Many have asked me how I was able to backpack through Southeast Asia before I began graduate school. I always found this question rather entertaining because if one does their homework they will find that Southeast Asia is actually very affordable and absolutely worth a visit. Four years ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate my 24th birthday by touring the temples at Angkor Wat and believe me, I was surely not wealthy…
My first secret to the budget traveler considering a visit to Angkor Wat is to plan your visit to be three days. The park offers a three day pass for 40 USD that is worth purchasing because that will allow you to see a great deal of the temples if you budget your time well. When I was there, I was able to pay 2 USD per night for my private room hostel that had a batch of tuk-tuk drivers out front looking to make additional money for their families, which brings me to my next piece of advice. Hiring one of these locals to be your airport transportation and daily guide will cost you only 20 USD per day. This approach has several advantages being that the local will take you to the important monuments, shield you from the hot sun, and be waiting for you after each one of the ruins. Below is a picture of my tuk-tuk guide that took extra good care of my luggage!
My next recommendation is to plan to get up at four in the morning to see the sunrise over the Angkor Wat skyline. Even though getting up before dawn is exhausting to any traveler, the experience of watching the ruins of Angkor Wat slowly reveal themselves at daybreak is surely one of the more incredible sights I have seen and I highly recommend it to other travelers.
While there are a plethora of temples to admire within the park, I also recommend for travelers to stop their tuk-tuk for a moment to appreciate the more obscure temples along the way with less visitors. Temples that feature beautiful Buddhist sculptures such as seen below are readily available for the tourist to light incense for free and pay their respects while simultaneously providing for a brilliant photographic opportunity.
All in all, my Angkor Wat birthday expedition cost me 120 USD (and yes that includes trying the local Cambodian beer!). While there are many luxury options for touring Angkor Wat, there is also an affordable way to see the temples as well. I was able to see more temples than the overpriced tours, have a rewarding life experience, and even celebrate my birthday!