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Visiting Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia? This destination is featured on many person’s travel bucket list and for good reason – Angkor Wat is one of the most iconic sights in the entire world. You will be in love with each step of your journey, from Angkor Wat Sunrise to Angkor Wat Sunset. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of the most astonishing architecture, as well as being an awe-inspiring example of 12th-century feats of engineering. Without a doubt is one of the must-see places when visiting Cambodia.
Although everyone calls the complex Angkor Wat, this name actually refers to the main temple inside the complex, the one which is recognizable from all of the tourist promotional materials for the site. The temple is even featured on Cambodian riel banknotes. However, there is far more to see here than just one temple; the Angkor Archaeological Park covers 162.6 hectares – 1,626,000 square meters – making it the largest religious complex in the world, and there are a plethora of temples and other historical remains to discover and explore.
With this in mind, if you only have one day to visit Angkor Wat, it can be hard to decide and prioritize exactly what’s best to see. Here I have compiled a sample day itinerary and a detailed guide for visiting Angkor Wat, including some practical information to help you organize your trip. I’m so happy to share my experience at one of the most beautiful places on Earth!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Angkor Wat Guide: A One-Day Itinerary for Visiting Angkor Wat
- 1.1 Angkor Wat Sunrise: Get up early to enjoy it!
- 1.2 Grab some breakfast
- 1.3 Bayon Temple – the Temple of Faces
- 1.4 Baphuon Temple
- 1.5 Terrace of the Elephants
- 1.6 Preah Khan
- 1.7 Ta Prohm – the temple from Tomb Raider
- 1.8 Take time out for some lunch
- 1.9 Here are some options for after lunch:
- 1.10 Alternative Angkor Temples
- 1.11 Enjoy the sunset at Phnom Bakheng
- 2 Angkor Wat Ticket Prices and Purchasing Information
- 3 Insider Tip for seeing the Angkor Wat Sunset even if you only have one day in Siem Reap
- 4 Angkor Wat Opening Hours
- 5 Getting To and Around Angkor Wat
- 6 Best Time of Year to Visit Angkor Wat
- 7 Angkor Wat Dress Code
Angkor Wat Guide: A One-Day Itinerary for Visiting Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat Sunrise: Get up early to enjoy it!
To enjoy one of the best sunrises in the world, set your alarm clock in order to arrive at the main temple of Angkor Wat at 5:00 am or soon after. Although the sun does not start to rise until between 5:30 and 6:00 am, getting there earlier will ensure you find the perfect spot to get those Instagrammable photos and videos. Make sure to bring a small flashlight with you, or even use the one on your phone, for when you are walking up to Angkor Wat to ensure you don’t trip in the dark. The ground is pretty uneven so it’s difficult to navigate without extra light. If you are traveling with a guide, they will show you the best place to stand. If not, head over to the left side of the lake and grab a good spot. Believe me, even at that hour of the morning, you won’t be alone.
Once the sky is light, do not be tempted to head off straight away. It is better to wait until the sun has completely risen from behind the temple; the view is just as stunning as the sunrise itself. I personally stayed longer around Angkor Wat and I noticed how people started moving and walking away after 7:00 am, so this was the perfect time to get a shot without anyone in the background and to find different angles for my instagrammable shots.
Grab some breakfast
Trekking around the Angkor complex can be pretty exhausting, so you need to make sure that you are fully nourished so that you have enough energy for the rest of the day. Because Angkor Wat is so close to Siem Reap, it is perfectly feasible to go back to your accommodation to grab some food and then return to the site. However, there are also lots of food carts which pop up around the entrance to Angkor Wat, for the sunrise and visitors, where you can purchase different drinks and baguettes. I would personally recommend this option as it will save you time and let you get on with exploring the site.
Bayon Temple – the Temple of Faces
After Angkor Wat, Bayon is the most famous of the Angkor temples. It is good to head here once you have enjoyed the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Many visitors tend to explore Angkor Wat after they’ve watched the sunrise and then head to Bayon. So, if you want to miss the majority of the crowds, go straight to Bayon. Bayon Temple lies at the center of what was the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the final and longest-lasting capital city of the Khmer Empire, which was home to approximately one million people.
As the nickname ‘the Temple of Faces’ may suggest, Bayon Temple is well-known for its abundance of massive carved faces. There has been some debate as to whose faces are represented, but a popular belief is that they are a combination of the faces of King Jayavarman VII, who ordered the temple to be built, and Buddha. There are 54 pillars, each bearing four faces, bringing the total to 216, although some have eroded away with the passage of time. Each face has its own expression, making for some great photos. As well as the faces, there are also lots of interesting bas-reliefs to admire.
It is quite a narrow temple, so be prepared to squeeze your way through some dark and narrow passages.
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Also located in Angkor Thom is Baphuon Temple, another popular sight. Best described as a three-tiered temple-mountain, this temple offers great views over Angkor Thom but be prepared for a climb; the staircases are pretty steep. Every single surface is covered in intricate carvings, making this one of the most interesting and beautiful of all the temples. Be sure to stop and admire the reclining Buddha as you make your way down the far side of the temple. This 9-meter-by-70-meter statue was added in the 15th century when the temple converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.
Terrace of the Elephants
It is likely that you will rejoin the crowds as you make your way to another Angkor Thom highlight, the Terrace of the Elephants. Attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, this platform was used by King Jayavarman VII to look out at his victorious returning army and to also make announcements to his people. The terrace is thus-called because of its carvings of elephants on the eastern side, but there are also other animals to spot within the artwork, such as lions and garuda, a mythical bird or bird-like creature from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain legend.
Preah Khan is not too far away from Angkor Thom and is very similar to Ta Prohm in that vegetation and trees have been allowed to grow throughout the temple. It may not be as impressive as Ta Prohm, Bayon or Angkor Wat, so it does get much fewer people visiting, but that makes it a great stop to escape the crowds. As your reward, inside you will find many excellent carvings to marvel at too.
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Ta Prohm – the temple from Tomb Raider
Anyone who has seen the film Tomb Raider will recognize Ta Prohm. It is not the best-preserved of the Angkor temples, but the number of strangler fig trees, which have been left to grow there, make for an interesting combination of wood and stone.
Unfortunately, there are not as many narrative bas-reliefs to be found at Ta Prohm; it is believed that many of them were destroyed by Hindus after the death of King Jayavarman VII. However, there are still some cool carvings to be seen. Check out the motif of the ‘stegosaurus.’ A lot of people – particularly young-earth creationists – believe that the carving represents a living stegosaurus, but it’s actually a rhino or boar set upon a leafy background.
Take time out for some lunch
By the time you have seen all of the temples mentioned above, you will be ready for some lunch. There are a few restaurants close to the entrance of Angkor Wat, who serve pretty good food at reasonable prices. Some of them also have air conditioning, which can be a welcome break from the heat. Just pick one and enjoy!
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Here are some options for after lunch:
1. Angkor Wat
After lunch, you could head back to Angkor Wat. By this time, most of the crowd should have dispersed. The temple comprises two forms of Khmer architecture, the temple-mountain, and galleried temple. Built originally to represent Mount Meru, the mythical home of Hindu devas or deities, it then transitioned into becoming a Buddhist temple. As a consequence of this, there are both Hindu and Buddhist elements visible throughout the whole complex.
Angkor Wat is most famous for its bas-reliefs, which depict epic tales from Hindu mythology. For a beautiful vista, make your way up to the top towards the central tower. The steps get steeper and steeper, the higher you go, but for good reason: To represent the difficulty of ascending to the level of the gods! But it’s definitely worth the effort for the views you’ll behold at the top and, another bonus, the top level is one of the most intricately decorated locals. So, lots to see!
2. Go to see other temples outside the Angkor Archeological Park
If you want to follow in my footsteps, after lunch I went to a few of the alternative Angkor temples mentioned in the following section, rather than returning to Angkor Wat.
Insider Tip: The easiest and most convenient way to take advantage of the full day in Angkor Wat is by hiring a tour guide. Mine was amazing and he knew all the best ways to beat the crowds, where to take the best photos, and also provided me with the history and stories of the spots we visited. It really would have been a different experience without him.
Alternative Angkor Temples
This one-day itinerary is just a sample of what you can see at Angkor. If you decide to spend more time at the complex, or if you fancy substituting one of these temples for another, here is a list of other visit-worthy sites:
- Banteay Srei is considered to be the art gallery of Angkor Wat;
- Banteay Samre has beautiful, ornate doorways and detailed walls;
- Pre Rup is a good place to watch the sunset over the rice paddies and Cambodian jungle;
- Beng Mealea is where nature really has taken over and you will find yourself climbing through windows and over ruins in order to explore them.
Enjoy the sunset at Phnom Bakheng
The first of the temple-mountain temples constructed in Angkor, Phnom Bakheng, is quite a small temple but popular for its wonderful location. It gives a birds-eye view of Angkor Wat, making it the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Get there as early as you can, as there are now restrictions on how many people can enter at one time.
Angkor Wat Ticket Prices and Purchasing Information
A one-day ticket for Angkor Wat costs $37. You can either buy your ticket after 5:00pm the day before you want to visit or on the day itself. Payment can be made in US dollars, Cambodian riel, Thai baht or Euros, and the ticket counters also now accept Visa and MasterCard as well as a few other card companies. Currently, you also have the option of buying your tickets online if this is more convenient for you.
If you want to buy multi-day passes, there are two available: The three-day pass costs $62 and can be used on any three days within the 10 days after your purchase (they do not need to be consecutive) or consider the seven-day pass which costs $72 and can be used any seven days within a month of its purchase.
If you plan on visiting the temples of Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea, there is an extra fee for them. Phnom Kulen is a sacred pilgrimage site, so it costs an extra $20; for Beng Mealea, the price is $5 extra.
When buying your tickets at the Angkor Ticket Centre, the counters for day tickets are to the right. Three-day ticket counters can be found in the middle, and seven-day counters to the left. Note: The ticket will have your name and photo on it, so you cannot transfer it between yourself and someone you know. Your photo will be taken at the counter.
Make sure you do not lose your ticket! The penalties for doing so are huge! If you lose your one-day pass, you will need to pay $100. If you have a three-day pass, it is $200, and $300 for a seven-day one.
Insider Tip for seeing the Angkor Wat Sunset even if you only have one day in Siem Reap
HINT: If you decide to buy your one-day Angkor Wat ticket the night before, you can then see the sunset at Angkor Wat for free, after you have purchased your ticket. This will give you the chance to see the sunset the next day in an alternative spot.
Angkor Wat Opening Hours
Opening hours for the ticket center and temples are as follows:
- Angkor Ticket Center: 5:00am to 5:30pm
- Angkor Wat and Srah Srang: 5:00am to 5:30pm
- Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup: 5:00am to 7:00pm
- All other temples: 7:30am to 5:30pm
Getting To and Around Angkor Wat
The Angkor Wat complex takes around 15 to 20 minutes to reach by tuk-tuk or taxi from the nearby town of Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a great place to base yourself for visiting the temples; it is a cool little town with lots of bars, restaurants, and good quality hotels and hostels.
You should have no problem getting a tuk-tuk or taxi to take you to the site. Most of the drivers are keen to take tourists there as it is a big earner for them. If you have not already bought your ticket, make sure the driver stops at the ticket center on the way in. The ticket center is located quite a way out of the complex; do not worry, your driver will know exactly where to go.
If you want to conserve some energy, it is a good idea to hire a tuk-tuk, taxi or arrange everything in advance with a tour company which provides you a tour guide and a car with a driver for the whole day. A tuk-tuk costs on average $20, a taxi $30, plus you will need to negotiate the price with the driver.
For one-day trips to the complex, it is definitely worthwhile hiring a guide to take you around Angkor Wat. This way you can learn more about the temples and the guides often know the hidden places which tend to get fewer visitors. A guide for the day usually costs around $35. If you are feeling energetic – and do not mind the heat – you can also rent bikes from pretty much every hotel in Siem Reap.
Best Time of Year to Visit Angkor Wat
Because of the importance and popularity of the site, Angkor Wat is busy all year-round, so there is no getting away from the crowds, unfortunately. If you want to coincide your visit with the best weather, go in the dry, mild months between November and March. April and May are also pretty dry but it will begin to get hot and humid then as well. June to September are generally not recommended, as there can be sudden downpours and there is no real cover from the rain. However, my friend visited in August and it was absolutely fine; extremely hot, but fine all the same and no rain. Guess mother nature was feeling generous that day.
Personally, I’ve visited in February and the heat was unbearable. I usually don’t even sweat when I’m working out, but during this time, I looked like I’d just stepped out of the shower. It was a very different experience for me and one that I wouldn’t like to repeat. Probably not as visible from my pictures, because I worked hard to hide it, but so true!
Angkor Wat Dress Code
As Angkor Wat is a religious site, you need to dress accordingly. Make sure you wear something that covers both your knees and shoulders, even when you are buying your tickets; if the ticket counter staff feels you are not dressed appropriately, they will refuse to sell you a ticket.
Because of the heat and the fact that there are very few places to get away from it on the site, you should wear lightweight clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton. When visiting Angkor Wat early to watch the sunrise, a light jacket or cardigan would also be a good idea as it can still be pretty chilly first thing in the morning. As for footwear, you will be walking over many uneven surfaces, so sturdy shoes are a must. I recommend hiking sandals; they have the advantage of having good grip while also letting your feet breathe in the heat. Just be aware that your feet and sandals will get really dusty and you should be careful where you step!
Of course, one day is not enough time to see the entire complex but, if you only have the one day, following this itinerary will give you the best chance to see some of the most beautiful temples, based on your interests.
The Angkor complex really is one of the most stunning and fascinating sights in the world and even just spending one day there is enough to glimpse how splendid these buildings must have been in the past, and realizing how blessed we are to be enjoying them in the present!
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