Tag Archives: angkor wat

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

How to Never Wait in Line at a Tourist Attraction Again

Why waste your precious vacation time battling crowds and waiting in lines? Popular tourist sites the world over grow more congested every year and, sadly, the typical fixes—reserving an entry time, booking a “skip-the-line tour”—are not always a good solution. So I thought I’d share the best fixes I’ve found.

Reserving a time slot might make sense at an indoor museum (I wouldn’t show up at Rome’s Borghese Gallery or Florence’s Uffizi without one), but not necessarily at an outdoor monument. When I go to Paris, for instance, I want to hit the Eiffel Tower on a sunny, clear day; what if my entry time, reserved weeks in advance, coincides with rain and fog? Furthermore, I want to take my kids to the Louvre on a rainy day; what if I book skip-the-line tickets for what turns out to be a gorgeous day that we’d rather spend in the Jardin du Luxembourg? As for “skip-the-line tours,” aside from the fact that you can end up herded around in a big group with an annoying guide, they’re often not what they claim to be. A skip-the-line tour of the Vatican might get you past the ticket-buying line but not the security line. I’d rather be one of the handful of travelers who gets to eat breakfast at the Vatican and see it before it opens to the public.

By far the best way I’ve found to avoid crowds and bypass lines is to book your trip through the right travel fixer—someone who knows every insider trick at your destination and can leverage his/her superlative relationships there on your behalf. Such destination specialists can get you into sites at off-hours when they are empty and even into places that are off-limits to the public. The right person can get you past the mobs at Angkor Wat or ensure a crowd-free sunset at the Taj Mahal. You can even have Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia all to yourself. These Trusted Travel Experts can, in fact, arrange an entire trip that spares you from every line. And all you need to do is show up.

But if you prefer to D.I.Y. your trip, here are strategies that have worked well for me:

Find out if there’s a side or back entrance.

Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History

To avoid long lines, try an alternative entrance, like through the Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo: ©AMNH/D

Sometimes there is an alternate entrance with a shorter line or none at all. In Paris, my family entered the Louvre via the Porte des Lions and saved ourselves from an hour-long line at the Pyramid entrance. At the Museum of Natural History in New York City, if there’s a line at the Central Park West entrance, you can enter via the Rose Center for Earth and Space or via the 81st Street subway station.

Go at sunrise.

A lot of people assume sunset is best, but at many outdoor iconic monuments—Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Mount Sinai in Egypt, Petra in Jordan—sunrise is better. You get equally great light for photos but fewer crowds to spoil them. Sunrise is better for seeing neighborhoods too. In popular destinations that are touristy from 9 am till midnight, it’s from 6 to 9 am that you can see the locals living their everyday lives—green grocers opening their stalls, kids going to school, fishermen delivering their catch to the fish market, etc.

crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France

Visit museums on a night they’re open late and you’ll likely avoid mobs like this one, in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Go at night.

Not all landmarks are accessible at night, but those that are are usually worth seeing at that time. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for instance, is beautifully lit and especially poignant at night. Park rangers are actually there to answer your questions until 10 pm. Remember that world-class museums are usually open on at least one night of the week. London’s Tate Modern, as just one example, stays open till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Eiffel Tower admits visitors until midnight in summertime—and sparkles at night too.

night skyline of Washington DC with Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument and Capitol building

Some famous attractions, like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. are more beautiful at night—and less crowded. Photo: Pixabay

Take the stairs.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower. Photo courtesy Tim Baker.

A two-hour line at the Eiffel Tower elevators—which we skipped by taking the stairs. Photo: Tim Baker.

I’m no athlete, but I’ve climbed to the tops of dozens of bell towers, fortresses, palaces, and cathedrals, and I am here to tell you that the effort has always been well worth it, not just because of the views but because the great majority of visitors don’t make it there. Sometimes the journey itself is a highlight. If you’ve ever followed the circuitous, increasingly narrow route into the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you know what I mean. My family saved at least two hours at the Eiffel Tower by climbing the 670 steps to the second floor and taking the elevator from there to the top, rather than waiting in the scary elevator line at the base.

Buy the right pass.

aerial view of Venice Italy and surrounding water

Venice, Italy. Photo: Pixabay

Some cities sell city museum passes that let you bypass the line. For instance, the Paris Museum Pass and the Vienna Pass let you skip the line at dozens of museums and monuments in those cities. If you don’t need a multi-day museum pass because there’s really only one museum you want to see, sometimes you can buy a combination ticket for just three or four related museums (the world-famous one you want to see, plus other lesser museums you’re not interested in). Buy the combo ticket at one of the lesser museums with no line, then use it to skip the line at the museum you want. For example, in Venice, a ticket to the four Museums of St. Mark’s Square allowed me to skip the line at the Doge’s Palace.

Arrive at the visitor center before it opens.

World-famous sites with visitor centers tend to attract a lot of tour buses. You want to arrive long before they do. At Gettysburg, for instance, be the first inside the Museum and Visitor Center when it opens at 8:00 am (April 1 – Oct 31). If you have no reservation for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, get there before it opens at 7:00 am because that’s when tickets for that day are available on a first-come first-served basis.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Have Angkor Wat To Yourself: A Cambodia WOW Experience

Angkor Wat is the most famous of Cambodia's temple—the park is named for it, after all—but it's usually the most crowded and, in my opinion, it's not even the most interesting. With ABOUTAsia, we got to see several temples off the beaten path. Photo: Billie Cohen
Barely another tourist was in sight when we began our day of temple visits. Photo: Billie Cohen
Ta Prohm—alone! Photo: Billie Cohen
We entered Ta Phrohm through this little-used gate, and avoided pretty much everyone else. Photo: Billie Cohen
Kanha helped us understand what we were looking at, which made us appreciate it that much more. Photo: Billie Cohen
Another tourist-free temple. Photo: Billie Cohen
We stopped for a picnic breakfast amid a garden. Photo: Billie Cohen
Fresh croissants, fruit, tea, and juices. Don't miss the tamarind juice—very refreshing in the heat. Photo: Billie Cohen
The view from the top of Ta Keo. That's Kanha in the tan shirt at the bottom, and just one other guide with a few visitors. Photo: Billie Cohen
Bayon Temple, one of my favorites. Photo: Billie Cohen
Pheakdey picked a fresh mango right off the tree for us. It was much juicier and sweeter than the ones we get in Brooklyn! Photo: Billie Cohen
Rice, beans, and coconut are baked inside a bamboo shoot. When it's done, you peel back the bamboo and enjoy! Photo: Billie Cohen
The journey to Villa Chandara, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The journey to Villa Chandara includes an oxcart ride and, when the weather cooperates, a boat trip. When I visited, the area was suffering unusual drought conditions, which meant I couldn't take the boat trip, but the oxcart was fun. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara dining, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Thanks to all that open space, the sunset at Villa Chandara is stunning. The fields were pretty brown when we visited due to the drought, but this is what it usually looks like. Photo: Ethan Crowley, ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara private circus performance, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In addition to a musical concert, your Villa Chandara experience might include a circus performance. Ours did not, but I was convinced to check out the Phare circus on another night and was blown away—do not skip it. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel


Angkor Wat is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, which also means it’s one of the most crowded. But you don’t have to battle your way through this bucket-list experience with the more than one million visitors who converge on it each year. There is a better way: One of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia has figured out how to avoid the worst crowds of the Angkor Archaeological Park. Now, that’s a bold claim but, as I found out when I tested this WOW Experience myself, it works like a charm.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special experiences you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Andy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

Touring Angkor temple complex without the usual onslaught of tour groups and noisy crowds that ruin the monument’s majesty, not to mention your photos.

The Where and When:

Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 20 minutes outside of the small Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The 150-square-mile park includes the famed Angkor Wat temple, but also dozens more—dating from the 9th to 15th centuries—that are just as magnificent, and in varying states of preservation.

Our Trusted Travel Expert can accommodate you whenever you visit Siem Reap, but for the best chance to have some temples all to yourself, he recommends visiting between late May and early September, during the green season. As he explains in his Insider’s Guide: “Sure, it rains two days out of three, but the mornings are almost always sunny and bright, with rain clouds gathering toward the late afternoon; get out of bed early to explore when Cambodians are most active ahead of the midday heat, and you’ll enjoy far fewer crowds and vibrantly green rice paddies.”

To be fair, I road-tested this WOW Experience outside that recommended window, toward the beginning of May, which was still very hot as the rains had not yet started. The temperature inside our comfortable air-conditioned SUV was kept in the cool 70s, but the outside temperature was well above 100. As a result, my timing wound up as both the best and the worst for being in Siem Reap. It’s hot and sticky, but it’s much less crowded. Cold bottled water and icy washcloths kept us cool enough, and the occasional juicy mango picked fresh off a tree kept us energized.

The WOW:

Andy Booth is an Oxford-trained physicist who found an incredibly logical and fool-proof way to tackle the challenge of touring the megapopular Angkor complex: He used science. Andy founded ABOUTAsia, a travel firm that has earned a coveted spot on The WOW List, and his team periodically collects data on the number of tourists visiting each temple at various times of year in order to ensure that ABOUTAsia guests can find sweet spots of solitude and quiet. Those sweet spots are very rare things, considering that Angkor is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions—so popular, in fact, that in 2017, authorities nearly doubled park admission prices in an attempt to control the crowds and imposed strict rules for dress codes and behavior (because the hordes of visitors wearing short shorts and carrying selfie sticks were taking too many liberties). You can therefore imagine the immeasurable value of spending your day with an experienced guide who knows exactly how to avoid all moment-spoiling bus groups.

Our guide to the temples, Ms. Kanha, was wonderful, warm, funny, and full of information—along with interesting personal stories. Private guides make the experience at Angkor Wat (yes, any tuk-tuk driver can take you around for about $25, but to transform the piles of ancient rocks into living history with connections to past kings and current events, you need a well-trained guide). Kanha smartly had us enter one of the most popular temples, Ta Prohm, first thing in the early morning (we got picked up at 6:30am), knowing that the crowds peak there later in the day—and she took us in via an alternate entrance so that even if we did encounter other people, we’d be touring the temple in the opposite direction. Astonishingly, we nabbed photos of the temple’s famous wall-straddling giant tree roots with no one else around, and we didn’t run into any group until we were more than halfway through that temple. From there, Kanha led us to various other beautiful temples, some literally off the beaten trail, where she illuminated artistic details and architectural themes that served to differentiate the structures from one another (all those ruins can blur together after a while) and to link them together into a story that reflected not just Cambodia’s history but the history of Southeast Asia too. At most sites we saw only a handful of other tourists, and at one little-visited monastery, Ta Nei—accessible by an offshoot path you have to know about to find—we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Even for Angkor Wat itself—the park’s main attraction, which we visited on our own on another day—Kanha had insider tips for us: what time to get there for sunrise, which side of the walkway to sit on for the best views, which direction to turn once we entered the temple so that we’d beat the queue to climb the central spire’s staircase, and what spots to view first so that we’d skirt most of the noisy tourist flock.

On the second day of our tour with AboutAsia, we saw an entirely different Cambodia. Leaving behind any other tourists and the usual sites you’d expect to see here, we were instead granted access into the local lives of the area’s farmers, out in the countryside not far from Siem Reap. We visited a family home where we sampled a tasty bamboo-rice-and-bean snack the kids were cooking in an outdoor oven; we ate juicy mangoes picked fresh off a tree; we bumped along in an oxcart through a farmer’s dusty field; and all the while, we got to know another excellent guide, Pheakdey, who grew up not far from there and could pepper the day with his own personal stories and experiences.

We ended the day feeling like royalty, watching the sunset at ABOUTAsia’s private villa Chandara, a traditional home overlooking green fields. Here, a private chef prepares a gourmet multicourse meal, while musicians serenade you with traditional Cambodian instruments. The dinner party can be enjoyed privately, ABOUTAsia’s general manager Ethan Crowley had told me earlier, but sometimes guests enjoy pairing up with other ABOUTAsia travelers. We dined alone due to scheduling, but it was easy to see how a slightly larger dinner party could be a fun and fulfilling end-of-trip experience: You’d get the chance to talk with other travelers about the amazing things you’d seen and done during the week, swapping stories and experiences over cocktails and good food—a little going-away soiree to send you back home in style.

How to Make it Happen:

Such experiences are customizable to your specific interests and are available through Andy Booth, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia, whose trips start at $400 per day for two travelers. Read Andy’s Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get special benefits, request your trip through our site.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.