Exploring Angkor Wat on a Scooter - Solo Traveler
September 11th, 2017 | Back to Blog Listing
After trying to do some research over the past several days about exploring Angkor Wat on your own (that is to say, without a guide or even a tuk tuk driver), I found that the internet really doesn't have a lot of great information on it. I found several people online even inquiring about where the new ticket office has been relocated to.

Unfortunately, and per typical internet standards, the common online response I've come across seems to be an entirely different solution rather than providing an answer to the question I was asking. I'd honestly prefer a simple "I don't know" in place of these responses. Many responses I've read online make the suggestion, "just take a tuk tuk, they'll know where to go." Well obviously the tuk tuk drivers and other such guides know where to go, but that's irrelevant to the question and isn't especially helpful for those people who want to explore without a guide.

That all stated, if you're interested in exploring Angkor Wat by yourself on a scooter, please read on! I am delighted to share my own experience and hope some people find it useful.

A corner shot looking over the moat of Angkor Thom (part of the Angkor Wat complex)

Having explored virtually all of the Angkor Wat complex (including the many, many temples throughout it), I honestly can't understand why most people would use a guide or a tour group. There are just so many things to see and so many places to stop and take photos that I can't imagine being tied to a group, much less being at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers. It's also incredibly inexpensive to go by oneself as it turns out.

I rented a scooter in Siem Reap for $9 USD per day (more on that process in a minute). I explored a bit of Angkor Wat after 5:30pm on a Saturday (the temples are closed at that hour, but you can drive around the complex perimeter), and then spent over nine hours exploring dozens of temples on Sunday. In total I spent over 15 hours exploring the place during my stay in Siem Reap.

Stating it very plainly, this was probably the single most amazing place I've ever explored in my entire life. It was absolutely breathtaking. Every stop I made was more incredible than the last one and there was a glow on my face the entire time. I should note that I've also never sweat more in my life. To give an idea, I drank over 4 liters of water, 2 cokes, and a big glass of watermelon juice and I didn't have to stop to pee one time. It was hot; it was humid; paired with about 12 miles of walking it took a hell of a lot of energy out of me. That all said, the wind from riding around on the scooter was incredibly refreshing. I couldn't recommend the experience more. It was truly one that I'll remember forever.

Renting a Scooter

There are places all over Siem Reap that will rent a scooter to you. I'm sure most of the bikes are great or at least good enough, but the problem I ran into is that they all want your passport to secure the scooter. I assumed they just wanted to copy it, but it's not that simple. They hold onto it while I had their scooter. Apparently this is pretty standard practice and I'm sure they're mostly all on the up and up. However, I told them there was absolutely no way that I was going to do that and I'm pretty certain that was the right move. As a general rule, don't ever give a strange your passport. #LifeLesson

And yes, I certainly tried to negotiate with these rental places citing that they could copy it or charge a hold to my credit card or whatever else, but that's just not how they do it. If I didn't part with my passport, they weren't parting with their equipment.

I looked up various companies that you can rent from online. In these cases you use a credit card, but it was unclear if I would then go and pick up the bike or if they would drop it off for me. As it happens, I was having dinner at the Old Delhi Indian Restaurant (delicious by the way) and happened to notice another shop renting scooters across the way. I went into the store and inquired. She initially wanted $10 USD / day for the scooter, but decided that she would do it for just $9 USD / day. Just like the other rental places, the rental company did want some kind of card that she could hold on to. The woman behind the counter inquired about my passport, but after a short discussion said that my Texas driver's license would work too. Since I couldn't care less if my driver's license was stolen while abroad (really, it's worthless and costs only $10 to replace at home), I told her that would be fine. It took maybe 5 minutes to do the paperwork. She let me pick out a helmet. Incidentally, if you've been around Southeast Asia then you know their standards for motorcycle helmets aren't the best. I picked out the best one I could, but it still lacked a face protector and shield. It was slightly better than the small brain cups you so often see, but only slightly.

An outside shot of the scooter rental place I found that didn't require my passport

There was also no official damage form to fill out, but another manager at the store looked over the bike condition with me. There was some minor damage, but nothing too serious. As always, I took photos of everything in front of the guy including the mileage and the gas level (which was just shy of empty). Be sure that you have the guy explain to you how to unlock and open the gas tank, the under-seat storage area, and anything else the bike might have. It's not always a intuitive as you might think.

My trusted scooter for exploring Angkor Wat (still at the rental shop)

Gassing up the Bike

I'm not 100% on this, but pretty certain that the company just drains whatever gas is in the bikes when they get them back and keeps that for themselves. They of course tell you that you'll need to go and fill the bike up and will direct you to a gas station. Don't do this.

For starters, the gas stations can be a huge pain in the ass, especially if you haven't ridden around at all. There are really no rules in terms of driving and cars and bikes are interweaving with each other around every turn. The gas station is really no different. A dozen scooters and motorcycles will pull up at random around a pump and somehow the gas attendant manages it like a craps table. He won't miss a beat, but unless your Cambodian is especially strong, it's unlikely you'll get filled up too quickly. The locals seem to get full attention. I did this for my first fill-up, but learned there is a better way.

Instead, head slightly off the beaten path and as you start passing shops on the side of the road you'll often see a stand out front with dirty liquor bottles. In Bali these were exclusively Absolut Vodka bottles, in Laos they were a mixture of bottles (sometimes plastic liters of Coke), but in Siem Reap they all seem to be some cheap brand of whiskey. Of course none of these places are actually selling alcohol, but rather selling their own variety of petrol (gasoline).

Petrol stocked up in whiskey bottles

Getting my scooter filled up with petrol

I'm told the bottles are filled with a slightly rougher petrol that is leftover from the refineries. Presumably it's gasoline that is somewhat imperfect. They work just fine, but I'm guessing are a little less environmentally sound. Either way, a single whiskey bottle's worth of petrol (I'm guessing 1.5 liters worth) will set you back about 3,500 Riel (about $0.85). It's also super fast. You pull up, you tell the guy what you want, he breaks out a funnel and pours one of the bottles into your tank. You pay. You're done. If you have your money ready to go, the whole process takes less than a minute. It's also kind of amusing to see it in action and provides cash to a local shop instead of (what I assume are) nationalized petrol chains. A single bottle filled up my scooter about half way from empty, so I was fine with this.

As a side note, there are dozens of such stands selling gas like this between Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat compound. They're far enough out that I wouldn't venture out on an empty tank, but you'll definitely be able to find fuel along the way.

Getting to the Ticket Office

You would think that the ticket office would be located near the entrance to the park or at the very worst case in the middle of town, but that's just not how they did it. It's not near the temples nor is it especially convenient from town. It's just kind of out there on its own. It's even difficult to find on the map unless you know what you're looking for. On Google Maps it comes up as "Angkor Panorama Museum". I think this museum actually exists at that location, but it is also where they happen to sell the tickets to Angkor Wat.

To get there, head north of the city on Charles de Gaulle until you get the Street 60. There will be a sign directing you to turn right and continue for 3km. Do turn right. Do not drive for 3km as you will overshoot the ticket office by a solid kilometer and wind up on the 60kmph section of the highway (as I discovered). After about 1.8km or so there will be a roundabout. Go straight through the roundabout and there will be two giant buildings on your left. They are not marked all that well, but the first of the two buildings is the ticket office. There is a small sign alongside the first building illustrating that it is the Angkor Wat ticket office, but because the sign is exactly parallel with the road, it's difficult to see as you're approaching. Just trust it's the buildings immediately past the roundabout.

A map showing how to get to the Angkor Wat ticket office from the center of Siem Reap

Park your bike in the parking lot and head towards the back of the building behind the various gift shops. You'll see dozens of ticket window stalls. When you walk up to one of them they'll ask you if you want a 1, 2, or 3-day pass to the temples. I did a 1-day pass; it cost $37 USD. They'll take your picture and immediately print you out a custom ticket with your photo on it. Keep it somewhere safe as they will definitely check it several times. Also bear in mind that you're probably going to sweat a lot and it's just a paper ticket. I kept mine in my waterproof iPhone bag/case (which by the way, if you don't have one of these, I would highly recommend; they're incredibly useful).

Once you get your ticket head back to the roundabout. This time you'll head to the right (after leaving the ticket booth parking lot; left if you are considering how you originally went through the roundabout). From there it's roughly another 6km or so to the park. When the road eventually hits a T-interesction there will be a checkpoint. Show the guard your pass. If you purchased a multi-day he will punch a hole in one of the days. This is not necessary if it's just a single day ticket. Incidentally they only check westerners passes. Locals are free to visit without charge. Once you get to the intersection, turn left. You'll continue for another few kilometers driving underneath a beautiful canopy of trees and eventually paralleling the lake which ultimately serves as the moat for Angkor Wat.

A map showing how to get from the center of town or the Angkor Wat ticket office to the actual Angkor Wat compound

When you finally get to the Angkor Wat parking areas, there is a good parking lot right next to the Blue Pumpkin Cafe. It only cost me 2,000 Riels (about $0.50) to park there for the day, albeit I only wound up staying in that particular lot for two to three hours. The parking attendant will staple a ticket onto your bike and then hand you a receipt for it. Don't lose the receipt as they did ask for it later (though it seemed a little stupid since I obviously had the key to my own bike). It's probably not necessary, but I had a lock for the bike and so I ran it through the wheel and into the frame just for peace of mind. If you don't want to pay for a spot, you can drive beyond the general tourist area where all of the locals are camped out on the lawn (if facing the Angkor Wat entrance -- which will be very obvious to identify when you're out there, it's to the far left of it). I left my bike there for several hours on a separate trip. The bike will likely have a storage compartment, but beyond the helmet, I don't know if I'd trust leaving anything locked in it. They're not especially hard to break into.

Once you've explored enough of the main Angkor Wat temple, your day is really just beginning. Exit the parking lot where the bike is and head down the main road - the one that looks to come immediately out of the front door of Angkor Wat. There will be taxis and tuk tuks everywhere. When you get to the first intersection, turn right. This will start you on your path towards Angkor Thom - another absolutely breathtaking temple. From there, you're pretty much on your own if you have a scooter. Provided you picked up a map of the facilities from the ticket office, you can just navigate around and check out as many of the smaller temples as you'd like.

I would ride up to one, jump off the bike, explore it for 10-20 minutes, and then carry on to the next one. Definitely do bring water and some snacks, but there are also restaurants and vendors all throughout the park. You'll not be in dire need of anything so long as you're in the compound. It was really just an amazing place to be and honestly was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I highly recommend it.

If you're in need of food or especially fuel on your way out, be sure to stop in at one of the refueling huts, especially if it's getting dark. It's a bit of a drive back and while it's beautiful, once you get past the main park area, there really isn't much until you get back into Siem Reap.