How We Conquered Angkor in a Day

The Angkor Archaeological Park is a massive complex, stretching over 400 square kilometers. It would be nearly impossible to cover it in a week, let alone one day. You could spend hours exploring and getting lost in Angkor Wat alone, the most popular and well known temple of the bunch. However, ancient temples and ruins are not everyone’s forte, and we just happen to fall into that category. Although we knew that the famous Angkor Wat sunrise was something we had to witness in our lifetime, we also knew that multiple days of temple-hopping just did not appeal to us. I think we somewhat expected regrets when we decided to go with a one-day pass, but turns out it really was enough for us.  With our one day pass, we managed to catch the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, the Angkor Wat sunrise, and a visit to the top 4-5 sites. If you are unsure how many days to spend exploring this ancient city, try taking our quiz to help you decide how many days you should spend at Angkor Wat. Just keep in mind, it’s not a competition to see the most temples. Everyone has different preferences; different experiences. If you do decide to go with a one day pass, here is one way to use it:

Angkor Wat in One Day

sunset angkor wat phnom bakheng

Catch the Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

A one-day pass will get you in the gates starting at 5 pm the evening prior so this is the best time to catch the sunset. After an exhausting full day of temples the following day, you’ll be glad that you already checked the sunset off your list. Additionally, it will give you the opportunity to catch a second sunset from another spot the following evening if  you wish (i.e. Angkor Wat or Tonle Sap Lake). If you arrange for a tuk tuk to provide your transportation, you can expect to pay $5-6 for the ride to/from the sunset. Phnom Bakheng is the most popular spot and your tuk tuk driver will know just where to take you. Just to be clear, the sun will be setting over the countryside and not behind Angkor Wat, which confused us along with many others that came for the viewing. In fact, this is not an ideal spot for viewing Angkor Wat at all. If you are hoping to catch Angkor Wat at sunset, then you should skip Phnom Bakheng and go there instead. That being said, Angkor Wat is best seen in all its glory at sunrise…

sunset crowds at phnom bakheng

Crawl Out of Bed at 4:30 am – Load up on Coffee – Prepare for the Sunrise at Angkor Wat

To be honest, the sunset was kind of disappointing. We’ve seen some stunning sunset pictures that others have captured before us, and we just did not have the same experience. If you are debating between the sunset or sunrise, definitely go with the sunrise – it is not to be missed. Although it requires dragging yourself out of bed before dawn and fighting hoards of people, it really is a magnificent site to see and will make your entire trip worth it. There will be plenty of vendors looking to sell you hot coffee and breakfast while you wait. It might be overpriced but it was worth it after dragging ourselves out of bed so early! Get there early to grab a spot right up front, otherwise getting a picture without the crowds in them will be nearly impossible. Just go ahead and expect the obnoxious pushing, shoving and elbowing that will likely occur and try to not let it ruin your moment.

 

 

There is some debate about the best way to plan your day going forward. Many people suggest going straight into Angkor Wat, assuming many will go straight to breakfast after the sunrise leaving the temple empty. Others say skip Angkor Wat and go straight to Ta Prohm to experience fewer crowds and ideal lighting for pictures. We decided to go ahead and explore Angkor while we were there.

Angkor Wat

One regret we both share is that we did not have a tour guide while exploring Angkor Wat. We were told that we could hire a tour guide on site that morning but, unfortunately, that proved impossible. We went at it alone, and although we were still blown away by the sheer size and architecture of Angkor, we kind of wandered around aimlessly not totally sure what we were looking at. Eavesdropping on other tour guides helped a bit, but we definitely should have done more research and prepared ourselves. Tip – arrange for a guide through your guest house. It will set you back approximately $30/day.

 

 

 Angkor Thom

We spent about one hour exploring Angkor Wat and then decided to grab some breakfast. While eating, we were discussing with our tuk tuk driver that we wished we had hired a guide. Fortunately, a nice guy who was on a solo trip overheard and offered to share his guide with us. Score! Our next stop was Angkor Thom, meaning “Great City”. It was established in the twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII and was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. Following Angkor Wat, this is the most popular stop for Angkor explorers. Enclosed by a moat and 8 meter high wall are the famous temples Bayon and Baphoun, both of which should be included in your itinerary.

angkor thom siem reap

angkor thom siem reap

Bayon

Bayon is a favorite among many and most recognizable by the ginormous stone faces peaking around every corner. This was also one of our favorites, albeit the most crowded temple we visited that day. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the terraces and galleries and admiring the ornate faces – and taking fun nose-to-nose pictures like the one below.

 

 

Baphuon 

Nestled 200 meters from Bayon is the “Tower of Bronze”, Baphuon, which dates back to the 11th century. This temple has endured several collapses and has been the most difficult to restore. Prepare to climb several steep staircases if you wish to check out the views from the top. The climb may not be suitable for those with a fear of heights, but the views are quite worth it.

 

 

Ta Prohm: The Tomb-Raider Temple

Ta Prohm was the most charming and mystical sight of the day. It has become an Angkor icon following its cameo in the Angelina Jolie movie, Tomb Raider. It almost feels like you are on the set of a movie as you wander through the ancient ruins that have been reclaimed by the jungle. With roots and vines of massive banyan, kapok and fig trees twisting about the walls and doorways of these breathtaking ruins, it feels magical and a bit eerie at the same time.

 

 

Unfortunately, although only a little past noon, the crowds and the heat really did us in at Ta Prohm and we decided to call it a day. While there were so many other temples left to explore, we were content leaving it at that. Our recommendation is to be prepared and do your research to see which of the temples appeal to you the most. Rather than trying to squeeze them all in and pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, settle on a few of them and allow yourself time to explore them deeper. Most importantly, take a moment throughout the day to relish in the fact that you are standing in the middle of this ancient city that had been lost to the world for so many centuries. It really is incredible.

Explore the temples of Angkor Wat with us:

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Have you been to Angkor? What was your favorite temple? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Well, visit Angkor wat in one day is a tough schedule. But it can be done if you are short of days to stay in Siem Reap. I believe the most recommend activity is to catch up with the sunrise. Most of the people do and remember their experience.

    One of the best part I enjoy Siem Reap is food. They have a lot of good and cheap restaurants around the pub street.

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