If you’re heading to Cambodia, you’re almost certainly going to be making a stop at the country’s most iconic site, Angkor Wat. The famed complex, consisting of over 100 temple ruins right outside of Siem Reap, is the country’s most visited destination- and also holds the title as the world’s largest religious monument. But, if you’re in a bit of a time crunch and only have one day to explore the complex, not to worry- you can totally hit its highlights with just one day of exploring.
So, without further adieu, here’s everything you need to know about how to see Angkor Wat in one day.
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What is Angkor Wat?
If you’re not a big temple nerd or aren’t caught up on your early 2000s Hollywood renditions of Tomb Raider, you may not be too familiar with Angkor Wat. So here’s a quick crash course in this incredible monument.
Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer king, Suryavarman II, in the first half of the 12th century- which makes most of its buildings a whopping 900 years old. Originally used as a Hindu temple and dedicated to the gods Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, it gradually evolved into a Buddhist temple, just 50 years after its completion- and is still used for that purpose today.
The buildings of Angkor Wat, which means “city of temples” in Khmer, sprawl over an impressive 400 acres of land, with ruins of ancient temples and buildings being discovered across its footprint almost every year.
While the Khmer people have long revered this temple complex (Angkor Wat has appeared on the Khmer national flags since the 1800s- and it still appears on the Cambodian flag today!), the complex did not receive such international acclaim until it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Ever since then, Angkor Wat has exploded in popularity, being featured in a variety of films (yep, the aforementioned Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and has been ranked #1 on TripAdvisor’s Top Landmarks in the World.
How to Get to Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located right outside of Siem Reap, the fifth largest city in Cambodia, in the northern part of the country.
The vast majority of travelers arrive by bus or train from Bangkok (you can check transport options and prices here) or Phnom Penh (check out options and tickets here), but visitors come from all over, via multiple methods of travel. For example, my husband, Justin and I grabbed a cheap direct flight from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Siem Reap International Airport (thanks, Skyscanner!).
Once you’re in Siem Reap, you can book a tuk tuk (a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi) to pick you up from your accommodations, drive you from temple to temple, and ultimately, drop you back off wherever you’re staying. Your accommodations can usually help connect you with a tuk tuk driver or, alternatively, you can take a small group guided tour, like this one or this one.
If you’re on a really tight budget, you’ll usually get the best deal by asking a couple of tuk tuk drivers (you won’t have trouble finding them- they’re everywhere!) whether they offer Angkor Wat tours and negotiating with them for the lowest price.
Tuk tuks are usually super cheap to get around Siem Reap (pssst… I loved using the Grab ride share app while we were in Cambodia and Vietnam, which offers affordable pricing for tuk tuk rides without the need to haggle with your driver!). It will, however, definitely be a bit more expensive to get around Angkor Wat, since your driver will be with you literally all day. You can expect to pay anywhere from around $20 to $45 USD for a driver to be with you from before sunrise to after sunset.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Angkor Wat?
Visiting Angkor Wat has historically been on every backpacker’s Southeast Asia bucket list, but in 2017, admission prices increased pretty significantly. The current admission prices are as follows (Updated Dec. 5th, 2022):
- 1 Day Angkor Pass: $37 USD
- 3 Day Angkor Pass: $62 USD
- 7 Day Angkor Pass: $72 USD
Suggested Itinerary for Seeing Angkor Wat in One Day
So, you have one day to see over 100 temples in the Angkor Wat complex- how should you plan your day? Let me break it down for you.
1. Pick up your tickets.
Something I didn’t realize before visiting the complex is that you can’t purchase your tickets on site- you’ll need to stop by the Angkor Park Pass Ticket Counter (located here, about 7 km from the main temple) before you head to the temples themselves.
So here’s the thing- with just one day in Angkor Wat, I’d strongly recommend that you start at sunrise, not only to give yourself the most time to explore the complex, but you’ll also get to see the main temple with the fewest crowds and in the most stunning light possible.
Given that sunrise is usually between 5:30-6:30 am every day and the ticket office doesn’t open until 5 am, you should definitely try to purchase your ticket ahead of time, if you can swing it. Tickets purchased after 5 pm from the office are good for the following day, so if you time allows, I’d recommend trying to purchase yours between 5 and 5:30 pm (when the office closes) the day before your visit.
If you can’t visit the ticket office the day before, I’d just plan on getting to the ticket office as soon as it opens or, alternatively, purchasing your ticket online instead. Word of warning, though- there’s a pretty steep upcharge for buying your ticket online!
2. Sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Once your ticket is successfully acquired, you can head to your first stop of the day, Angkor Wat, to watch sunrise.
If you’re headed to the temple without a guide, I’d recommend taking a headlamp to help you find your way in the dark to the reflection pond directly in front of the complex. For the best photos, get as close as possible to the water (no one will be able to stand in front of you!) and head towards the left hand side of the lake to capture the dreamy image of the temple’s iconic towers reflecting perfectly in the water once the sun illuminates them for the first time that morning.
After sunrise, there’s a number of restaurants and vendors close to the temple where you can grab breakfast and coffee. Justin and I had a lovely meal at Neary Khmer Angkor right outside of the temple, but there are several options (which are surprisingly affordable!) to choose from.
Once you’re properly caffeinated, head on over to explore the massive temple itself, with over 1,200 square meters of intricately carved bas reliefs on its buildings’ walls, depicting religious stories and battles.
After exploring the outermost galleries, be sure to continue on back to the highest building in the center. The steps here are steep, to symbolize the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods, but the climb is absolutely worth it- this building is, by far, the most intricately decorated within Angkor Wat and offers sweeping views of the surrounding grounds.
3. Angkor Thom
From here, head to Angkor Thom, which was not just one single temple, but actually an entire Khmer city, built in the late 12th century.
Stop first at the bridge leading to the city’s Southern Gate– the left side is lined with 54 deities, while the right side is lined with 54 demons. Above the causeway towers a 23 meter tall gate, carved with a massive smiling face. It’s believed that this carving (and many of the carvings you’re about to see inside the complex) are a rendering of a semi-divine form of king Jayavarman VII, who oversaw the building of Angkor Thom.
Continue on past the gate to Bayon Temple. Also known as the “Face Temple”, this structure, with 216 unique faces carved into its 54 towers, feels like something straight out of Indiana Jones (and was my favorite in the park!)!
Right by the Bayon Temple is the Terrace of the Elephants, an ancient royal viewing platform, where the king used to oversee his army when they returned from battle. This massive terrace (spanning 350 meters!) is intricately carved with elephants and their mahouts and is definitely worth a quick stop before you leave Angkor Thom.
4. Ta Som
Pssst… want to see a hidden gem?
Head on over to Ta Som, which looks like a smaller (and less crowded!) version of the much more famous Ta Prohm (i.e., the temple from Tomb Raider), with the roots of fig, banyan and kapok trees climbing dramatically over the ruins and other native vegetation flourishing through its walls. While this temple is much smaller than Ta Prohm, there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself.
There’s a kind of ethereal beauty about this place, with the ruined temple, which has received almost no restoration work, seemingly on the verge of being completely reclaimed by the lush jungle around it. This is one of the best places within the Angkor Wat complex to stop and reflect on the stunning beauty and epic history of these temples.
5. Lunch break
You’re probably starting to get hangry and nothing ruins temple exploring (pun obviously intended!) quite like hunger. Ask your tuk tuk driver to stop for lunch- since you’re headed to Ta Prohm next, I’d recommend stopping at a restaurant nearby called Pteas Bai Krusa Khmer Ta Prohm, which uses fresh fruits and veggies from their own garden to cook their flavorful and delicious dishes.
6. Ta Prohm
As mentioned above, this temple was made famous by the Tomb Raider movie.
And it’s no wonder the set designer selected this place- for over 200 years, the roots and branches of the enormous trees surrounding the temple have been allowed to snake through and over the crumbling temple walls. The combination of the massive complex, in ruins, being slowly swallowed whole by the jungle creates a kind of otherworldly, mystical beauty- and makes this temple a not-to-be-missed stop at while you’re exploring Angkor Wat.
7. Phnom Bakheng
Phnom Bakheng is small, but mighty- thanks to its locations perched on a hilltop, it offers panoramic views from the top of its towers of the neighboring temples and the surrounding lush jungle.
One of the awesome things about Phnom Bakheng is that, unlike almost all of the other temples, it stays open until 7 pm, making this an excellent option for sunset. But be sure to head here way earlier than you’d think- thanks to its incredible view, this is the most popular spot in the entire park for sunset and, to protect the temple and other visitors, they limit the number of people entering the structure to approximately 300 at any given time.
After basically 12 hours of exploring temples non-stop, you’re probably going to be pretty pooped. Have your tuk tuk take you back to your accomodations and, once you’re rested, head out afterwards to Siem Reap’s Pub Street to get my favorite combo on the planet- a half hour foot massage, plus a pint of beer, all for $5!
Tips for visiting Angkor Wat
So you’ve got your one day in Angkor Wat all planned out- what else should you know about visiting?
- Dress modestly. Angkor Wat is still a functioning Buddhist temple, so out of respect, I’d recommend dressing on the more modest side, with your shoulders and knees covered. To be honest, you’ll likely see visitors wearing tank tops, shorts, and other items that show a certain amount of skin, but I’d advise against doing that- not only as a sign of respect for the temple and its religious importance, but I’ve also heard stories of people being turned away at the entrance or by security guards throughout the temples for being dressed inappropriately.
That being said, Cambodia is HOT and muggy, so choose light and airy fabrics that won’t be too stifling in the jungle-like environment. As an example, I have this dress (in three colors) and this dress, both of which I’ve taken to Vietnam, Cambodia, and India. They’re lightweight (so they pack down really small), are appropriate to wear to temples, and look great in photos!
- Carry your ticket with you at all times. For most of the temples, there isn’t anyone checking whether you have a valid ticket at the entrance itself, but a security guard may walk up to you at any time while you’re on the grounds and ask to see your pass. Be sure to keep it on you at all times- there’s hefty fines for being caught in a temple without it.
- Prepare for the sun. Listen, exploring Angkor Wat is kind of exhausting- there’s tons of walking and climbing involved, it’s steamy out, and you’re spending all day outside in the hot Cambodian sun.
So be sure to stay good and hydrated- whenever Justin and I travel, we take our giant Nalgene bottles with us, to cut down on using single-use plastic water bottles and to save a bit of cash. While the Cambodian government has declared that the drinking water in Siem Reap is safe to drink, it’s heavily chlorinated and tastes pretty bad. So I’d try to find accommodations that provide free filtered drinking water instead, like the Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel or Mantra Nivesha.
On a related note, you’re basically required to buy lots of fresh coconuts to drink from while visiting the temples (for about 75 cents a pop, drink ‘er up!).
Also, be sure to bring sunscreen- I love this kind, because it’s reef-safe (in case any of your travels around Southeast Asia will have you jumping into the ocean) and smells like a tropical vacation in a bottle.
Where to stay when visiting Angkor Wat
Looking for a place to stay while you’re in Siem Reap? One of my favorite things about Cambodia is how much bang for your buck you can get; think- a REALLY nice pool set up for less than $20 USD a night!
- Siem Reap Pub Hostel: If you’re on a budget or looking for a great place to meet other travelers or friendly staff, this affordable hostel (with private rooms as cheap as $13 a night!) is an excellent option.
- Grand Elysee La Residence: This hotel is conveniently located near Pub Street, has impeccable staff, and a fabulous pool to cool off in after your Angkor Wat explorations.
- Viroth’s Hotel: For under $100 a night, you can snag a room at this four-star hotel, with tons of awesome amenities, like a spa, free breakfast, swimming pool, and in-room rain showers.
I hope you have the best time exploring Angkor Wat- it definitely should be on every traveler’s bucket list! Do you have any questions about how to see Angkor Wat in one day? Let me know in the comments below!
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