Siem Reap our ideas guide

Angkor in 72 hours - suggested itinerary

09 Mar 2011

Many travellers try and squeeze Angkor into a single day - perhaps confusing it with single sights like the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal. But the temples of Angkor are many sights spread across a vast area. And it’s hard to come away with much appreciation of their scale and beauty in a single day. You’ll be run off your feet. 

We recommend at least 3 full days of well paced exploration with some good breaks. You can easily spend a week if you're taken by the temples, the mellow vibe of Siem Reap and the excellent boutique hotels in town.


Before we start


Tickets

You’ll need a 3 day Angkor pass for this itinerary which is US$40.


Independent or with a guide?


Up to you. There are some specialist books that can be great guides to the temples but nothing can replace an enthusiastic knowledgeable tour guide.

You may find day three of this itinerary worth arranging as a tour to minimise hassles with a Ton Le Sap boat booking.


Get a good book


There are several excellent portable, paperback guides that will bring a temple visit to life. A wide selection is available in Siem Reap and at the temples. Two favourites are -
Ancient Angkor - Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques
Angkor - Dawn Rooney

Angkor Wat,Cambodia,Siem Reap
Photo: Mark BowyerAngkor Wat in the afternoon



Sunrise and sunset


Most places are best seen at the beginning and the end of the day and this is especially true of the temples of Angkor. Not only is the soft light spectacular, you’re more likely to avoid heat and crowds. And the temples are close enough to town that it’s easy to come back for a 3 or 4 hour break during the heat of the day.

The break will also give you time to relax, read up on the temples and Cambodia, and avoid temple fatigue.


Slow travel


This itinerary is moderately paced allowing for plenty of time in each place. There’s also flexibility built in. Not only does this allow for valuable exploration of the outer reaches of the temples, it also allows time to sit back and soak it all up - something we highly recommend. There are plenty of perfect little shaded spaces amidst the ruins so take advantage of them for photography and time out.

We love our photography too so our schedule assumes you’ll be spending some extra time lining up shots and waiting for light.


Getting around


Cycling

The energetic can easily complete day one of this itinerary on a bicycle. All temples are easily accessed from Siem Reap. Days 2 and 3 will require more serious cycling credentials and will be closer to 80 kms of riding each day. Roads tend to be flat, are sealed and often shaded by forest. Traffic isn’t a major problem though erratic drivers can be. This itinerary proposes returning to Siem Reap at lunchtime on days 1 and 2 - something that may not work for cyclists.

Bikes are widely available for hire. Most bikes are basic and without gears but up to the task. Higher quality bikes are also available.

Tuk tuk

Tuk tuk is another great way to get around. They can be rented for US$12 to US$15 per day.  Be generous with tips if your tuk tuk driver is good - and from our experience, most of them are.

Car

Car rental will be around US$25 to US$35 per day depending on the model.


Angkor 3 day itinerary in brief


Day 1
Morning - Angkor Wat eastern entrance, Angkor Thom South Gate, Bayon, Bapuon, Elephant Terrace,  Terrace of Leper King
Afternoon - Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, Takeo

Day 2
Morning - Banteay Srei, Cambodia Landmine Museum, Ta Som and Neak Pean
Afternoon - Angkor Wat in detail and free temple roaming.

Day 3
Morning - Ton Le Sap and Kompong Phluk and Lolei temple.
Afternoon - Roluos Group temples - Bakong and Preah Ko and free temple roaming.



Angkor 3 day itinerary detail



Day 1. Angkor orientation - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, The Bayon, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm

Recommended start time: Leave hotel not later than 6AM and before if you want to see a full sunrise.  
 

Angkor Wat,Cambodia,temples
Photo: Mark BowyerAngkor Wat

Angkor Wat east gate - 1 hour

Rise early and head straight to the eastern entrance of Angkor Wat. Crowds will be gathered at the western entrance to watch the sun rise behind the towers. We think the sun’s glow on the temples is just as impressive. And the intimacy of the eastern entrance is special.  

Spend an hour at Angkor Wat focused on the eastern end. You’ll be back the next day for a second closer look.

Angkor Thom south gate 20 mins        (Try and be here before 7.30AM).

Close by Angkor Wat this is one of the entrances to the extraordinary 12th century city created by King Jayavarman VII - Angkor Thom. Many of the most impressive structures at Angkor were the handiwork of Jayavarman VII so you’ll hear that name plenty over the coming days. Angkor Thom’s south gate is where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the beguiling faces that are a standard mark of the period.

Bayon - Bapuon, Terrace of Elephants, Terrace of Leper King  2 - 2.5 hours

From the south gate, we travel a little further north towards the Bayon. The Bayon was Jayavarman VII’s state temple and as such was at the centre of Angkor Thom city. It’s also the most dramatic structure of the city with more than 200 of those amazing faces as well as some stunning apsaras and bas reliefs.

A short distance from the Bayon is Bapuon - a temple mountain style structure that pre dates Jayavarman VII’s kingdom.

Close by Bapuon is the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King in the main Royal Square. This was the centre of pomp and ceremony in Jayavarman VII’s kingdom.

There are various other smaller interesting ruins in the square that are worth a look before heading back to Siem Reap for a rest, lunch and perhaps a cooling swim.


Break

Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, Takeo 3 hours

At around 2.30, head straight to Preah Khan - the temple Jayavarman VII dedicated to his father.  It’s less busy but just as special as the more popular Ta Prohm where we’ll head next. You’ll easily spend an hour here before travelling on to Ta Prohm passing Takeo as you go.

Angkor Wat,Cambodia,Ta Prohm,temples
Photo: Mark BowyerTa Prohm
You’ll notice plenty of common features between Preah Khan and Ta Prohm - Jayavarman VII dedicated Ta Prohm to his mother. It’s famous both for its enmeshment in forest and its appearance with Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film Tomb Raider. 

Ta Prohm can be very crowded - if it is, spend some time around the perimeter. There are lots of atmospheric collapsed chambers and gems of hidden stone carving.

Tenth century Takeo predates Jayavarman VII and his Preah Khan, Ta Prohm creations. While detail and scale mark out these later temples, Takeo is stark with very little detail. It’s a good simple spot to end a day though with views across the forest where the East Baray was once located.


Day 2. Banteay Srei, Cambodia Landmine Museum, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Sra Srang and Pre Rup, Angkor Wat

Recommended start time: Leave hotel not later than 6.30AM.


Banteay Srei 45 mins drive. 1 hour at the temple

10th century Banteay Srei is older and more remote than other temples we’ve visited so far. Around 30kms from Siem Reap, it’s a compact complex notable for the amount of beautiful detailed carving that has survived the ravages of time. Its unique deep red colouring also distinguishes it from other temples.  Getting here early may help you to avoid big crowds. The small scale of Banteay Srei means it feels more crowded than other temples.


Cambodia Landmine museum.
 30 mins

Cambodia,Cambodian Landmine Museum,Siem Reap
Photo: Mark BowyerCambodian Landmine Museum - Siem Reap
About 6kms from Banteay Srei, the Cambodian Landmine Museum will jolt you from your temple reverie back into the realities of contemporary Cambodia. The museum tells the sorry tale of Cambodia’s struggle with landmines from wartime until the present. Landmines continue to blight the country.  

Depending on how your time works out, on the way back, take a look at the smaller Jayavarman VII era Ta Som and Neak Pean temples.

Break

You’ve got a good grip on all things Angkor now. So this afternoon is unstructured for revisiting spots you might like to see in more detail - Angkor Wat for example. You may also want to join the hordes that descend on Mount Bakheng for the Angkor sunset. Or take a balloon ride. Some quiet time reading at an atmospheric uncrowded space might appeal. You might even like to pack a bottle of wine and some cheese.


Day 3  Ton Le Sap, Roluos Group, free exploration. Full Day

Recommended start time - 6.30AM


Lake Ton Le Sap and Lolei temple  4 hours

After two days of serious temple exploration, it’s time for a change - a visit to the mighty Ton Le Sap Lake that made the Angkor kingdom possible. Kompong Phluk is the best place to do this (avoid the nasty Chnong Kneas). You’ll see the incredible stilt villages that live through the Ton Le Sap’s dramatic cycles as it rises and falls with each year’s monsoon and expands its footprint by four times. You’ll also see the “floating forest” and get a look at the lake itself - vast even in the dry season.

On the way back to Siem Reap, stop by Lolei temple - one of the oldest and most rundown on our itinerary. A simple restaurants nearby will do for lunch unless you pack something from Siem Reap.


Roluos Group - Pre Ko and Bakong

On the way back towards town, visit other Roluos era temples Pre Ko and Bakong. They’re in better shape than Lolei and date from the 9th century royal city of Hariharalaya - from which the mighty Khmer empire blossomed.

If you still have energy and time, you may want to spend the late afternoon at Pre Rup or Sra Srang overlooking the former royal baths.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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