The following 3-day Angkor Wat itinerary is not designed for seeing as much as you possibly can; it’s designed for exploring at a pace that most of us would find enjoyable. With over 1000 temples within the Angkor Wat complex, trying to see it all would be an impossible 3-day task.
Instead, this 3-day itinerary will help you effectively plan your time to see what most consider “the highlights”, while avoiding crowds, heat, and “temple fatigue.”
If you have less time, you should consider this 1-day itinerary instead.
One final note before we get into the itinerary… Angkor Wat is a sacred religious site and, therefore, it is essential that you dress modestly and act respectfully during your time here. For more information on everything you need to know about Angkor Wat, check out my Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat.
Preparation for Angkor Wat: Planning your 3-day itinerary
Rather than trying to figure everything out upon arrival at Siem Reap after a long journey, I recommend doing a few things prior to your visit to prepare you for your time at Angkor Wat:
- When scheduling your days, I would urge you to allow at least one rest day, and to carefully consider your accommodation. You will likely be exhausted from all the exploring and heat, and will greatly appreciate having a comfortable, air-conditioned room to return to! We stayed at Shinta Mani and Templation hotels and would highly recommend either. Check here for current availability and prices.
- Take a look at the maps in the layout section below and try to familiarize yourself with the general configuration of the Angkor Wat complex. If you get a tuk-tuk, your driver will likely have a map for you as well and is an excellent resource for information.
- On the day you arrive, find a tuk-tuk driver with a personality you enjoy and get your 3-day pass sooner than later. Assuming you’ve enjoyed your experience with that driver, arrange to have them pick you up for your sunset or morning start; you will not want to have to deal with either of these things the first day of actually exploring the temples.
- Review the Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat! This will be a GREAT resource for answering all of your questions, even the ones you didn’t know to ask!
Layout of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a 400 square kilometer complex, but there are two main circuits that take you through some of the best temples. You can find those on the map, with the big loop (or grand circuit) in green and the small loop (or small circuit) in red.
This 3-day itinerary will actually combine both circuits and allow you to visit what I 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.
The small loop consists of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and Prasat Kravan.
The big loop includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup.
Day 0: BONUS! Sunset at Angkor Wat Temple
Before you visit the temples, you will need to purchase your 3-day pass from the ticket office. You can find out all about pricing and times in the ticket section of the Ultimate Guide, or read on if you are already in the know on ticket info.
I would recommend buying your 3-day pass the day before you plan on actually using it, as the lines for purchase can be pretty long. By doing so, you avoid losing time waiting in a long line for the day you actually plan on exploring Angkor Wat. As a bonus for your trouble, they will not punch your pass if you visit after 5pm, meaning you can get a bonus golden hour at Angkor Wat Temple if you buy your ticket the night before!
I highly encourage doing so for a few reasons. First, you’ll have procured your pass and be nearby anyway. Two, this will give you a chance to scout the location so you can get the best spot for sunrise in the morning. Last, and most important, this was our one chance to get lots of photos of Angkor Wat with no other people in them! As the temple closes at 5:30pm, the slow process of ushering people out and the fact that most have been there all day means that often times, the shot you want will be available without the hoards of tourists in them. For more tips on how to get great photos without other people in them, check out these photography tips for Angkor Wat.
Stop 1: Angkor Wat Temple at Sunrise
We usually recommend having your earliest day first as you may be too tired after three days of exploring later on. However, if you have had a long journey to Siem Reap and need the first day to recover, you may want to do “Day 3” of the itinerary first, as that is the easiest day. Otherwise, your day begins at the absolutely must-see for most; sunrise at Angkor Wat Temple.
If you are a photographer, you will want to be there before 4:45am, perhaps even as early at 4:40am. The temple opens at 5am, but there is limited space at the pond in front of the temple and people get there early to get their spot. We arrived at 4:40am and beat a large group by mere seconds. Being first meant that we could get what we considered the perfect reflection and establish our tripod space. If you are not a photographer, check the sunrise time and try to arrive at least 20 minutes before.
Find a good spot and enjoy the light and scene change as the sun rises over the ancient temple, then take some time to walk around the grounds and even into the temple itself. Nearly all of the other temples will not be open until 7:30am anyway, so you may as well make the most of your time here.
Stop 2: Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm Temple is the second most popular temple in Angkor Wat, thanks largely to its reputation as the “Tomb Raider temple.” It is famous for the ancient trees and root systems growing right out of the temple.
Ta Prohm does not open until 7:30am, but I recommend arriving at least 10-15 minutes early to stay in front of the crowds. This will allow you to get your photos and walk the grounds without other people in your shots. It is also the nicest light for your photos.
If you get there at opening as recommended, you’ll have time to explore at a leisurely place and get to the next stop ahead of the crowd.
Stop 3: Banteay Kdei Temple
Though similar to Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei is much smaller, more peaceful, and quieter. There is a spot near the front entrance with a massive tree and root system growing over the outer wall, which was my favourite view of the temple.
Option 1: Lunch break
Depending on your pace, you may or may not be ready for a lunch break at this point. I finished at Banteay Kdei around 9:45am which may seem early to go back to the hotel, but I had already been at the temples for around 5 hours! The temperatures start to get uncomfortable around this time and the crowds become frustratingly large, so 10am-3pm was a perfect block of time to go rest by the pool or in the AC and have some lunch.
Option 2: Ta Keo and/or Bayon
For those of you who like to pack it all in, your next stops will be Ta Keo and Bayon temples. The advantage to visiting these two on your first day is that you will free up your third day to allow you to venture to some of the more remote temples. If you do not see them now, you will visit them on Day 3 (described below.)
Stop 4: Sunset at Phnom Bakeng
Phnom Bakeng Temple is high up in the hills, and is perhaps the most popular spot for sunset. I have included it because it is the place that most people want to spend at least one sunset. With that said, it was one of my least favourite temples and the “magic” of sunset was lost in large part to the 2 hours of queuing only to arrive just after the sun had gone behind cloud.
If you want to be here for sunset, keep in mind that only 300 people are allowed to be inside the temple at any given time, and sunset is the most popular time. If you are hellbent on taking in at least one sunset at Phnom Bakeng, make sure you arrive and begin the hike before 3:45; absolutely no later than 4pm! Also, please note that it is a relatively steep but short hike up to the line.
Another thing worth noting is that up that same trail is an impressive viewpoint for looking back out toward Angkor Wat Temple. I liked this viewpoint for a photo, but, personally, would not recommend Phnom Bakeng for most people; it is simply too long a hike and wait and requires a big commitment. Instead, I would be tempted to visit Pre Rup or return to Angkor Wat Temple as the crowds start to die down.
I am NOT a morning person, yet I am advocating for two consecutive sunrises. Why? Because Angkor Wat will be uncomfortably hot and crowded most of the day, and early morning is the only chance to see some of these places without either of those factors. In my experience, it was better to get there early and have the place to myself so that I could be back at the hotel napping (and eating!) during the hottest, busiest times of the day.
Stop 1: Sunrise at Pre Rup Temple
Look, it’s hard to beat Angkor Wat Temple for sunrise, but Pre Rup truly challenged the title. While the photos aren’t as iconic or dramatic, the magic of Pre Rup at sunrise was the peace and solitude. We were the only people there watching the sun rise over the jungle from one of the tallest, oldest temples in Angkor Wat. Compared to the thousands of people who swarmed the scene a day ago, this was bliss.
From a photography standpoint, the sunrise itself has a nice clear view, but not the most interesting foregrounds for compositions. However, that first golden light reflecting off the temples and bathing the grand staircase in warmth was brilliant!
We had the temple to ourselves for nearly two hours and just when we thought it was safe to put the cameras away, a group of monks came to explore and asked us to have photos with them!
Stop 2: East Mebon Temple
If you make East Mebon Temple your second stop as we recommend, you will likely be there all alone too. This is because, as previously mentioned, you will be there early and going counter-route to the major circuits.
While the temple is beautiful, the only thing that sets it apart visually for me are the elephant statues at each corner. These are what I came for; I’m just a sucker for elephants!
Stop 3: Ta Som Temple
It is likely a safe assumption that East Mebon will be a short visit. Even if you spend a bit of time there or stop for food, there is a good chance you will have Ta Som to yourself as many visitors skip this one altogether due to its small size.
That said, I felt it was absolutely worth a stop and a photo capturing the strangler fig tree that has completely engulfed the eastern gate. Many people confuse the photo they see from here at Ta Som for the more famous and similar fig tree of Ta Prohm.
Stop 4: Neak Pean Temple
As much as I hate to say this about something so historic and, probably, important, I found Neak Pean to be very underwhelming. By all means stop by for a visit as you will be passing by anyway, but if you’re short on time and want to make some up or just want to conserve energy, this was the most missable temple on the circuit.
If you do decide to take the short walk to Near Pean, just be prepared for a short but impressively hot walk, as the wooden bridge leading to the temple is completely exposed.
Stop 5: Preah Khan Temple
Centuries ago, Preah Khan Temple actually served as a temple, university, and even a city which was home to an estimated 100,000 people! The temple complex is very large and feels much like a labyrinth,
If this had been my first stop of the day, I would have spent more time exploring the endless mirror-like hallways. As it was though, I was getting pretty hot and cranky and ready for my nap. That said, I was very impressed by Preah Khan and loved the illusions caused by the perfectly symmetrical doorways all in a row; it resembled the effect you see when you put two mirrors together.
At this point, it was time for my midday meal and nap. I was also content to enjoy the hotel and spend some time learning more about this history of Cambodia and Angkor Wat in the hotel.
For those of you who really can’t get enough temples, by all means go sneak in another sunset at Pre Rup, Angkor Wat Temple, or Phnom Bakeng, or perhaps your driver has a favourite spot I’d never considered! For our second night we opted for Option 2…
Night Markets & Pub Street in Siem Reap
As much as I loved Angkor Wat, I was already starting to see sandstone blocks in my dreams and was acutely aware that there was still one day left on my three day pass. I decided to spend some time enjoying a different side of Siem Reap by visiting the night market and food hunting for my dinner, then swinging into pub street for some 50-cent beers (and maybe one or two cheeky mojitos).
Pub Street can become a party scene any night of the week, but my experience there was just the right amount of energy. There was a lot of lights and music and activity, but nobody throwing up in the streets or causing fights or anything you might expect from a place called Pub Street.
A note for the beer lovers; Kingdom Brewing makes a great IPA and Mango IPA which you can find on draft here. After spending so many months in SE Asia, having a real IPA was heaven.
Check out my Top 5 things to do in Siem Reap (besides temples!) guide for more ideas!
Stop 1: Bayon Temple
Notice there is no sunrise in front of this stop! While you are of course welcome to hit up a sunrise, you will already have visited two of the three temples that open early enough to do so, meaning your only option would be to visit Phnom Bakeng for sunrise or a second visit to Angkor Wat or Pre Rup. Instead, I opted to have a later night out at Pub Street and a bit of a lie-in, starting our day at one of, if not my favourite temple, Bayon.
Though Bayon does not technically open until 7:30am, there are multiple entrances and people were already walking about by 7:15am. For this reason I would recommend getting in by 7:15am, perhaps even earlier, if you want any photos of the entrances without people. We also spent more time at Bayon than any other temple, as the details I found to be so interesting and I absolutely loved all the smiling faces.
If I’m being honest though, MOST of the extra time was spent watching with the monkeys that live here. There were a few silly families playing about, including some babies. If you decide to spend some time with them, just please be careful with your valuables and do not feed them.
Stop 2: Your Choice!
At this point, we were very satisfied with what we had seen in terms of temples and decided to explore Siem Reap a bit, have an afternoon cocktail, and try some local foods. If you have not had enough temples yet, there are another 990 or so to choose from! If you are looking for something OTHER than temples, then check out my Top 5 things to do in Siem Reap (besides temples!).
The one thing I will recommend to EVERYONE who visits Siem Reap and has the time is setting aside one night, in this case, our final night, to attend the Phare Circus! I was so impressed by the performers, the noble cause, the atmosphere, and especially by the show itself. Do what fulfills you with your final day, just make sure you save a bit of energy for this one last hurrah; I promise you will not be disappointed!
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