Visiting Cambodia to see the famous temples of Angkor was a dream for me. The ancient city had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember and I was definitely willing to hang my Indiana Jones hat up for a day and embrace my inner tomb raider. But with only 3 days in Siem Reap I was worried about my time limit; was it even possible to see Angkor Wat in 1 day?
Turns out that yes, you can see Angkor Wat, and a bunch of other Angkor temples, in just a single day. Angkor is one of the most incredible archeological sites in the world and an absolute must for anyone travelling through Cambodia. You could easily spend a week seeing all it has to offer, but even if you only have a day, it’s absolutely worth it. So for those looking at the single day ticket, here’s how to explore the temples of Angkor Wat in 1 day.
Brief History of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the best known temple, but it’s only one of many. Angkor is an ancient city that was the centre of power for the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century. Angkor was a spiritual city with the temples constructed on the basis of religion; many of them built to follow Hindu myths and themes. It was one of the most magnificent cities in Asia, but it was abandoned completely by the 16th century after its loss of power to Ayutthaya.
In the time since, Angkor has become an important pilgrimage for Buddhist monks and a treasured archeological site. The area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and Angkor Wat has been named as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. More than 2 million people visit this ancient lost city every year.
Getting Your Ticket
There are three types of passes you can choose from the visit Angkor; 1 day, 3 day and 7 day. Prices as of June 2020 are as follows:
1-day ticket: $37 USD (valid day of purchase)
3-day ticket: $62 USD (valid for 10 days from purchase, you can choose what days)
7-day ticket: $ 72 USD (valid for 1 month from purchase, you can choose what days)
Tickets can be purchased at an office before the main entrance to the ancient city and know that you will need to have your photo taken. Each ticket is individualized to you, so you can’t pass it on. You can pay by cash or card. Make sure to keep your ticket on you at all times; they do get checked and if you lose it you will be fined $100USD+. If you are planning on getting up early for sunrise at Angkor Wat, it’s best to purchase your ticket the night before to avoid the crowds in the morning. Even if you are just getting a 1-day ticket, you can go in the evening and let them know that it is for the next day.
Your ticket choice depends on how much time you have. If you love temples and history and have the time, then the three day is probably a good choice; however, know that those three days will be incredibly rushed so you probably won’t want to do them consecutively. I actually purchased the three day thinking I would go for two of them (this was the cheaper option before the price change) but after one incredibly full day I only bothered with sunrise on my second day- I was too exhausted (and probably dehydrated) from the full day before.
One-day ticket is probably the most popular option, especially for budget travellers and backpackers. It’s absolutely still worth it; you can see a lot in a day including some of the most interesting temples.
Getting Around Angkor Wat in 1 Day
Angkor is MASSIVE. It stretches over 400km2 so don’t expect to walk it. Some people rent push bikes and get around that way, but although it’s the cheapest option, it definitely isn’t the best. The temples are a fair distance from each other and it gets really hot a humid. A push bike may save you some money, but you won’t see nearly as much.
The most common way to get around is to hire a tuktuk. Drivers can often be arranged through your accommodation, or even be found ahead of time (they will find you, trust me). There is no shortage of them. You can fit four people in a tuktuk and split the costs between you.
Or, if you can’t stand the heat, you can also hire an air conditioned car with a driver. This is the most expensive option, but like with a tuktuk, you can split the costs between a group of people. Plus, given that it’s Cambodia, ‘expensive’ is very relative. It’s actually quite cheap by North American standards.
Book a 1 day air-conditioned car tour of Angkor here.
Know Before You Go
Angkor may be old and abandoned, but it is still a religious site which means dressing appropriately. Women need to have their knees and shoulders covered at all times within the temples. The backpacker style elephant pants (which you can buy for as little as $3USD if you haggle in the markets) are a great choice since they are loose and airy. If you are unsure if your clothing is appropriate, you can always bring a scarf or sarong to throw over your shoulders or tie around your waist. Make sure you are covered when purchasing your ticket; if you are inappropriately dressed they may not sell you one.
Water is another thing everyone should have; and lots of it. There are a few vendors and stalls throughout the complex selling food and drink but it’s not readily available. If you tend to get hungry a lot, bring some snacks as well.
Finally, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. You don’t need hiking boots but if you are going to wear flip-flops or sandals make sure they are sturdy and offer some support. You’ll be walking on dirt paths, over roots and branches, and on hard stones.
Must- See Temples
There tends to be a pretty regular route for the 1-day tour around Angkor Wat, however it is a long, busy day and sometimes it’s easy to get distracted and spend longer at other temples, or even get ‘templed -out’ and head back early without finishing the route. That’s fine; Angkor should be enjoyed at your own pace. However, there are a few temples that you really should make sure you get to because they are absolutely incredible.
The best known temple, Angkor Wat is a definite must see. Most people go first thing in the morning to watch the sunrise, which is definitely worth it (though if you have a tripod to set up, get there early as it gets incredibly crowded). For the classic reflection photos, head to the right side of the temple, but once you get your photos, it’s more enjoyable to watch from the less-busy left side.
While sunrise at Angkor is great, make sure to stick around (or come back later) to explore the inside of the temple as well. The main doors don’t open until 7:30am and the stairs to the higher levels don’t open until about 9:30am.
Bayon is a Buddhist temple, but like so many of the other temples it incorporates come elements of Hindu mythology. It’s also one of the biggest temples in Angkor.
The big draw here are all the giant faces around the temple. There are more than 200 to be seen adorning the remaining 37 towers. Be sure to climb the stairs and walk around the different levels, there are plenty of engravings to be seen.
Ta Phrom Temple
Probably the second best known temple thanks to Tomb Raider, Ta Phrom is a favourite because nature has been allowed to reclaim the area. Trees grow within the walls and vines and roots twist across the paths and through the ancient windows. It makes for great photos. Of all the temples, this is where I felt the most adventurous; like I was really exploring the lost city of an ancient civilization.
Ta Som Temple
Ta Som is another cool one that nature has started to take over. Like Ta Phrom, there’s lots of cool trees covering the walls and windows of this temple. It’s also much quieter than Ta Phrom. There are plenty of carvings to look at, most of which are still in great condition, and some fun photo ops.
Preah Khan Temple
Prah Khan isn’t usually included in the normal one day tours, but ask to check it out because it was one of my favourites. It’s not quite as busy as some of the others and, like Ta Som and Ta Phrom, it’s covered in trees and vegetation (In case you can’t tell, I really liked the jungle temples). Phreah Khan is really big, so even if it is busy it’s easy to get away from the crowds. Not only it a temple, but it was also a monastery. If you’re lucky, you might come across a local nun who will weave you a string bracelet (for a fee of course) or a local police officer who will offer to take your photo in a way that it looks like you are holding the light (also, for a small fee).
Best Time of Year to Visit Angkor Wat
Angkor can be visited year round, however some times are better than others. November to March is considered to be peak season; it’s dry and the weather isn’t too hot. April and May is when the humidity starts to kick in and temperatures rise. June through October is rainy season; it’s often overcast with frequent showers or thunderstorms and really, really humid. While this time of year doesn’t make for the best sunrises and sunsets, the surrounding jungle is lush and green and there are smaller crowds.
Final Tips for Spending 1 Day at Angkor Wat
Spending 1 Day at Angkor Wat and the other temples will be busy, but worth it. Remember, you can buy your ticket the night before at get in at 5pm, which means you can catch the sunset and have a little extra time in the temple complex for the price of one day. Just make sure you buy your ticket at 5pm (or later) and tell them you want it for the next day.
Angkor is one of the coolest places I have ever been, and an absolute must for everyone travelling through SE Asia. Even if you are short on time, or short on budget you can still experience the best of Angkor in 1 day.
Getting ready to travel? Trust me when I say you don’t want to forget insurance!