monkeys! Stayed away from them ??
Ha, that’s probably for the best. They aren’t always friendly 🙂
HI there, read about your bike excursion, very mice. One question , coming back to town , do you have to start before sunset to avoid biking in the dark or how did you gis do it.
Hey Chantal! We were back long before sunset… it’s a long, tiring day and you’ll probably want a break before then! Just set off early!
I read other blog post saying the road accident is high? Are there a lot of big trucks ala transformers? I am kinda afraid because I am planning a solo trip for the first time =_= Oh and is there any bike rental near the Angkor Wat?
Hey Shin! When I visited there were no bike rentals closer to the temples, you have to rent from town. There are some big trucks and whatnot on the ride out of town but at least the day we went, once we got into the temples things were fairly relaxed. If you aren’t a confident biker or feel nervous, perhaps a tuk tuk would be better for this trip. Good luck!
Thank you so much for your story, we just arrived in siem reap and are going to rent our bikes tomorrow to follow in your footsteps!
Have fun, Roland! And let me know how it goes!