Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Running in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia

Temple Run meets Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider? Welcome to Running in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Recently I spent about a week in Siem Reap in Cambodia, famous for Ankor Wat temple, floating villages like Kampong Phluck, and a few other spots. Along with visiting these sites, I also did some running.

Considering the lack of guides on running in Siem Reap and Ankor Wat, I wanted to share some of my observations, experiences and route “maps” to help fellow traveling runners.

Where are We? Getting Oriented with Angkor Temple Complex

The Angkor Temple complex lies several kilometers north of downtown Siem Reap and a few kilometers east of the airport.

Here is a general map:

The key points are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, which are considered the pinnacle temple constructions for the Khmer civilization. Both are surrounded by moats. To the east and west of both of these are two major, man-made waterways called East and West Baray. Scattered around these major points are various other temples.

Tuktuk drivers and tours generally take you on one of two routes. The “small circuit” or small tour takes in several major and minor temples. It starts at Angkor Wat and runs roughly 17km visiting Ta Phrohm, Angkor Thom, and ending at Bayon among other sites.

The “grand tour” or grand circuit is largely an extension of the small tour. It starts (or ends) at Angkor Wat, before taking in Preah Rup, Ta Som, and Preah Khan. It covers around 26kms or more.

If you are planning to spend more than a day visiting Angkor Temple complex, then I’d recommend splitting it up into two half day visits to both sections and potentially adding a sunrise visit at Angkor. This will avoid temple overload and heat exhaustion.

If you want to run it, you can run both or just one of those circuits in a couple hours. With some creativity and careful planning you could even create your do-it-yourself half or full marathon too!

Where Can You Run in Siem Reap and Ankor Wat?

There are a few options for running in Siem Reap, including temple routes, city runs and countryside explorations.

Probably the best single run I did in Siem Reap was a temple run where I started after sunrise at Ankor Wat and ran by and through several of the temples along the “Grand Tour.”

Similarly you could do your run through the more crowded “Small Tour” circuit which also starts at Ankor Wat and weaves through several temples before ending at Ankor Tom and the famous Bayon.

If you are planning to do an early morning temple run, make sure you buy your tickets the day before, so you can start early since ticket sales don’t open until 9am and you definitely want to start early.

Even on the days I wasn’t at the temples, I was able to squeeze in pleasant enough runs in and around the downtown of Siem Reap.

Below is more info about the running conditions and some detailed route maps.

What are the Running Conditions like in Siem Reap and Ankor Wat?

Overall, running in and around Siem Reap isn’t so bad. Road conditions are manageable and there are a few different options for the types of runs you might want to do.

The town and countryside are flat with no hills or significant elevation gains, which makes it relatively easy running. You likely want to start your runs early in the morning to avoid too much traffic and congestion as well as the oppressive heat and humidity that come mid-morning through the evening.

Temperatures can be quite hot and humid in Siem Reap year round, so you’ll want to check the weather conditions. Bring plenty of water and also some cash to buy more water or drinks. There are plenty of shops and vendors throughout the complex.

In my case, I was visiting Siem Reap during the second week of January with temperatures ranging from 25C to over 33C (77F to 91F). In view of this, most of my runs started around 7 or 7:30 am and finished before 8:30.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siem_Reap#Climate

Unfortunately, formal running paths or even consistent sidewalks were nonexistent in downtown Siem Reap. The city was not built for runners. Even walking the city presents challenges. Cyclists, motorbikes, cars and tuktuks all intermix on the roads, though I found the drivers to be cautious, aware and patient compared to other countries in Asia.

In the city, there are a mix of paths and sidewalks along the river, which can make for a decent city run. Even though they were unpaved at points and, even when paved, had various obstacles to contend with like uneven stones, gravel, trees, etc. It’s definitely not a run you can go on autopilot, and you’ll need to keep an eye out at all times to avoid getting injured.

The exception would be running in Royal Gardens Park (សួនព្រះរាជដំណាក់), which is a small park in front of Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa. It’s not huge area, but the pavement and paths are safe and consistent for laps. It is also mostly shaded.

In contrast to running along the river, I found that running around the temple complexes in Ankor Wat had much more consistent conditions. It is road running, but, fortunately there is a decent shoulder along the side of the roads between the different temples. At some stages there were also small dirt paths you could use to get a bit more tree cover.

Traffic was pretty heavy around Ankor Wat with tuktuks, motorbikes, bicycles and cars, but as you got farther way from the two main complexes, traffic was quite sparse and for several sections, it was just me, the road and the surrounding rice fields. Personally I only found a few spots where the road narrowed and made me somewhat comfortable running along the wide shoulder.

During my runs in the city and countryside I found people were friendly and aware of me. I had heard that it was best to run in the same direction as traffic, which was confirmed by my hotel and local guide. So, while it might go against runner best practices, I’d recommend running with traffic.

Cambodians aren’t afraid of smiling, so don’t hesitate to share a smile and enjoy the people too.

Running Routes

Temple Run #1: “The Grand Tour” from Sunrise at Ankor Wat to Preah Khan (19k)

This route follows what is called the Grand Tour at Angkor Temple complex. It starts at Angkor Wat and ends at Preah Khan. It follows part of the small tour, before diverging and covering more distance. Most of the temples are comparatively small, less well-known and less frequented. The route follows decent roads as it weaves through a mix of countryside, man-made waterways, streams, roadside shops and restaurants, and, of course, temples, temples, temples. The route is lined by trees providing good shade as the temperatures rise.

Start at Ankor Wat and journey along the grand tour to several temples before ending at Preah Khan.

Since Ankor Wat is the only temple that opens at sunrise, this is probably the best place to start your run. Doors open at the temple at around 5 and sunrise is at around 5:30 to 6:30 depends on the time of the year. When I was there the sunrise was at 6:31 and there was a large crowd to witness it.

Following sunrise, I did a short jog out of Angkor Wat temple and onto the road connecting Ankor Wat with the neighboring temples. Here are the temples I visited along the route:

  • Pre Rup
  • Ta Som
  • Neak Pean - This isn’t a temple so much as a monument inside a series of ponds
  • Preah Khan - This was Jayavarman VII’s first capital, before the completion of Angkor Wat. It’s a large and open space surrounded by trees. Less people here than other major sites.

Personally knowing that it was going to be hot and humid, I elected to hire a tuktuk driver for the morning. He helped me plan the route, confirmed any forks in the road, carried extra water and provided a safety net in case I needed to stop at any point. It cost me 20$ usd for a long morning, including transport from my hotel to Angkor Wat for sunrise and then back from my final stop.

Here is the map of the route I made along with distances: https://runkeeper.com/user/markwk/route/4526250.

Alternatives: There are a lot of ways you might mix and match your temple run along this route. Here are a few ideas: You could shortening it by just going to a few sections. You could also start at Preah Khan at the end of my route and run in the opposite direction. You could add more distance by running through Ankor Tom complex and potentially all the way back to Ankor Wat, which would add 7 or 8 additional kilometers.

Overall, I think almost any long-distance runner will enjoy this type of run. The areas along the road contain a mix of agricultural fields, waterways, lakes and dozens of temples and ruins.

Watch out for those monkeys that just might pop up along the way!

Temple Run #2: “The Small Tour” from Sunrise at Ankor Wat to Angkor Thom (10~18k)

NOTE: I didn’t personally run this route during my recent stay in Siem Reap, instead electing to have a driver during a hot afternoon. I did measure the distances during my tuktuk tour and compare with the distances and roads provided on Ankor Wat Marathon maps, Google and Runkeeper Route Creator.

Alternatively to doing the grand tour, you can easily run part or all of the small circuit. Start at Angkor Wat and head east along the road to Ta Prohm. There are a few small temples and ruins along the way you can wander through too. This route can easily be mixed and matched with a tuktuk driver to do a 5k or 10k to up to 18k or more.

Here are the temples you visit along the route:

  • Ta Keo - incomplete and undecorated temple; built by Jayavarman V
  • Ta Proem - famous for its trees which have taken over parts of the temple; built by Jayavarman VII
  • Sras Srang
  • Angkor Thom sights like Elephant Terrace, Five entrance gates and Bayon

I’d say the easiest and smoothest run would be going from Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm, which covers about 8 or 9km. The roads are in great shape and was very relaxing along the river ways. After that you enter into one of the most visited areas of the temple complex around Angkor Thom, so there are a lot of traffic to contend with.

Alternatives: This is a pretty flexible route. Here are a few options if you want to change it up.

  • Start your run in Siem Reap. While I wouldn’t recommend this, it is technically possible to start your run from the city and run to the temple complex directly. I didn’t find the conditions and traffic to be safe to try this this time.
  • You could shortening it by just going to a few sections by ending your run at Ta Prohm (9km)
  • Have your driver take you to Angkor Thom and do a nice peaceful run inside
  • You could also start at Angkor Thom at the end and run in the opposite direction towards Angkor Wat. Note: You’ll likely be running more into the sun.

Beyond the Small and Grand Tours: If you are interested in longer distances, then you can easily combine these two tours to create a full marathon. Similarly, at the time of writing, there is one ultra marathon organized in Siem Reap. Checkout: http://www.ultratrail-angkor.com/en/ for more info. In particular, they got some great routes for 16km, 32km and 64km.

Running in and Around Siem Reap

If you are staying in the downtown area, then here are a few options for running:

River Run: Several forum posts mentioned this river run. You can indeed run long the “river” that stretches through the downtown of Siem Reap. Walk or jog to the river and then turn right or left. In my case, I started at the Hard Rock Cafe before taking a tour north and south along the Siem Reap river. (Historical note, this river is in fact a man-made canal and was one one of the fail points to the Angkor civilization in the 1300s as droughts and floods stressed their water management system).

Source: https://runkeeper.com/user/markwk/route/4526247

Royal Gardens Park: If you are staying anywhere near Siem Reap down, your safest running option might be to do some garden laps around Royal Gardens Park. Situated abound a 1.5km from Pub Street, this park is well-covered with trees and paved paths. You can either walk or jog there or even take a short tuktuk ride. By my estimate a lap around the park is about 0.8 kilometer.

Running in the Surrounding Countryside: While I didn’t have time to test this, one afternoon I visited a group of tech friends living in a house a few minute tuktuk ride from downtown Siem Reap. There are a lot of countryside and fields surrounding the agricultural basin of Siem Reap. That means rice fields with small but usable trail paths. If you are staying in this type of location, it would be easy to do and find some nice running routes through the fields and countryside. Your shade will be limited due to the lack of trees, but it would be an interesting trek.

Track? Unfortunately at at the time of writing, I wasn’t able to locate a good track or school for running in Siem Reap.

Conclusions: Running in Angkor

Overall, Angkor and Siem Reap make for some interesting runs. The temperature and humidity means you need to be careful and start early. Also since there are no formal paths to run, it’s road running. All in all, the temple complexes and easy access to transport make for a great running adventure. There are tons of sights you can sprinkle into a run too.

At the time of writing, there are a few half and full marathons in Siem Reap. Probably the most famous is the Angkor Wat Marathon in December, which would make for a unique way to enjoy a community run in a historical spot.

On my long temple run, I was the only person running. It was me alone with only the surroundings at several points. When I crossed folks, this lead to a lot of smiles and thumbs up. Cambodians are quite friendly and even with limited English, they made an attempt to say hello and encourage me.

For a longer or future stay in Siem Reap, I can definitely imagine doing some further ahead runs in the countryside, lake district and other areas. With a bike or motorbike, it wouldn’t be hard to find some nice spots to run.

Personally, this kind of historical run was a treat for all the heavy training I’ve been doing of late. Along with going to new place, I love exploring urban and rural running routes.

While running in Angkor wasn’t without challenges (especially the lack of guides and maps), it is the kind of running adventure I’ve come to enjoy a lot. If you do a bit of planning, you can definitely create a pretty unique experience.

Good luck with your running and tell me in the comments any new or alternatives routes you come up with!

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