No trip to Cambodia is ever complete without a visit of the world’s largest religious complex, Angkor Wat. You can find a lot of incredible ruins on this vast site so how do you make a plan to see everything?? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with my 3-day Angkor Wat itinerary – plus a lot of useful tips for visiting Angkor!
“Angkor” doesn’t only refer to the famous Angkor Wat temple but to the entire temple complex located about 7 kilometres north of the Siem Reap town. It houses some very unique Hindu and Buddhist temples, mostly from the 12th century. First, here are some general information you need to know before visiting Angkor Wat:
Before you can start exploring Angkor Wat, you must buy the Angkor Pass. You can choose from a 1-, 3- or 7-day pass. More about buying tickets below.
You absolutely must wear a long skirt or trousers and have your shoulders covered (scarf over shoulders is not enough). This is checked upon entry and you will not be allowed in if you fail to cover up. (I have noticed they are not so strict about men’s clothing but you should still be dressed appropriately out of respect.)
Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a must! If you want to see the sunset, Phnom Bakheng and Srah Srang Lake are good spots for that. I didn’t go for sunset because it was too cloudy but these places seem to be recommended by many people.
You might see some elephants being ridden by tourists at Angkor. Please please please, absolutely do not ride the elephants! Read why it’s a bad idea here.
Many food and drink stalls (including fresh coconuts!) and toilets are available in the complex.
Tickets for Angkor Wat (Angkor Pass)
This is important: you can’t get your tickets in the Angkor Archaeological Park or at the entrance. The Angkor Pass can only be bought at Angkor Enterprise in Siem Reap (address: Street 60, Krong Siem Reap).
Because Angkor Enterprise is a few kilometres away from Angkor, it’s best to buy your tickets the day before. Plus if you buy the Angkor Pass after 5pm you are allowed to watch the sunset at Angkor for free that day (and your pass will be valid from the following day).
The ticket office opens at 5am so you can buy tickets on the day and still watch the sunrise but expect the office to be super busy at that time!
You can either buy a 1-day pass for $37, a 3-day pass for $62 and a 7-day pass for $72. The good news is, the multiple day passes don’t have to be used on consecutive days.
Your photo will be taken when buying your pass so make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. Even if you are not going to the Angkor complex on the same day, you might not get your pass unless you are dressed appropriately.
How to Get Around Angkor
The entire area is huge so don’t expect to walk from one temple to another; it’s simply not possible. The most popular way to get around Angkor is by tuk tuk, but you can also consider a bicycle or motorbike.
- Tuk tuk: The most convenient way of exploring Angkor. You can hire a tuk tuk driver for a day and he will take you from one sight to another, always waiting for you by the entrance. How do you find a tuk tuk driver? Easily! They are all over the streets of Siem Reap and will be offering to take you to the temples constantly. Alternatively, your hotel or hostel will book one for you. I simply went with the driver who took me to my hostel when I arrived in Siem Reap because he seemed really nice and his rate was $15 per day (Note: it was in rainy season; rates for the tourist season might be higher.)
- Bicycle: If you feel like it, you can cycle around Angkor, just be prepared to battle some serious heat and try to choose temples not too far from each other. I personally explored Angkor Thom this way on day 3 and it’s doable. However, I wouldn’t recommend cycling for sunrise – it will be pitch black as soon as you ride out of Siem Reap!
- Motorbike: You could try renting a motorbike but it’s not recommended as there are some rumours about foreigners not being allowed to drive motorbikes in Angkor.
How many days do you need for Angkor Wat?
If you are really short on time, you can see Angkor Wat in one day but you’ll miss out on many great things and it will be a REALLY long day. I think the 3-day pass is an ideal option and it’s what I picked.
When planning a visit to Angkor, you should take the heat into account. It’s best to start exploring early in the morning (ideally with sunrise) and finish no later than lunchtime. It gets too hot by 10am which makes exploring all the temples quite exhausting. If you can, stay in Siem Reap for a week and spread out your Angkor visits. That way you won’t get sick of temples so easily!
How to beat the crowds at Angkor Wat?
Is it even possible to see Angkor without crowds?? I’ll be honest: you will never have Angkor Wat all to yourself. Angkor Wat is busy any time of the day and ESPECIALLY during sunrise.
However, Angkor is more than just Angkor Wat and there are ways to see at least the rest of Angkor relatively crowd-free.
Angkor Wat itself opens at 5am every day, while all the other temples open at 7.30am. After watching the sunrise, try to see the most popular temples (Ta Prohm, Bayon) right when they open.
If you go on the Grand Circuit, tell your tuk tuk driver to take you around the landmarks anti-clockwise – all the other tours will go in the opposite direction!
It must also be said that I was in Cambodia during rainy season which of course is the low tourist season. The tourist crowds were not as bad as they are in the main season… but still very busy. If you want less people (and want to risk not seeing a very nice sunrise), visit Angkor in rainy season.
DAY 1: The Grand Circuit (Sort Of)
The obvious place to start your Angkor tour is watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Arrive early to get a good spot by the northern reflection pond outside of the temple because thousands of other tourists will be there. Unfortunately on my first day it was cloudy as hell so there was no sun, let alone a sunrise.
From there I told my tuk tuk driver to take me to some of the temples on the Grand Circuit but go anti-clockwise.
First we stopped at Pre Rup, a small temple I had almost entirely to myself. After that we headed to Ta Som. Ta Som is a hidden gem in the forest! If you walk through to the very end and turn around, you’ll see a huge tree growing around the gate – similarly to the trees at Ta Prohm, except that Ta Som is not so famous.
Next on the Grand Circuit is Neak Pean, a tiny temple on a lake. You have to cross a long wooden bridge to get there and the views of the surrounding nature are amazing, possibly even better than the temple itself.
Last stop for the day was Preah Khan. This temple was amazingly symmetrical, with all the gates looking the same. Preah Khan is fairly large with many beautiful details and corridors to explore. It also has some ingrowing trees! Don’t miss this one.
DAY 2: Angkor Wat / Ta Prohm / Banteay Kdei
I wasn’t really satisfied with the sunrise on the first day and decided to give it another shot. It was slightly less cloudy this time but still not the breathtaking orange skies you get up super early for. Oh well… rainy season.
I went straight to Ta Prohm after that, one of the most popular temples since the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed here. It officially opens at 7.30 but they started letting people in around 7.15 – I highly recommend being there at this time! Ta Prohm is amazing, lots of trees growing through the ruins but I don’t imagine it being very enjoyable with many people around you. I was one of the first people to enter and when I was leaving the temple almost an hour later, the Chinese tourist buses had already started arriving.
The nearby Banteay Kdei is also worth checking out. It wasn’t busy at all but I liked it a lot – not too big, not too small, but a simple cosy temple.
And to finish off the second day, I returned to Angkor Wat to finally explore its interior – I wouldn’t bother going inside in the morning when it’s extremely busy (because most people go inside right after watching the sunrise!). There is no good time to see Angkor Wat without crowds so I recommend using early mornings for places that get super busy later in the day (Ta Prohm or Bayon Temple).
DAY 3: Angkor Thom
On the last day I decided to switch the tuk tuk for a bicycle and cycled to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is the biggest area of the Angkor Archaeological Park and comprises several temples, Bayon being the most significant.
I arrived at Angkor Thom at 7am and went to have a quick look at the Victory gate first. It is the gate on the eastern side which is nowhere as busy as the South gate, where every vehicle coming to Angkor Thom passes.
Main event of the day – Bayon temple. Probably the most impressive temple in Angkor! Its many stone towers have faces on each side, adding up to 200 faces. The sight is totally worth coming here for at 7.30 or even slightly earlier.
In the Angkor Thom area I also checked out the Baphuon temple which has some nice views from the top, and the adjacent Terrace of the Elephants.
There are even more temples in the Angkor Wat complex but these are the most interesting ones and ones I managed to see. I hope my little guide helps you beat the crowds when visiting Angkor Wat!
If you feel like you still need more information, Inga has a really comprehensive guide to Angkor Wat on her Visit Angkor website.