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Keys to the Wat

Whenever possible, we try to bring you the unique, the quirky and the off the beaten track. Occasionally though, we can’t help but point out the obvious—things that everyone knows about but that are so good we just have to mention them. Angkor Wat is one of those.

Chances are if you went to Southeast Asia as a young backpacker and visited Cambodia, you likely saw Angkor. If it’s been a few years its worth another look. Siem Reap is undeniably a zoo, and the ruins can get busy, but there’s a good reason—they are flat out, jaw-droppingly amazing.

There are ways, however, to minimize the heave and press of the crowds. I’d plan on at least two days in the city, and the first thing you should do is have your hotel organize a guide for you (for at least the first day). Hit all the main sites that the masses want to see, and use that to get a feel for the area and the way it’s all laid out. Walk around the main temple (the actual Angkor Wat) and climb to the top of Phnom Bakheng for sunset. It’s busy but do it—it’s worth it.

On the second day, rent a bike and avoid the main entrance. My favorite moment was riding out to the Western Gate and entering the complex. There wasn’t a soul around and I had the amazing faces carved into the gate all to myself. You’ll have a feel for the layout by this point and you can start exploring some of the less-touristed areas of the complex. The pictures above were all taken on busy days, but I managed to find the hidden spots where there were fewer people around. If you take the time you can find the quieter places and appropriately contemplate the faith, imagination, and sheer number of man hours it must have taken to build the place.

Dan Achber is a Trufflepig trip planner who will be attempting to channel the serenity of Angkor to get himself through the long Canadian winter.

The ruins can get busy, but there's a good reason—they are flat out, jaw-droppingly amazing.

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