Do's and don'ts for visiting the temples of Angkor.
1. Before you start out
Do hire a guide if you want to get in-depth historical and cultural information and have access to the best routes in which to explore each temple. The guides also know where all the good carvings/reliefs are and can show you those as well.The guide will also be in charge of arranging transportation, so do specify if you'd like to go by tuk-tuk, car or mini-van.
If you arrive in Siem Reap in the late afternoon, do go and purchase your pass at 5:00pm. They will let you into the compound and you can catch a sunset. Your pass will be activated the next day.
Do specify what kind of Angkor Wat pass you want. The normal passes are good for 1 day ($20), 3 days ($40) and 1 week ($60), however you can get the 3-day pass to be used within one week, and the 1-week pass to be used within one month. Don't forget to specify this at the time of purchase.
Do keep your pass handy, as you will be asked to show it when entering the temples. A plastic pass case on a leash comes in handy, and will protect the pass from getting soiled or damaged.
Do go at your own pace. It will prevent you from getting heat exhaustion. If you need to sit down and have a cold drink, just let your driver know.
2. Money and tipping
Do bring small bills (US$) for shopping and tipping. Most market vendors are not going to have change for a $50 bill. The local currency, the riel, is also good to have and convenient for tipping.
Do tip for outstanding service. This includes guides and drivers ( roughly $2~$3 per day, each), masseuses, and waitstaff at restaurants. For waitstaff, "rounding off the bill" by leaving some bills (riel) will be fine. Do know that tipping is not expected, but will be very much appreciated, and whether to tip or not and the amount to be given is entirely up to the discretion of the visitor.
Do seriously consider what you will be doing before you purchase items from children at the temple. If they are making money there, why should they bother to attend school? Additionally, the books they are selling are cheap copies and the authors do not get royalties from the sales. Sharing a smile or a chat with these children is a better option, and at least they will get to practice their English with a friendly visitor.
Do wear lightweight garments. While many people opt for airy cotton fabrics, others prefer synthetics such as the kind that are available at mountaineering stores. The climate is very humid most of the time, and the synthetic fibers wick away sweat and dry on your body.
Don't wear revealing clothing- short shorts or midriff-baring tops, low cut blouses, etc (especially for women). Longer shorts, like right above the knee or capri pants are perfectly acceptable. Do note that if you wish to climb up to the towers atop Angkor Wat that both men and women should be "respectfully dressed", i.e. covered shoulders and chest, and long pants or skirts (long shorts are acceptable).
Do bring a hat or cap, and sunglasses.
Do wear sensible shoes. While technically the temples can be done in a pair of flip-flops, it would be a wiser choice to wear a pair of hiking sandals such as Teva or Keens. (Toe coverage is also a good idea.) While sneakers and socks or hiking boots may be overkill taking into consideration the heat and humidity of Cambodia, the bottom line is to wear what you feel comfortable in.
Don't forget a light jacket (such as microfleece) for early mornings, especially if you are going out by tuk-tuk or motodup. It tends to get very chilly in the wee hours with the wind blowing on you, especially in the cooler months.
4. Safety and health
Do take out an insurance policy that will cover medical treatment or accidents before you leave, or check with your insurance company at home to see whether you'll be covered when abroad.
Do use sunscreen. You can bring your favorite brand from home, or purchase it when there.
Do use insect repellent. While the risk of contracting malaria is very low in the immediate Siem Reap area, if you will be venturing out to the countryside ( Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker, etc) then you will need to use a good DEET-based insect repellent. Repellent with a concentration of 25% is sufficient, and should be applied every 6 hours, or more frequently when you sweat. Remember, the sunscreen goes on first, the bug spray last.
Don't forget to drink plenty of water. If you are not used to the humidity, you may easily get dehydrated. You can check with your driver beforehand to see if he supplies water (many do, and even have a little cooler) if not, bring one bottle with you and you can buy more en route.
A destination like Siem Reap is about as exotic as it gets for most tourists. Supplemented reading can definitely enhance a trip to this mysterious land filled with ancient temples of lesser known societies and religions.
"A History of Cambodia" by David P. Chandler should definitely help catch traveler's up to the beautiful and violent moments of this country's rocky history. To help you understand the government control that Cambodia suffered, try: "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79" by Ben Kiernan. "Facing Death in Cambodia" by Peter Maquire also touches base with the violent past the country faced under the Khmer Rouge.
On a different note, exotic travels also mean exotic cultures. To help prepare for the customs of Cambodia, pick up "Culture Shock! Cambodia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette" by Peter North.
A travel guide will come in handy in Siem Reap, Lonely Planet Cambodia will definitely help. Once you've completed your journey here, you may want to know that you can tick it off as a destination to hit before you die as Siem Reap is mentionned in "Unforgettable Places to See Before you Die" by Steve Davey.