We recently visited the famous Angkor Archaeological Park, better known as Angkor Wat, in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap. This largely visited ancient site is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Wat was once was the center of the Khmer empire that ruled most of Southeast Asia. Eventually the civilisation went extinct, but left behind beautiful and mystique remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire. With more than 400 km2 of forested areas and various temples and buildings from the 9th and 15th century, it is certainly a remarkable place to visit. The ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire contain very unique and extra-ordinary architecture, which is why in 1992 Angkor was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We stayed in Siem Reap for 4 days and visited the temples during the course of three days. As we really loved our experience, we decided to share our three-day itinerary. In this article, we share the temples we visited, some basic useful tips and the hotel we stayed in.
In the itinerary we included the following complexes in Angkor: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan and Bakong.
Tickets and price
Unfortunately for us tourists, recently the ticket prices increased. A one-day ticket increased from $20 to $37, a three-day ticket from $40 to $62 and a seven-day ticket from $60 to $72. In Angkor Wat you can pay with USD basically everywhere, so getting Cambodian Riels is not particularly necessary.
We got the three-day ticket of $62 USD and if you are following this itinerary, you’ll need the same ticket. Make sure you buy them one day before you actually go in Angkor, otherwise you’ll have to wake up even earlier to buy tickets. All tuk-tuk drivers know where to bring you to buy tickets.
How to get around Angkor
There are multiple ways to travel around the ancient capitals. The possibilities are by tuk-tuk, hired taxi, bicycle and motorbike. It’s possible to arrange one of these at your hotel, or you can go to a travel agency. It is also possible to find a tuk-tuk driver or taxi on the streets.
We decided on a tuk-tuk, because Angkor is very big and some temples are quite far away. To be honest, we didn’t really consider a taxi, and think it might be expensive. Eventually, we found a tuk-tuk driver we approached on the street and payed him $15-$18 per day (depending on what our route was) to take us around Angkor. Our hotel asked $60 for a three day tour. First of all, we found this quite expensive. Second of all, we didn’t want a tour, but wanted to be able to freely say where we wanted to go.
Visiting hours of Angkor Archaeological park are between 5 am and 6 pm.
TIP: Be strategic in the times you are visiting temples to beat the crowds. Ask tuk-tuk drivers which temples are popular during which time of the day – and do the opposite.
What to bring with you
Make sure you always bring a hat, and have enough water, sunscreen, and snacks with you. Take at least 1.5 Liter of water per person. It is really insanely hot in Angkor and if you don’t protect yourself you will most likely burn your skin or just pass out from dehydration. It can be really exhausting to walk around the temples and ancient buildings, so it’s wise to take a little break now and then.
Also, you can always ask your hotel to provide you with breakfast or lunch. Among the popular temples, there are enough little shops to buy food or drinks.
Be sure to dress appropriately for the temples: cover your shoulders and knees.
Three Day Itinerary Angkor Wat
Day 1. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom
We decided to visit these two popular complexes on our first day in Angkor. We thought, why not get these two big ones out of the way while we still have the energy. Beware though, going for sunrise at Angkor Wat is definitely not strategic. A lot of people will have the same plan. However, right after the sunrise is done, it will be a good time to explore Angkor Wat itself.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
This is an early day, as you’ll watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the best preserved temple from the 12th century, and contains some of the most unique, detailed and grand religious architecture. For instance, on the walls around the central temple you can find intricate bas-reliefs. These show stories from mythology and true historical events. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu and was built by Suryavarman II. Furthermore, Angkor Wat is considered to be the heart and soul of Cambodia, making it a true landmark and national pride of the country.
We left our hotel at 5 am and thankfully our tuk-tuk driver was already waiting outside to bring us to the famous temple. We brought breakfast from our hotel that they prepared for us, but in the end we didn’t eat any of it – way to early. When we arrived at Angkor Wat it was, as expected, already crowded. We went to the right lake to watch the sunrise. Although it is certainly beautiful, for us the magic disappears by being one of the many tourists watching it. However, after the sunrise it’s the perfect time to explore the rest of the temple.
It feels super busy during the sunrise, as you are standing next to a crowd of people all blocking your view with camera’s and phones (we are guilty too). But when the crowd scatters around Angkor Wat after sunrise it is not that bad. It actually was quiet and we had time to explore peacefully.
Of course, you can also decide to watch the sunrise at another temple. Angkor Wat is typically one of the more popular places to watch the sunrise and sunset.
Break at your hotel
We intentionally booked a hotel with a swimming pool, as we heard from friends that Angkor is very hot. They were right, it was really extremely hot and humid every day, plus you walk around in the burning sun. So it’s really nice to take a dip in the pool after exploring the temples.
After watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat and exploring this beautiful temple, you can either decide to immediately go to Angkor Thom or take a well-deserved break. We decided on the latter. Although we took breakfast from our hotel early in the morning, we didn’t eat anything until we came back. Make sure you get some lunch too, before you leave for your next destination: Angkor Thom.
The last stop of the day is the 12th-century royal Buddhist city Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom, literally “Great City”, is the last capital of the Khmer Empire, and there are some amazing structures to be found here. The city, which was built in an almost perfect square, is surrounded by eight meter high and 12 km in length walls. In the middle of each wall, you can find a gate, with a bridge outside the city. Among the structures inside the walls of the city are Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Phimeanakas and Tep Pranam.
Our favourite temple in whole of Angkor is probably Bayon – together with Ta Prohm. Bayon can be seen on the featured photo on the top of this article. We loved the faces in the stones of the walls, it all made it so mysterious. We walked around for approximately two hours, visited the various temples and buildings.
After this you can decide to still catch the sunrise at one of the temples. Angkor Sunsets is a useful website to help you find the right spot to watch the sunset in Angkor. You can find key information such as likely crowd turnouts, transport options and ambiance!
Day 2. The big loop
Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan
As you might have guessed, this is a bit of a longer day then yesterday. The day starts early again, we left our beds at 7 am and our tuktuk driver was ready to drive us around the big loop. We started our tour at Ta Prohm.
There is a big loop and a small loop you can follow. You can find the map with different routes here.
Although we were there before the temple opened for visitors, we weren’t the first ones there. However, it was significantly less busy than Angkor Wat in the morning.
Ta Prohm is definitely one of our favourite temples. When you walk around, it’s as if you have walked into a movie set of Indiana Jones or Disney’s real life Jungle Book, not surprisingly that a scene of Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie was also filmed here. The walls and structures are swallowed up by the jungle, and entire roots and trees are growing on and through the temple. It’s magnificent.
Ta Prohm was built in the 12th or 13th century by the King Jayavarman VII. Besides the cleared paths for visitors and structural support against further deterioration, it has been left untouched by archaeologists.
After Ta Prohm, we visited Banteay Kdei, which is located quite close to Ta Prohm. Banteay Kdei has never been restored, which means you partly get to see it as it used to be. It was built of soft sandstone, and a lot has collapsed in the many years. Banteau Kdei was built in the 12th century by king Jayavarmar II in Mahaya Buddhism.
Pre Rup and East Mebon
Pre Rup is another very impressive temple. East Mebon looks quite similar to Pre Rup, and are often referred to as the Twin Temples. These two can be easily visited after each other. Both were build in the 10th century, and are called mountain temples, which resemble a pyramid with steps you can climb. King Rajendravarman built both temples and it is said that East Mebon was built in honor of his parents.
Both temples are big in size, and the heat makes it exhausting to climb to the top. But, yes, it’s worth it.
Also, it is still worth it to visit both temples, as they are not 100% identical. Some differences include that the material of the bricks of Pre Rub light up in the late afternoon, and East Mebon has elephants in the first and second tiers.
By the time we finished the first four temples it was around 11 am. Soon you’ll most likely get a bit tired of all the temples, but just four more temples to visit for the day. Keep going! Next one on the list is Ta Som. This Buddhist temple from the 12th century is another impressive sight, and will make you enjoy walking around a temple again.
It was built by King Jayavarman VII. It is claimed that it is dedicated to one of his teachers, but this is only speculation. The most unique feature is the huge tree that completely took over a part of the temple.
Next up is Neak Pean, a small temple located in the middle of an island, and to get there you’ll follow a bridge over the water. It was built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, and the temple is dedicated to Buddhism. During the raining season, the temple area is mostly flooded. On the island, there is a water pond with a chapel. As this was a quite small place, we didn’t stay here for too long and it was a quick visit.
If you are like us, by now you might be getting a bit tired. Before you head to Preah Khan it might be smart to get some lunch (if you haven’t already).
Preah Khan, built in 1191 during King Jayavarman VII, is one of the bigger complexes at Angkor. It resembles Ta Prohm a bit, but is a lot more quiet around this hour. The biggest difference with Ta Prohm is that it is in a good state of preservation, due to restoration efforts of World Monuments Fund.
The temple is dedicated to both Buddhism and Hinduism, as the eastern entrance is for Mahayana buddhism, and the other directions to Shiva, Vishna and Brahma.
Eventually we were done with day two around 2 pm, which leaves enough time for some well-deserved relaxation!
Day 3. Bakong and relax
This is your day to relax. Of course, it’s a great idea to get up early again and beat the crowds at one of the temples in the morning. But, you have already seen A LOT of temples, so if you are anything like us – you choose to sleep in a bit.
We took our last day in Angkor Wat a bit less serious and woke up around 10 am, took a dip in the pool and had breakfast. After that, there are multiple options on what to do with your day. Most temples on the big route are already covered. Places that still haven’t been seen in this itinerary are: Ta Keo, Prasat Kravan and other small temples on the small route and scattered across Angkor.
It is also a great option to go to a lesser known temple. Unfortunately, we didn’t do this, but Travel Fish has some great advice for lesser known temples.
We still wanted to see Bakong, so we went there on our last day. Bakong is the first large mountain temple in Angkor and was build at the end of the 9th century by King Indravarman I. It was quite a far drive from our hotel, and further away from all the other temples. Bakong is located in the the Roluos area, about 15 kilometers East of Siem Reap.
One of the popular features of Baking are the lintels, as they have well-preserved, very intricate, detailed carvings of mythical creatures. It also resembled Pre Rub and East Mebon a little bit, as it was also a mountain temple.
Do you only have one day?
It is certainly possible to visit Angkor in one day – it will just be a bit more hurried. Three days is perfect in the sense that you get the chance to visit multiple popular places early in the morning, and to take it easy when you are exhausted. Also, after three days of exploring we still didn’t see everything!
For one day of Angkor we would suggest to combine day one and two, but perhaps skip the sunrise of Angkor Wat to stay energised throughout the day. You might start around 7-8ish and visit Angkor Wat first, after which you can visit Angkor Thom and then do the rest of the big loop (or the smaller loop).
Where to sleep in Siem Reap
We stayed at Angkor Twinkle Boutique Villa, which is a reasonably priced budget hotel. This hotel is for people that want some comfort, peace and quiet after a long day of visiting the temples. It is possible to get a massage in your room (which we didn’t try out), and take a refreshing dip in the pool.
The location is not the best, as there were no other restaurants in walking distance. We did walk to town a few times, which takes around 15 minutes (great workout). It was also easy to get a tuktuk and to visit the temples you need a tuktuk or other means of transportation anyway.
The rooms were spacious and comfortable, and breakfast was simple but definitely good in comparison with most breakfast we get in budget hotels.
Book the hotel here.
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More photos of Angkor Archaeological Park
We hope you have a great time in Angkor and create some lasting memories. Please let us know if you have any questions!