The morning sun rose, showering pale prisms of light on Banteay Kdei. Three temples I had visited, and not a soul in sight. The first two I visited in total darkness. I had woken up at 5am. This way I could be sure to visit at least one temple without anyone bothering me. I wish I had slept in, but it was worth it, to have three, nearly thousand-year old temples to myself was remarkable.
The sound of my sandals slapping on ancient stones shot through the temple reverberating and sending the sounds out to die in the wild jungle beyond. The temple insides were dark and wet. Great artificial caves. The stones had groves in them, groves from the tools that had attached the stones to great elephants that had carried them here centuries ago.
Shifting shadows bounced down the path. The first person I had seen all morning. A villager carrying a crate of souvenirs walked by and sat down there wares by a rock filled pool. I finished with Banteay Kdei, hopped on my bike and rode down the empty road to Ta Prohm.
Sneaking into the Angkor temples isn’t difficult, not even a challenging, but it seems daunting. The Angkor complex stretches out over 400 square miles (1000 sq km) and was the largest pre-industrial city in the world. Located near Siem Reap there are over 72 major temples and a countless minor ones. Each is unique, fantastic and cannot be missed. The only problem is that if you want to see them, you have to buy a pass. A one day pass is $20, three days for $40 and seven days for $60. For many people these prices are too high. But that’s not why I don’t pay it. Officially 72% of the entrance fees are split between corrupt Cambodian officials and foreign investors, likely the figure is higher. They money doesn’t go to aiding the ternapoor villages the surround the temple or to restoring the monuments (most, if not all restoration is done by intional teams funded by foreign governments). Because of this, I choose to sneak in.
A few weeks earlier I had paid for the one day pass and seen a few of the Angkor temples including the majestic Angkor Wat. Sadly, because this is Cambodia, I got sick and had to leave halfway through the day. Today I was on a different path, one that didn’t lead to watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, or even visiting it at all. Instead starting in the early morning, I hopped on my 1$ per day rented bicycle and road through the darkness.
The Ankor complex has a few walls within in it, but none around it. Because of this some of the paved roads are sparsely patrolled by security guards. I have had friends who tried to sneak in and were caught by them. When they were caught they were them toward the main entrance where they could pay. I didn’t get caught that morning. It’s not that I hid or even that I tried to be stealthy. I just took the dirt roads instead of the paved ones. I had ridden through villages, and passed small temples and shrines before I arrived at the first temple, Bat Chum.
During the day, only once was I asked for my ticket. Around noon, outside Bayon temple, there were two security guards. I had seen many guards walking about, sleeping under trees or flirting with the girls in the market, so I didn’t pay any attention to these. One came up to me and asked “Can I see your ticket?” Sure I replied as I threw my hands into my pockets. I pulled everything out and did my best to seem like I was looking for it. I glanced back at him, smiled and said “My girlfriend must have it” I pivoted, looked into a thick crowd of tourists and strolled off. I’m sure he lost interest. I followed the crowd around the temple and went in a side that didn’t have guards.
My tips on sneaking in:
- Start early and stay off the paved roads in the morning. Once tourists are out in numbers the patrols stop. See as much as you can before the noon sun cooks you alive and the tourists clog up your view.
- Bring food with you – it’s not cheap there and you won’t find it in the morning.
- Girls and guys who wear tiny clothes: Don’t expose your knees or shoulders, bring something you can throw over them. Some temples have people outside monitoring that tourists be respectful.
- Travel light; don’t bring your whole backpack, the complex is too big and too hot for you to travel with everything you own.
- Obey the signs that say danger, ignore the ones that tell you not to enter. I do this regularly everywhere I go and I see plenty of fantastic things. Whenever I’m caught, wherever I am, my punishment is a disapproving stare from staff or tourists. In Angkor my reward was seeing temples in the process of being rebuilt.
- Surrounding Ankor Wat a moat, and unless you are apt to swim across it, you will have to fork over 20$ for a one day pass to get in.
- Watch out for the monkeys, they are kleptomaniacs! Feed them cookies and soy milk for fun. Although I am sure this is bad.
- If you succeed and save money, donate what you save to a local charity or orphanage, Cambodia has plenty of them.
Any question? Going to try it?