Visiting Cambodia‘s Siem Reap and seeing the Angkor Wat and the neighboring temples was on our travel bucket for years. We were inspired to come here after visiting Ayutthaya, often called Thailand’s version of Angkor Wat.
As a part of our Cambodia itinerary, we spent three days in Siem Reap exploring Angkor Wat and the temples. We loved our time here. Angkor Wat definitely deserves its UNESCO World Heritage site recognition with the beautiful architecture and history. Plus, it even went mainstream in Hollywood blockbuster movies (ie: “Lara Craft: Tomb Raider” or “Transformers 3″). We thought 3 days was a good amount of time to spend at the temples before getting “temple fatigued.”
Whether you’re in Cambodia for five days or for one week, we highly recommend that you schedule a visit here. It’s a perfect destination for solo traveling and those traveling with kids. If you need another activity besides the temples, consider taking a cooking class in Siem Reap.
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How to Visit Angkor Wat and Temples in 3 Days
Ensure that you hire a tuk-tuk driver that you feel comfortable with and he’ll take you everywhere on your temple journey. Another great (and healthier) option is to rent bicycles and bike to each site. Angkor Archaeological Park is that big.
When we arrived to Siem Reap, we naively walked over 2 miles from the Le Méridien hotel to the ticket office/visitor center and thought that we could walk to the temples for the sunset exploration. We didn’t realize how far away it was and the workers were shocked that we didn’t have a driver. The park officials helped call us a tuk-tuk driver who also worked as one of the police officers at the ticket office.
All guests must have a ticket and there are several checkpoints when entering the park to validate the ticket. You can purchase either a 1 day, 3 days, or 7 days ticket at the ticket office/visitor center. Our 3 days ticket was
$40 USD $65 USD per person. If you buy your ticket in the evening (after 5pm), you can enter the park without having the visit count for a day visit. It’s a great way to see the sunset from Angkor Wat and experience fewer crowds.
Siem Reap Day 1: Small Circuit Tour
The first day focused on the Small Circuit Tour, which includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and smaller temples. It’s a good overview if you only had one day to spend at Siem Reap.
Per the suggestion of our driver, we skipped Angkor Wat and went straight to Angkor Thom. Angkor Wat is the first temple, and everyone rushes to go there first. One of the best things about Angkor Thom was Bayon. It is incredible to see the details in each of the stone faces. We felt happy visiting the area since the faces all had smiles. You can easily spend a while taking photos here. Highly recommend visiting this place.
If you have some time, feel free to explore the area northwest of the Bayon. The Baphuon and the Royal Palace are not as grand as the Bayon, but provide a glimpse on how life was like in the past. The Terrace of Elephants are restored where you see lots of elephants sculptures.
Chau Say Tevoda
This is one of the smaller temples that was restored. We spent about 10 minutes walking around and appreciating the details of the temples.
Ta Keo is a smaller temple, yet has amazing views of the area at the top. Be careful as the steps are super steep and knee high. A park worker started talking to us and provided the history of the temple and took some pictures for us. We provided him a small tip as a thank you (and also contributed to the worker’s side hustle for extra income). We’re not religious, yet the park worker encouraged us to pray to Buddha inside the temple (optional and with a small donation.)
We suggest coming here first when the park opens. The temple area is a decent size, and the crowds swarm in to see the famous The “Lara Craft: Tomb Raider” tree. It was amazing to see the crazy growth from the tree with the roots weaving into each other. There is another tall tree nearby which was not as popular, yet still impressive with the size. The area has plenty of picture opportunities away from the crowds.
This is a small temple, yet has a similar architecture as the Bayon. You’ll see some smiling faces here!
This unique temple was built with reddish bricks. We loved how the restored sculptures were embedded with the bricks.
Finally! We’re at Angkor Wat, one of the greatest preserved temples in history. You can easily spend a few hours here and explore the massive temple area and even do some shopping or eating on the outskirts of the temple. Our driver dropped us off for three hours before the sunset, and we maximized our time.
If you want a higher view of Angkor Wat, definitely check out Bakan. The line may be long, but it goes by quickly. All visitors receive a pass to wear around their necks. There isn’t an additional fee to visit Bakan. Enjoy!
Siem Reap Day 2: Grand Circuit Tour
Hopefully, you have a few more days to explore the temples. The second day of travel focused on the Grand Circuit Tour which includes Preah Khan, Preah Neak Poan, East Mebon, and others. We also took an extended tour of Banteay Srey (37km/23 miles from Siem Reap).
Our driver recommended that we go to Phnom Bakheng for the sunrise. He said that most people go to Angkor Wat and the temple gets really crowded. We left the hotel at 5am for the early start and arrived at the base of the hill. What we didn’t realize was that there was a hill involved to see the sunrise. If you do the early morning walk at Phnom Bakheng, ensure that you have a working flashlight. Our flashlight failed, so we followed people with one. The path was really dark and the walk had a slight hill. Luckily, the non-technical walk ended after 10 minutes.
The sunrise was at 6:30am and it wasn’t too crowded. While we didn’t have a DSLR to photograph the sunrise, it was still beautiful to see it from the peak of the temple. Otherwise, this temple was not as exciting as other temples. During our visit, most of the area was getting restoration.
If you’re looking for a more adventurous way to see the sunrise, consider taking an Angkor Wat sunrise bicycle tour!
This unique temple is surrounded by a moat and has 72 garudas on the perimeter of the area. The garudas are bird like creatures that protect the area. We attempted to try and walk around the perimeter on the unmaintained trail to find both the restored and unrestored garudas but turned around after seeing lots of insects in the area. Inside the temple has large trees in similar size to Ta Prohm. There is also a stupa in the center of the complex that looks lit depending on the light beaming into the area.
Preah Neak Poan
We weren’t expecting to walk along a bridge over the river. The temple is located in the middle of a square pool so we could see from afar.
We love the large trees with crazy roots. Ta Som has a few trees to capture your attention.
East Mebon and Pre-Rup
If you like elephant sculptures, then East Mebon is your place to visit. Most of the elephants on the corners of the temple were recently restored.
As with Pre-Rup, it was less than a mile by car to East Mebon. You will need to climb up the stairs to get a better view of the restored temples.
Banteay Srey and Banteay Samre
Our favorite temple of the day was visiting Banteay Srey. It was an additional 37 km/23 miles north of Siem Reap and took an additional 40 minutes to reach the destination. We were blown away at the incredible and intricate carvings throughout the temple. The red sandstone is bold and different than the materials used for the other temples that we saw. You definitely need to add this temple to your list!
Banteay Samre is one of the larger complexes, similarly to Angkor Wat. The temple is located on the east side of the Angkor Archaeological Park. There is a welcome and exhibition center which had more history and information about the temple. By the time we arrived, it was the mid-afternoon so we were tired from the long day.
Siem Reap Day 3: Rolous Group
The last day spent was visiting the off the beaten path temples, Roluos Group (Bakong, Preah Ko, and Lolei), which was 13km/8 miles away from Siem Reap. Compared to the other two days, the temples weren’t as impressive as in the main Angkor Wat area. Yet, you didn’t have to worry about the crowds in this area. In hindsight, we could have skipped these temples, yet we were tired of seeing so many temples.
We started the day at the Bakong which is a large area with a pyramid shape area.
Preah Ko has six statues of the same size (2 in each row) and made out of sandstone. We’re a fan of the details during the restoration.
It was a very short ride (1-2 minutes) from Preah Ko, and this one was not worth seeing. It was being restored and we couldn’t see much behind the scaffolds.
Helpful Travel Tips at Siem Reap
- Please remember to not purchase souvenirs from the children no matter how cheap the item is. Our hotel provided us the same reminder. Using children as a way to make money discourages them from going to school and receiving an education. The children often don’t keep the money they earn.
- Bring lots of water with you or buy some fresh coconuts on the temple premise to stay hydrated. This is a top safety tip when traveling here.
- Wear sunscreen and protective clothing as the sun and heat are brutal.
- Dress appropriately when entering the temples and cover up shoulders and legs as necessary.
Have you visited Siem Reap? Which are your favorite temples to visit at Angkor Archaeological Park?
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