The main temples of Angkor can be seen in a day, but that hardly does justice to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three days in Angkor gives you enough time to soak up the main structures at your leisure and get a good impression of the former might of the Khmer culture.
Visitors to the Angkor Archaeological Park use Siem Reap as a base. Tickets to the park—one-day, three-day, and seven-day—are available at the main entrance on the road from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. One-day tickets are also available at a second entrance off the airport road.
There are a number of options for getting to the temples (and between the temples). You can get around by bicycle, in a tuk-tuk, on the back of a motorbike, or in a taxi or minivan. It takes 20 minutes to get from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat by motorbike, tuk-tuk, or taxi. On a bicycle it takes about 40 minutes. Whatever mode of transport you choose, be sure to negotiate everything in advance.
One Day in Angkor
One day is not enough to absorb the power and beauty of the Khmer Empire, but it does allow for some fleeting glimpses of its architectural highlights.
Start very early and catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, then proceed to the South Gate of Angkor Thom and enter the royal city to take in the recently restored Baphuon, the intriguing Terrace of the Leper King with its hidden corridor, and, of course, the Bayon, the most spectacular structure within the walls of Angkor Thom. The Bayon features the carved faces of the bodhisattvas, among the most iconic sights of the Khmer Empire.
Return to Siem Reap and the Old Market for lunch, or proceed to Ta Prohm and grab a bite there before exploring the forest temple in the early afternoon. Then make your way back to Angkor Wat for a longer visit before heading to the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng for the sunset.
Three Days in Angkor
Three days are enough for most visitors to take in all the major sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park at their leisure.
Start your journey at the South Gate to Angkor Thom and explore the royal city for the rest of the morning. There is enough time to take a close look at the Bayon (the city’s most spectacular structure) as well as the Baphuon, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, and Phimeanakas. Have lunch at one of the food stalls near the Bayon before heading to the Victory Gate in the afternoon. Proceed to the fantastic forest temple of Ta Prohm, with a stop at Ta Keo, a simple but imposing sandstone pyramid, and explore Angkor Wat before catching the sunset inside the temple complex.
Try for an early morning start and catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat before proceeding to the quiet but mesmerizing temples of Preah Khan and Neak Pean as well as the temple mountain of Pre Rup and peaceful Ta Som. Head back to Siem Reap for lunch. In the afternoon, take the 30-minute ride out to the Roluos Group of temples, the remnants of the first major Khmer capital, and try for the sunset at Phnom Bakheng if you don’t mind the crowds. (It’s a 30-40-minute ride from Roluos to Phnom Bakheng, an hour if you are on a bicycle.)
No visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park would be complete without a walk around Banteay Srei (a 30-40-minute ride from Siem Reap), an exquisitely carved sandstone temple. Arrive before 8am to beat the crowds. During or just after the rainy season, Kbal Spean, a nearby riverbed full of stone carvings, is worth a side trip. Grab lunch at Banteay Srei on the way back from Kbal Spean, or, if you are skipping the riverbed, the food stalls in front of Ta Prohm are adequate for a modest meal and a chance to cool down. From Banteay Srei, take the 40-minute ride to the Eastern Mebon, built on an artificial island in the middle of the now-dry Eastern Baray, and the rarely visited Banteay Samre, almost a miniature version of Angkor Wat, then check out the smaller temples of Banteay Kdei and Prasat Kravan in the afternoon. Enjoy a last sunset at Angkor Wat before heading back to Siem Reap.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Angkor Wat.