As tourism to Cambodia becomes more mainstream, visits to its most famous landmark are significantly on the increase. In 2006, the Cambodian government estimated that over one million international tourists visited Angkor Wat temple complex -- the stunning UNESCO World Heritage listed Kmer ruins, dating back to the early 12th century. And that number does not take into account domestic tourism numbers.
This figure represents a massive 40% increase over 2005 and in combination with natural age degradation, erosion and changes in the surrounding water table, UNESCO experts believe that the structural integrity and overall safety of the site may be in jeopardy. As a result, Cambodian officials are considering restricting tourism numbers to help ensure that Angkor Wat will remain intact for generations to come.
At present up to 5,000 people climb Angkor Wat's steps each day, putting the site under some serious wear and tear. Added to this is the amount of construction of tourism infrastructure in Siem Reap with the building of golf courses, hotels (over 250 of them) and restaurants. The combination of these factors is contributing to the site's possible demise so temple officials are thinking about limiting access to the compound on a daily basis using a reservation system -- not dissimilar to actions put in place at sites like the Inca Trail in Peru. So the time to visit Angkor Wat may well be now -- or at least as soon as possible -- as a balance between preservation and economic growth in the region is struck.
All of Cambodia Travel's (tel. +66/2231-36714; www.cambodia-travel.com) land-only tours feature a visit to Angkor Wat. Their seven day Phnom Penh to Angkor trip includes six-nights hotel accommodations in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, boat trip to Siem Reap, daily breakfasts, airport transfers, tours and excursions, an English speaking guide and entrance fees. Highlights include tours of the Killing Field, the Royal Grand Palace and Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh, two full days at Angkor Wat (including a spectacular sunrise over the ruins), Siem Reap, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Banteay Srei and the floating fisherman village on Tonle Sap. The tour is priced from $540 per person based on double occupancy in standard accommodation. Add $60 for a flight to Siem Reap in place of the five-hour boat trip. You can upgrade to first class accommodation for an additional $80 or superior class for $257 more. International airfare, lunches, dinner and airport taxes are additional. Visitors can obtain a visa upon arrival for $20 (two passport photos are required). Their two-day Angkor Wat stopover includes airport transfers, one-night hotel accommodations in Siem Reap, breakfast, an English speaking guide and entrance fees. The tour highlights are excursions to the South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon, the Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King, watching the sunset from Phnom Bakheng and an optional sunrise visit back to the temple complex. This short trip is priced from $156 per person based on double occupancy in standard accommodation, $170 in first class and $206 in superior class.
Go-Today and Singapore Airlines' Essence of Indochina website (tel. 800/227-3235; www.essenceofindochina.com) has a 11-day Mystical Cambodia: Bangkok, Angkor Wat and Singapore package that is priced from $1739 per person based on double occupancy if booked by May 6, 2007. It features airfare to Bangkok from Los Angeles or San Francisco and returning from Singapore flying Singapore Airlines, three-nights at the Classic Place Hotel in Bangkok, flight to Siem Reap, three-nights accommodations at the Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap, a flight to Singapore, three-nights at the Golden Landmark Hotel in Singapore, all airport transfers, an English-speaking guide for sightseeing, breakfast daily, hotel taxes and service charges. Tour highlights include a Bangkok Grand Palace tour, a full-day tour of Angkor Wat, the ancient capital of Angkor Thom, a Banteay Srei, Ta Phrom and Ta Som full-day tour, Preah Khan temple, a Singapore city tour and plenty of leisure time to explore all three destinations. Add $70 from New York, $160 from Boston or Washington, D.C., $215 from Atlanta and $400 from Chicago. Airline taxes are additional. This price is valid for travel until June 5, 2007 and again from August 21 to September 20, 2007 with higher prices applicable for different dates.
Gap Adventures (tel. 800/708-7761; www.gapadventures.com) offers five different land-only trips that take in the highlights of Cambodia and Angkor Wat -- some in combination with Vietnam and other parts of Indochina. The Cambodia Experience Eastbound tour is a nine-day adventure that begins in Bangkok and ends in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and visits Siem Reap, Angkor Wat Temple complex, Phnom Penh and the Mekong Delta on the way. The trip is priced at $630 plus a $150 land payment and includes traveling in a group of between ten and 15 people, transportation by local buses, air-conditioned motor coaches, walking, plane and cyclo, eight nights' hotel accommodation, tour leader and professional local guides, four breakfasts, one lunch and entrance fees to sites. Highlights are two full-days in the Siem Reap area, visits to Angkor Wat, Tuol Sleng, Choeung Ek, Chau Doc and a Saigon Cyclo tour. There are regular departures throughout the year and you can also do this tour in reverse with their Westbound version (which is actually $10 less).
Although some visitors come to Angkor Wat and Cambodia for an extended vacation, others make a brief side trip here -- usually from Thailand as there are frequent and inexpensive flights to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.
If you are already traveling to Asia, there are a few low cost on no-frills airlines that service routes from major Asian capitals. Kuala Lumpur-based Air Asia (www.airasia.com) has non-stop flights to Siem Reap, JetStar Asia (www.jetstar.com) flies from Singapore and Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) from Bangkok and other points in Thailand.
Sample airfares in May and June 2007 include:
- From Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap on Air Asia from $26 one-way plus taxes
- From Singapore to Siem Reap on JetStar from $51 one-way plus taxes
- From Bangkok to Phnom Penh on Bangkok Airways from $77 one-way plus taxes
- From Bangkok to Siem Reap on Bangkok Airways from $144 one-way plus taxes
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Cambodia Message Boards today.