Visiting Angkor Archaeological Park
I first came to Siem Reap in October 2014 as my first big solo trip to visit the temples of Angkor. I have such strong memories of that trip, the unique smoky smell that lingers everywhere, the ruined temples half-consumed by jungle and the kind and helpful people I met.
As much as it made me want to return, it made me reticent to come back for fear of ‘overwriting’ my memories of the first trip or finding things changed for the worse or not as I remembered.
Three years later I returned and found the place even more charming than I remembered, the food more delicious and the temples endlessly mesmerising as though I was seeing them again for the first time.
Below are my recommendations for a one week itinerary in Siem Reap to maximise the amount of range of temples you see and to visit and take part in some other attractions so you don’t get temple fatigue. These recommendations are based on my combined experiences from both trips, one in October 2014 and another in January 2018. You can also read about my recommendations for where to stay and where to eat here.
Getting to Angkor Archaeological Park
Tuk Tuk is the easiest and cheapest way to the Archaeological Park. Rather than taking your journey piecemeal, it’s best to find a good tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day (or maybe three days). Tell them where you want to go and negotiate a price. You can usually get a half day tour with a tuk tuk for around $15 – $20 or $30 – $40 for a full day.
Tuk tuk drivers know loads about the area but they are not tour guides- they’ll take you everywhere you want to go, but once you get to a site you’re on your own and they will go off to chill with their friends at one of the many roadside cafes. If you think you’d get more out of it with a tour guide then make sure you organise that ahead of time through a reputable company.
Entry to Angkor Archaeological Park
On your first day visiting the temples you’ll need to head straight to the ticket office to get your pass.
The Angkor ticket office is open from 5am to 5:30pm daily. Queues can be long but they are pretty efficient so you won’t wait long. You can buy a one day pass ($37), three day pass ($62) or seven day pass ($72).
Passes do not need to be used on consecutive days- you will have a full calendar month to use up your days- guards at various check points will punch a hole in your pass to show which day you have used up.
Make sure you get in the correct queue at the ticket office- you can’t buy all tickets from all windows- if you want a seven day pass you need to be at the seven day pass window. You will need to have your photo taken for your pass.
Not all the temples are open the same hours:
- Angkor Wat and Sra Srang open at 5am to 5:30pm, making them popular sunrise options.
- Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup are both open 5am to 7pm making them suitable sunrise and sunset viewing venues.
- Other temples are open 7:30am to 5:30pm
It’s definitely worth starting early to beat the heat and the crowds and most hotels will offer breakfast from 6am to accommodate this.
Angkor and Siem Reap one week itinerary
Day 1 – sunrise at Sra Srang and the Tomb Raider temple
If you’re looking for a Cambodian sunrise, only a handful of temples will give you access that time in the morning so you’re restricted to the early opening ones above (Angkor Wat, Sra Srang, Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup). Despite the Lonely Planet guide suggesting Sra Srang as a good sunrise spot, it’s always deserted first thing in the morning so it’s my favourite spot.
Sadly I’ve never seen a ‘proper’ sunrise at Angkor because the weather just wasn’t playing ball. It’s frequently overcast in the mornings even in the dry season so sometimes you’re just unlucky.
Your itinerary for the day:
Sra Srang is super low key and not a temple at all, it’s a 700m man-made lake that was the royal bathing pool built for King Rajendravarman. A stairway leads down into the water flanked by lion statues and naga balustrades. The sun rises across the pool and reflects in the water.
Simply cross the road from Sra Srang to Banteay Kdei, which is like a mini (and less visited) Ta Prohm. Banteay Kdei is a 12th century monastic complex. The ruins are notable for their fine carvings of aspara dancers on the pillars.
After Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm is probably the most iconic of the temples in and around Siem Reap having featured in Tomb Raider. Gnarled silk cotton and strangler fig trees grip the walls giving the site an eerie feeling.
Ta Prohm is popular so it gets busy. You can change up your itinerary a bit to accommodate an earlier start to miss the crowds, or if you visit in the shoulder season (I previously visited in mid-October) then it’s rather quieter.
Dating from the early 11th century, Ta Keo was never finished. It’s built in a pyramid shape and rises to 22m high. Climb to the top for views out over the tree tops.
There’s little shade on the temple itself so it can be a sweaty climb to the top.
A tumble-down 12th century temple in the relative wilderness which receives far fewer visitors due to its position. Despite its ruinous state there are some well preserved carvings.
Angkor National Museum
The Angkor Museum includes a wealth of artefacts from the Angkorian sites and provides some great context to the temples. It’s definitely worth a visit to see some of the statues and get a overview of Angkor’s history.
The museum is open all year 8:30am – 6pm
Finish off the day with a delicious meal at Haven Restaurant- see my post on where to eat in Siem Reap for more information about Haven and other suggestions.
Day 2 – Angkor Wat and Bayon
Today you tackle Angkor Wat and part of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, which sits inside a huge walled complex. Finish the day with sunset yoga.
Your itinerary for the day:
The symbol of all of Cambodia, Angkor is the temple everyone wants to see and it can have crowds to match. Luckily it’s huge so even when busy the crowds are relatively spread out. Start here at 4:30am to get a good spot for sunrise then stick around to explore while everyone else heads back to town for breakfast.
The complex occupies a site 1.5km by 1.3km, although the central part of the temple only covers a fraction of this area. Angkor is unusual in facing West instead of East like the other Angkorian temples. It’s surrounded by a huge moat, 190m wide. The dimensions are simply mind-blowing.
This early 10th century temple is one of the earliest of the Angkorian periods. It’s built on a 70m hill and represents the mythical Mount Meru. On a clear day your efforts climbing the hill are rewarded with views across Angkor. It’s a popular sunset site and as a result visitor numbers are now controlled at sunset so it’s best avoided unless you want to get into the queue early.
A small pyramid shaped temple just outside the South Gate of Angkor Tom. It’s generally overlooked by tourists and so it’s worth a look around for some peace and quiet away from the busier sites.
South Gate of Angkor Thom
The South Gate, as with Angkor Thom’s other entrances, is flanked by gods and demons pulling on a giant snake representing the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
Before retiring to your hotel for lunch and an afternoon swim, explore the stunning and unusual temple of Bayon that stares out at you from 200 smiling faces carved into Bayon’s towers.
The complex is huge and intricate, with carvings covering the towers and a frieze running the full circumference of the temple. The frieze in bas relief depicts daily life in Angkor as well as battles and religious mythology.
Sunset yoga at Preah Garden
Enjoy a sunset yoga session in the lotus garden at Preah Garden. This spa and yoga school
Khmer Kitchen Restaurant and Pub Street
Head to pub street for a cheap meal at Khmer Kitchen, a few drinks in the local bars and exploring the various markets; the Night Market, Art and Craft Market and Old Market.
Day 3 – relaxation day
Take a day to relax and experience a Khmer cooking class- there are plenty on offer in Siem Reap. If you’re staying at Jaya House Riverpark (see my Where to Stay in Siem Reap post for more information) they run classes throughout the week. Current number one spot on TripAdvisor goes to Lily’s Secret Garden, which may be a good place to start.
Also indulge in a massage and some spa treatments at your hotel or at one of the many spas and massage places in the town.
Day 4 – the ancient city of Angkor Thom
Finish up exploring the rest of Angkor Thom that you left on Day 2. Some of the site can be quite exposed on a sunny day so it’s advisable to take an umbrella or a wear a hat.
Your itinerary for the day:
Bauphon is a miracle of conservation. It was taken apart piece by piece and labelled for later reconstruction after the foundations could be reinforced. This process was interrupted by Cambodia’s civil war leaving the temple in pieces for several decades. The plans for reconstructing the temple were lost during this period so it had to be done without the plans when restoration work resumed in the 1990s. The temple was finally finished in 2011.
One of the most interesting features is on the back of the temple- a subtle reclining Buddha carved into the stones.
Royal enclosure and Phinmeanakas
The Royal Enclosure dates from the early 11th century and can be found behind the Terrace of the Elephants. It can also be accessed from the exit of Bauphon temple. A royal pond still stands nearby.
To the north of the Phinmeanakas lies Preah Palilay, a small temple consumed by vegetation. It’s worth the short trek through the trees as you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King
The 300m long Terrace of the Elephants was a viewing platform for the King to watch military parades. The terrace is decorated by a frieze of hunting elephants. The Terrace of the Leper King stands to the north of the Elephant Terrace and features fabulously detailed carvings.
Although tumbling down, the small group of temples now known as Preah Pithu still contain some good decorative carving.
Prasat Suor Prat and the North and South Kleang
Also within Angkor Thom are a number of other small temples to explore including the North and South Kleang and the rather larger Prasat Suor Prat, a series of 12 towers tracing the Eastern side of Angkor Thom.
Restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak
Treat yourself to a refined but reasonably priced tasting menu at Cuisine Wat Damnak to round off the day.
Day 5 – floating villages and Prasat Pnom Krom
Take a day trip to the south of Siem Reap to visit one of the floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake and some of the less-visited temples.
The late 9th century temple of Prasat Pnom Krom is about 15km from Siem Reap and is perched on a 140m high hill giving views out over the surrounding area and Tonle Sap lake.
Day 6 – the Grand Circuit
Visit the rest of Ankgor’s temples with a tour around the Grand Circuit. So jump in a tuk tuk and head around anti-clockwise to see the following temples.
Your itinerary for the day:
Prasat Kravan is outwardly simple consisting of five relatively plain brick towers, but inside are beautiful carvings dedicated to the god Vishnu.
Pre Rup sits to the south of the East Baray and dates from the mid 10th century. The temple has a number of tiers and is topped by five brick towers. It’s open early and late so is a popular sunrise and sunset destination.
The furthest East of the main temples, but worth the drive, is the well preserved Banteay Samre (one of the most intact in Angkor). This is one of my favourites to explore and it’s worth spending an hour here. It has good quality carvings and an interesting design which previously featured an internal moat, which is unique in Angkor.
Try to approach the temple from the East where a causeway with naga balustrades leads you to the temple.
The East Mebon was once only reachable by boat, standing in the middle of the East Baray. The four corners of the first two levels of the temple feature beautifully carved elephants.
Preah Neak Poan
One of my favourite temples, but usually fairly quiet, it is approached via a long wooden walkway across a baray. The temple sits on an artificial island containing a number of bathing pools which were used for medicinal purposes.
Preah Khan is reached by crossing the city moat via a causeway and features balustrades depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. It’s a vast complex dating from the late 12th century.
Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon
These temples are more or less neighbours (or as close as temples get to each other in Angkor’s vast complex). They sit just to the East of Angkor Thom so you could also see them as part of your Day 4 itinerary around Angkor Thom if you have enough energy left. Otherwise stop off at the end of the Grand Circuit before heading back to your hotel for a well earned break.
Chau Say Tevoda was built in the mid 12th century and was reconstructed by a Chinese team from some 4,000 pieces scattered around the site. There are some delicate carvings to see here.
Thommanon has some well preserved carvings worth seeing, particularly those of Devatas (female divine figures). As with many of the temples, there is disagreement about when it was built, but many believe it is contemporaneous with Angkor Wat.
Day 7 – Banteay Srei
Head out of Angkor to the sights beyond to see beautiful Banteay Srei and the informative Landmine Museum and Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre. The trip from town takes around 40 minutes by tuk tuk but it’s a pleasant, scenic ride and a nice chance to see more of the surrounding countryside.
Your itinerary for the day (shown by distance from the Angkor ticket office):
About 30km north of Angkor lies Banteay Srei. The temple complex is exquisitely carved and well worth the bumpy tuk tuk ride there. It’s worth an hour or so to fully explore the intricate carvings.
Learn more about Cambodia’s more recent past at the Landmine Museum. It was founded by an ex-child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who later dedicated himself to ridding Cambodia of landmines and other unexploded ordnance.
For something a bit different, pop into the nearby butterfly centre on your way back to town to see Cambodian butterflies. The centre supports local projects for poverty alleviation and for conservation projects.
Dinner at Marum
Head for dinner at Marum, a social enterprise and training restaurant for tasty local dishes.