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The Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia is one of the largest religious buildings in the world. It has become a major tourist site as millions of visitors visit the site each year. The awe-inspiring temples are rightly so a UNESCO World Hertiage site.

As ticket prices were hiked in 2017, many are now looking at ways to maximise their time at the Angkor Wat temples. Tourism has provided the site a much needed boost in funds as almost a third of revenue goes to maintaining the complex.

With so much to see, how do you see the very best in just one day. With many making Angkor Wat a once in a lifetime trip you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss out on the must see temples.

Here we give you the best way to see Angkor Wat, Cambodia in one day.

The History of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was built in 12th century and was once the Capital of the Khmer empire.

The temple is a much loved national monument as it is even on the National flag of Cambodia. It epitamizes the heart and soul of the Cambodian nation and people.

Whilst visiting the Angkor temples it was interesting to see the different archtecture styles of each temple.

Before we left for Cambodia we purchased a guide book so we could read up some of the history first.

We highly recommend Lonely Planet’s Pocket Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. It contains the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip. Without it we wouldn’t have learnt half of the hidden discoveries.

Pocket Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor, Edition - 3 eBook by Lonely Planet

Where to stay

Siem Reap is the closest town and is the gateway to the Angkor Wat site. It is therefore where most tourists choose to stay.

The town is filled with hotels, restaurants, shops and massage palours. It very much reminded us of Bangkok with its buzzing nightlife and thousands of tuk tuks.

Similar to the rest of South East Asia, Siem Reap has reasonably priced 3 star plus hotels with all the amenities you need. We stayed in a typical villa style hotel with a pool for a cheap price. Here’s the hotel we stayed at Eocambo Village hotel with pool.

Angkor Wat Ticket Prices (as of Feb 2019):

  • One Day $37
  • Three Days $62
  • Seven Days $72

As you can see, a three day pass is almost double that of a one day pass.

Originally we visited Siem Reap in March 2017 just after the ticket prices increased. As we didn’t know if we’d ever go back we opted for the three day ticket.

In hindsight, both of us agreed that the first day was the best in terms of itinerary and the time spent at each temple.

We were also somewhat disappointed with the final day of temple sightseeing opting to visit some of the further out temples.

I think by this point we were just temple fatigued, and didn’t fully appreciate our time spent at these particular temples.

temple exploring in angkor

Further on we’ll explain what that first day itinerary included for the best way to see Angkor Wat.

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How to get around

Unlike other tourists attractions, Angkor Wat is a huge site that is not easily accessed by foot. It spans approximately 500 acres.

The options for getting around the complex therefore include cycling, tuk tuk, motorcycle or taxi. As foreign nationals are unable to rent and drive motor vehicles inside the park, they must either cycle or hire a driver.

Hiring a bicycle is obviously the cheapest way to explore the site. However, with a lot of ground to cover it might not be the most enjoyable way to get around.

Angkor Wat is located in a jungle and gets hot and humid! Our recommendation is by tuk tuk as every driver is knowledgable of the site and will wait for you whilst you’re off exploring.

tuk tuk driver as we approach the angkor wat site
Our tuk tuk driver

The Small Circuit (+optional Angkor Wat sunrise)

The Small circuit covers all the must see temples at the site. At 17km long this is what you’ll visit in order:

  1. Angkor Wat
  2. Angkor Thom
  3. Thommanon
  4. Chau Say Tevoda
  5. Ta Keo
  6. Ta Phrom
  7. Banteay Kdei
  8. Srah Srang
  9. Prasat Kravan

Cost for tuk tuk: $15 (+$5)

We booked our tuk tuk in advance after some online advice. However we don’t think we got a better driver by doing it this way.

Our driver was pleasant enough though and kept us hydrated with plenty of bottled water.

As we’d booked and planned for three full days of temple tours we felt obliged to sick to the original plan. If we’d only negotiated a one day tour we would have had time to do other sights around Siem Reap.

If you are going to book a tuk tuk on arrival get your hotel to recommend one or better yet book it for you.

There are tuk tuk scam drivers so keep your wits about you. Don’t just go for any driver and if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! The small circuit is a set price so you shouldn’t expect to pay any more or less.

Is Sunrise worth it?

angkor wat at sunrise in front of the ponds
Angkor Wat at Sunrise

In our opinion YES. It very much depends on your priorities but for us it was an absolute must to see the Angkor Wat sunrise. Want to get that iconic picture in front of the ponds? Then sunrise is essential!

If you don’t like crowds then it might not be for you. It does get very busy.

One way we dealt with the crowds was to move on quickly once our photos were taken. We headed straight to the back of Angkor Wat where it was pretty much dead. We managed to spend an hour exploring with very few people about.

By the time we went back round to the front of the temple, the crowds had multiplied.

If you really don’t want to get up early for sunrise, you can make use of your time by starting off at another temple and get ahead of the crowds.

It’s worth noting that the Angkor Wat temple is busy anytime of the day though. It’s the most famous temple at the park so it’s always included in any itinerary.

Highlights of the small circuit

Angkor Wat

angkor wat exploring the temples

This is the first temple you visit on the small circuit and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s famous for a reason!

It is definitely one of the most visually stunning temples at the site and took over 40 years to build.

If you get up early for sunrise (4:30am) then you’ll get to see the site as it was meant to be as the sun rises up behind it.

Angkor Thom

angkor thom heads
The Bayon with the famous heads

Everyone thinks Angkor Thom is just another temple at the site, but it’s another city. Angkor actually means ‘city’.

Angkor Thom was also once the capital of the Khmer Empire after they moved it from Angkor Wat.

It’s impressive architecture looks like nothing much from a distance. But once you get up close to its 216 faces you can see the detailed carving that’s gone into each one.

The Bayon is a fascinating temple to explore with tunnels and blocked doorways and was certainly one of my favourites.

Ta Prohm

Made famous by the Tomb Raider movie this temple is one of the “big three” to see at the site.

The impressive trees that have started to take over the temple makes it a great one to visit.

It shows how the jungle has overgrown since the temples were left to ruin.

The small circuit allows you to see the most famous Angkor temples. This guide gives you all the information you need on the best way to see Angkor Wat in one day.

Which was your favourite temple at Angkor Wat?

Did you opt for a one day tour or longer? Let us know in the comments section.

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