The stunning temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia are a fascinating place to visit and luckily just a short flight away from Thailand. Although spending just one day at Angkor Wat has been done by many travelers, this is an example where the most popular route may not be the best route. Perhaps it’s a good idea to reconsider spending a bit longer time at these incredible temples.
Why should I go for more than one day at Angkor Wat?
Even though the Angkor Archaeological Park spans over 400 square kilometers and is located in the sweltering jungles of Cambodia, many visitors have, and will continue in the future, to visit the main temples of Angkor in a single day.
However, let it be known that Angkor is not a one-stop shop. There’s far more to explore than the famous and singularly iconic temple, Angkor Wat, for which the park is named. In fact, there are nearly fifty temple ruins contained within the Angkor Archaeological Park alone and a one-day temple hop can only realistically include about three major temples (with a few smaller ruins thrown in). This hardly does them justice!
Sure, it’s possible to spend one day at Angkor Wat (because it’s just that one temple). But it’s also possible to spend one day exploring the ‘big name’ ruins within the Angkor Archaeological Park (which is what most people mean when they say ‘Angkor Wat’). That’s good news if you’re limited by a tight budget or travel schedule. One day is also the perfect amount of time if you’re the type of person who wants to capture a few great shots of the iconic temples without getting bogged down in the historical or architectural nuances.
To be fair, it would be a shame to travel all the way to Southeast Asia without somehow squeezing in a trip here, even if it is for twelve hours or less. But be warned: for those who are overambitious and attempt more than three major sites in a single day, you risk getting “templed out.” Don’t underestimate the ridiculously brutal heat, how much time it takes to travel between sites (even with motorized transportation), and the physical exertion required to explore the corridors and climb the staircases of each temple. Be careful, because you may look back on the trip and remember it as a pretty unforgettabl(y miserable) experience.
On the flip side, spending a few more days at Angkor opens up the opportunity to visit most of the major sites within the Angkor Archaeological Park without feeling rushed. With the extra time, you can explore the areas further away from the main sites and have the flexibility to take alternative routes from the massive tour groups. Although there are good reasons for why certain sites such as Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, and Ta Prohm are considered the main attractions, there are some incredible temples that are absolutely worth visiting but never make it on an itinerary unless you have an extra day or two to visit.
Regardless how long you stay, it helps that there’s an international airport conveniently close to Angkor so there’s not much time wasted to traveling. In fact, a flight from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap International Airport (REP) in Siem Reap, Cambodia is only an hour and a half followed by a short taxi ride into town. This is actually faster than trying to take a trip to some of Thailand’s islands. Unbelievable, right?
Three days are perfect. Here’s what you should do at Angkor:
The Angkor Archaeological Park issues one-, three-, and seven-day tickets. Pretend you’re Goldilocks for a minute: a one-day trip is too short, a seven-day too long, but a three-day trip to Angkor is just right.
|TIP: If you arrive in Siem Reap late in the afternoon, tickets purchased after 5pm are valid that day until sunset the following day. It’s possible to squeeze in a sunset at the temples for no extra fee if you go before 6pm.|
DAY 1: Head to the main entrance (west gate) of Angkor Wat around 7am. While the sunrise crowd is leaving to go to breakfast, explore this massive site with fewer people. Explore the pagodas throughout the property as well as climb steep stairs to the top of Angkor Wat. Head back to town for an early lunch and then take an hour or so of your afternoon to view Angkor within a tethered hot air balloon (an extra 20 USD per person). In the evening, catch the sunset at Sras Srang overlooking a manmade lake.
|TIP: If you want to see the sunrise, your driver can take you directly to the reflection pool between 5:35am (June) and 6:25am (January).|
DAY 2: Explore the old capital city, Angkor Thom, by entering through the south gate entrance flanked by statues of gods and demons. Inside is the Bayon Temple, which can be recognized by its series of stone carvings of massive faces, each smiling towards the four cardinal directions. Within the city are Baphuon and the smaller sites of the Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of Leper King. In the afternoon after lunch, explore Ta Prohm, a crumbling temple partially entangled in the roots of magnificent silvery trees. End the day with a walk across a bridge to Neak Pean, a manmade island.
DAY 3: Head to Kbal Spean, an archaeological site roughly 50 km northeast of Siem Reap. A 45 minute (2 km) hike leads you to the River of a Thousand Linga (carvings within a riverbed) and a beautiful waterfall with a swimming pool. Have lunch in town and then on the way back to Siem Reap visit Banteay Srei, a pink sandstone temple decorated with intricate carvings of goddesses. Finish with a trip to a miniature version of Angkor Wat called Bantaey Samre.
The right tour guide at Angkor Wat makes all the difference
In all honesty, the right tour guide can make the trip around Angkor truly special. We had a phenomenal experience with our English-speaking Cambodian guide, Sim. Funny, courteous, and with an uncanny ability to have an answer for every question, he brought the history of Angkor to life.
Having Sim as a tour guide took the pressure from tackling this huge place. He led us through concise routes, as opposed to us haphazardly navigating the temples ourselves and wasting precious time. Sim was great at letting us explore the temple ruins at a comfortable pace while simultaneously avoiding crowds. Plus, he pointed out some spectacular carvings that we otherwise would have missed. He was nothing like the dime a dozen hawker guides that spout out memorized lines but are unable to answer questions. Nope, Sim knew it all.
Touring Angkor’s ruins would not be the same even with a guidebook in hand. And there are no personal headphone sets with pre-recorded historical descriptions of each temple at Angkor, either. Such was the case when we’ve visited other historical places like the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia or the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Cost and Extra Info about Angkor Wat
How much are tickets to Angkor?
Tickets for the Angkor Archaeological Park are available for purchase at the Angkor Conservation Area ticket booth and cost 20 USD for a one day pass, 40 USD for a three-day pass, and 60 USD for a seven-day pass. Children under 12 are free. The three-day pass can be used any three days within a week while the seven-day pass can be used any seven days within one month. The pass covers most of the temples within the park with the exception of Beng Mealea and Phnom Kulen as well as the hot air balloon. Be sure to keep you pass with you at all time, as park officials will check to see that you have them. Failure to do so will result in a hefty fine.
How do I to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia from Thailand?
If you’re coming from Thailand, there are direct flights from BKK (Bangkok) to REP (Siem Reap) serviced by Thai Smile, AirAsia, Bangkok Airways,Thai Airways, and Cambodia Angkor Air. Once off the plane, grab a taxi or shuttle from one of the kiosks within the airport and head into town just a few kilometers away.
|TIP: If you have a Thai visa (Tourist or Non Immigrant) and plan to come back to Thailand after visiting Angkor Wat, don’t forget to apply for re-entry permit at your local immigration office in Thailand or at the international airport in Thailand.|
What’s the weather like in Siem Reap?
The average daytime temperature ranges from 86⁰F to a scorching 95⁰F (30⁰C to 36⁰C) throughout the year. The most pleasant (coolest, driest) months to visit are November, December, and January. We’ve visited Siem Reap once in April (the hottest, haziest month – not recommended) and once in October (end of wet season, which goes from May to October) and it was still lush after the rains with few tourists – beautiful!
DISCLOSURE: We were guests of Viking River Cruises which included a trip to Angkor Wat as part of the Magnificent Mekong itinerary. All opinions are our own.