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Angkor Wat 1-Day Itinerary; How to spend 1 day visiting the temples of Angkor Wat

 

Only have 1 day to visit Angkor Wat? No problem! I’ve put together this Angkor Wat 1-day itinerary to help you make the most of your limited time at this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site.

With over 1000 temples within a 400 square kilometre area, it is impossible to see it all in just one day, or even one week.  However, this itinerary will help you plan your time effectively to ensure that you see what most consider the Angkor Wat highlights.

If you have more than one day to spend at Angkor Wat then I’d recommend you checking out my 3-day itinerary.  For some ideas on other ways to spend time in Siem Reap besides the temples, click here!

For more detailed information on EVERYTHING you need to know about visiting Angkor Wat, including tickets, transport, packing, etc., check out our Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat.

If nothing else, I would strongly urge you to read the safety and historical sections to ensure you are properly prepared for your visit and, if you’ve not done so already, invest in good travel insurance.

A note on responsible tourism

Due to its religious and cultural importance to the Cambodian people, it is imperative that you dress modestly and act respectfully during your time here. 

 

Layout of Angkor Wat

Map showing the layout of Angkor Wat

Map showing the layout of Angkor Wat

There are two main circuits (or “loops”) to choose from; the big loop aka grand circuit (shown in green) and the small loop aka small circuit (shown in red).  Both loops include the Angkor Wat Temple and Angkor Thom Temple before branching off to different routes.

Our Angkor Wat 1-day itinerary will actually combine these routes to offer you what we consider the absolute highlights of each.

Most drivers will take tourists around these loops in a clockwise circuit; therefore, this itinerary recommends traveling in a counter-clockwise fashion to help avoid the crowds.

Below are the main temples you will visit in each loop.  As previously mentioned, there are over 1000 temples in the complex so this guide only has you visiting the “main” temples!  

Small Loop

The small loop consists of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and Prasat Kravan.

Big Loop

The big loop includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup.

 

My Angkor Wat 1-Day Itinerary

The resources above will allow you to get your head around the layout of the main section of Angkor Wat Archaeological Park so you have the information necessary to customise your own perfect trip.  The 1-day itinerary proposed below is what I consider to be the best route with consideration to timing, avoiding crowds, and maximising what you are able to enjoyably see.

By the end of the day you’re likely to be exhausted.  I would recommend booking a comfortable room with air conditioning as you will greatly appreciate it after a hot, tiring day of exploring.  Click here for current accommodation availability and prices in Siem Reap.

 

Stop #1: Angkor Wat Temple at Sunrise

Angkor Wat is the largest and most iconic temple within the Angkor complex.  It was built over three decades in the early 12th century and was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu.  However, by the end of the 12th century it had gradually become converted to a Buddhist temple.

The temple opens at 5am and it is worth arriving early to secure your spot for sunrise, particularly if you want to get best photos of Angkor Wat.  We arrived at 4:40am and were the first at the gate, narrowly beating a large group, which allowed us to get a front row position at the edge of the water for an unobstructed photo.  There are two ponds, one to the left and one to the right, offering reflections of Angkor Wat.  However, when we were there in April the one to the left was completely dried up!  If you are there more for the experience than the photo, then arriving any time around 5am will give you ample time to explore as the sun rises.

The next temple you’ll visit doesn’t open until 7:30am, so take your time to enjoy Angkor Wat or to have some breakfast.  If breakfast is included at your hotel then you may have the option to get a takeaway breakfast, otherwise there are plenty of food vendors within Angkor.

A photo of Angkor Wat Temple at sunrise reflected in water.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Stop #2: Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple does not open until 7:30am, but be sure to arrive 10-15 minutes early to ensure you’re first in line to enter.  Ta Prohm is the second-most popular temple so being there first will save you a lot of time and effort in getting photos without other tourists.

You may have also heard of Ta Prohm referred to as the “Tomb Raider Temple” as it was made famous by the blockbuster hit starring Angelina Jolie.  It is nestled within the jungle and is famed for the distinctive tree roots that grow over the temple ruins.

A photo from Ta Prohm temple showing @travelsofsophie in a yellow dress

Ta Prohm aka Tomb Raider Temple

Stop #3: Banteay Kdei Temple

Banteay Kdei Temple is similar in style to Ta Prohm, but it is much smaller.  We found this temple to be peaceful and quiet; a nice respite after the crowds at Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm.

Although undergoing renovation, it is largely unrestored and well worth a visit.  The temple has served as an active monastery on and off since its construction in the latter 12thcentury up until the 1960s.  Our favourite spot was towards the far side of the temple, where you’ll find a large tree encroaching the outer wall.

Banteay Kdei Temple with Sophie in a yellow dress

Banteay Kdei Temple

Stop #4: Pre Rup Temple

Pre Rup was one of our favourite temples.  While we visited it for sunrise, and it is popular for sunset, I am certain that it will be a marvel at any time of day.  It is one of the older temples, dating back to 961 as a dedication to the Hindu Goddess Shiva.  The staircase up may get you sweating a bit, but the views from the top are so worth it!

6:05am - Pre Rup Temple just after sunrise.

Pre Rup Temple

Stop #5: East Mebon Temple

East Mebon is 9 years older than Pre Rup, dating back to 952 and was also built as a dedication to Shiva. It was originally built on a small man-made island, however the water that once surrounded it has now dried up. You will find 2-metre tall elephants on each corner of the first tier as well as lions guarding the stairways.

7:10am - Golden light on the elephants of East Mebon

Elephant at East Mebon

East Mebon Temple at Sunrise

East Mebon Temple

Stop #6: Ta Som Temple

Ta Som is a smaller Buddhist temple from the 12th century.  Its most prominent feature is the strangler fig tree that engulfs its eastern gate, providing a similar photo opportunity to the more popular shot at Ta Prohm.  It is often missed by other tourists, so it’s not uncommon to have the place to yourself. When we visited, we briefly shared the experience with a group of monks and their families who were in and out quickly enough for us to take plenty of photos with no one else in them.

8:01am - Back entrance to Ta Som Temple

Ta Som Temple

Stop #7: Neak Pean Temple

We honestly found Neak Pean to be underwhelming and would recommend skipping it if you’re short on time. The wooden bridge leading to it is entirely exposed so be prepared for a very hot walk if you do decide to visit it.

If you are keeping good pace and want to see everything, by all means give Neak Pean a look.  If you would prefer to conserve energy and maybe get back ahead of the crowds, this would be the one to bypass.

Neak Pean Temple, Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Neak Pean Temple

Stop #8: Preah Khan Temple

Preah Khan is one of the larger temple complexes within Angkor Wat and at one time served as a city, temple and Buddhist university, housing around 100,000 people.

It is similar in aesthetics to Ta Prohm, with the jungle and trees enveloping different sections of the ancient ruins. However, its seemingly endless passageways create a feeling like you are within some kind of labyrinth.

 

Stop #9: Bayon Temple

Bayon temple closes at 5:30pm and you’ll likely want at least an hour to explore, so make sure you arrive with plenty of time.  It lies within the heart of Angkor Thom, the old capital city, and is often referred to as the “face temple” due to the multitude of smiling faces carved into it.

Unlike some of the other temples, Bayon is one that is best experienced up close, where you can be immersed amongst the 216 mysterious faces.  The uniqueness of being surrounded by so many smiling faces is also one of the reasons that Bayon is one of my favourite temples.

There also tend to be a lot of cheeky monkeys hanging out here, so keep your shiny bits tucked safely away!

7:22am - Bayon Temple Entrance just after sunrise.

Bayon Temple just after sunrise

Bayon Face framed by doorframe

One of the many faces of Bayon

Potential stop: Sunset at Phnom Bakeng Temple

If you still have the energy, Phnom Bakeng is a popular spot for sunset.  However, only 300 people are permitted to enter the temple at a time so if you wish to be within the temple for sunset you will need to get in line no later than 4pm, and perhaps even earlier.  It is also a steep, although relatively short, walk up a hill to get there.

If the line is too long for sunset entry, there is an overlook of Angkor Wat that you can access by continuing on the trail just another minute or two.  I honestly found more this view more impressive than the sunset view from the temple itself with a decent zoom lens.

Personally, I don’t think the sunset view is worth the amount of time you have to wait in line and would rather opt to take more time at the other temples, but the option is there! If you didn’t do so the day prior, I would recommend instead finishing back at Angkor Wat for sunset, or spending a bit more time at Bayon.

View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakeng

View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakeng

Bonus Sunset at Angkor Wat

A sneaky little bonus for you!  The one-day pass is only valid on the day of purchase, however tickets issued after 5pm are valid for the following day.  Additionally, if you buy your ticket after 5pm, you can enter Angkor Wat for sunset that same evening.  I would highly recommend taking advantage of this!  Be aware that there will be long lines for the 1 day passes at the ticket office, so get there with plenty of time to line up.

After getting our tickets, we went straight to Angkor Wat, arriving there around 5:15pm.  They technically close Angkor Wat at 5:30pm, but it’s a slow process so we were there until around 5:45pm.  As we were some of the last people to leave, we were able to get most of our photos unobstructed by other tourists.  It also gives you the opportunity to get a lay of the land for sunrise the next day!

A sunset photo of the Angkor Wat Temple featuring @travelsofsophie in a bright yellow dress.

Sunset at Angkor Wat

 

I hope you’ve found this Angkor Wat 1-day itinerary useful.  Please don’t forget to check out my Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat for EVERYTHING you need to know about Angkor Wat.

I’d love to hear your suggestions or any feedback in the comments below.

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