East Mebon (2)

Angkor Wat in 3 Days: A Photo Guide

Angkor Wat is undeniably the main attraction in Cambodia – and a symbol of national pride, even appearing on their national flag. Originally a Hindu temple built by the Khmer Empire, Angkor was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 12th century. It is the largest religious monument in the world and the temple complex is absolutely massive: you could spend weeks exploring the area. That said, if your time is limited it’s important to know what temples are a ‘must-see’. Passes are sold as one-day ($20 USD), three-day ($40 USD) or seven-day ($60 USD). The system is set up such that for the three-day pass you have a week to use your days and for the seven-day pass you have a month. Not having to go every day in a row is a huge plus as visiting temples all day can be exhausting – especially in 30+ degree weather.

The Angkor Wat complex is split into two main routes: the small circuit and the grand circuit. Almost 100% of tourists who visit complete the small circuit. Thus, if you have only one day – that’s your route. On their second day, the vast majority of tourists do the long route. And the rest of the days are pretty open.

Angkor Wat

The main attraction: Angkor Wat

We opted to do the two main routes our first two days although we didn’t feel the need to stop at every temple and the time we spent at each temple varied from two minutes to an hour. We spent four to five hours each day visiting the temples instead of the eight to ten that some people do. After a few hours the heat started to wear us down and we felt pretty ‘templed out’. Additionally, the restaurants around the temples are ridiculously  priced and a huge rip off. What would cost $1 to $2 on the street in town costs over $5 at the temples. Although it’s worth keeping in mind that when the lady overheard us looking at the menu and complaining about prices she offered us any dish for $3 plus a free drink. I just don’t understand the point in a menu, with prices, if you’re still supposed to bargain for your food…

Day 1: Small Circuit

Tuk-tuk cost: $15 USD 

Small Circiut Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat (8)

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat (3)

Angkor Wat (2)

 

Bridge to Bayon Temple

Bridge to Bayon Temple

Prasat Bayon

The main stop in the Angkor Thom Complex. Our driver dropped us off here and we walked through the remainder of the complex, meeting him on the other side.

Bayon (2)

Bayon (4)

Baphuon

A quick stop in the Angkor Thom Complex.

Baphuon

Phimeanakas

Another quick stop in the Angkor Thom Complex.

PHIMEANAKAS

Elephant Terrace

Our last quick stop in the Angkor Thom Complex.

Elephant Terrace

Ta Keo

Could be missed, but a quick stop doesn’t hurt (it’s on the route).

Ta Keo

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm (1)

Day 2: Grand Circuit & Bantey Srei

Tuk-tuk cost: $25 USD

Grand Circiut Angkor Wat

Banteay Srei

Quite far from main complex but definitely worth the trip. Very popular with tour buses and can be quite busy. The temple is built primarily from red sandstone and is covered in elaborate and decorative carvings – some of the best in the entire Angkor complex. 

Banteay Srei (2)

BANTEAY SREI

BANTEAY SREI

BANTEAY SREI

Banteay Srei (1)

BANTEAY SREI

Cambodian Landmine Museum

On the road to/from Banteay Srei. The entrance fee – $5 USD – is a little steep but goes to a good cause and includes an audio guide (although you may have to ask for this as it wasn’t offered to us immediately).

Preah Khan

One of my favourites. 

Neak Pean

This was one of the worst temples we stopped at, not worth the walk.

Neak Pean

Neak Pean (2)

Ta Som

A small temple but worth a quick stop as it’s much less touristy and has beautiful photo opportunities as well as a well-preserved face carving (similar to Bayon).

Ta Som

East Mebon

The elephant statues here on all four corners were my favourite part of this temple.

East Mebon (1)

East Mebon (3)

East Mebon (2)

Pre Rup

We didn’t spend long here. 

Pre Rup.jpg

Day 3: On our own (after a two-day break)

Scooter Rental Cost: $9 USD + $1.25 USD for gas

BANTEAY KDEI

Another favourite.

BANTEAY KDEI

Ta Prohm

This was our second visit to Ta Prohm so I think that speaks for itself. Definitely a must see temple.  Keep in mind it’s a very popular temple partially due to the fact the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie was filmed here.

Ta Prohm 2 (6)

Ta Prohm 2 (2)

Ta Prohm 2 (5)

Ta Prohm 2 (4)

Ta Prohm 2 (3)

Thommanon & Chau Say Tevoda

Two very tiny temples on either side of the road. When we visited the only other people there were a group of monks. 

Monks at Thommanon

Thommanon (3)

Thommanon (1)

Pre Rup

We came here for sunset but once we realized how crowded it was getting – and that the sunset wasn’t really that great – we left and headed on.

Saras Srang

By chance, we caught the sunset over Saras Srang on the way home. The reflection on the still, clear lake was beautiful.

Saras Srang (1)


Sunset & Sunrise

You might notice we didn’t wake up at 3AM and join the thousands of other tourists at Angkor Wat in the pitch black awaiting sunrise. I’ve done it before and although I’m glad I did it, it was way too crowded and not that fantastic. For most people, it’s a must-do simply because it’s one of those things that everyone does and if you skip it, you’ll forever regret not knowing if it was worth it. That said, if you’re not really a morning person and not too into sunrises (like Dan) then you can probably skip it. I would say the same goes for watching sunset from anywhere in the complex – overcrowded and not that great. Although, the lake we stopped, as mentioned above, was serene and only had a few locals picnicking on the shore. 

Here’s a couple photos from my last trip (February 2014):

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Insane crowds awaiting sunrise at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Sunrise (1)

Angkor Wat Sunrise (2)


Transportation Options

There are four main ways of touring Angkor: hired car/van, hired tuk-tuk, bicycle rental or tour bus. The fifth (and best, in my opinion) is a scooter rental. This option isn’t widely advertised and not very popular possibly due to the fact that it’s not legal for foreigners to rent a scooter in Cambodia. However, we had no problem with the rental and the guy at the shop simply warned us to stay away from the parking lot near the main gate of Angkor (ticket office) where police tend to be and may question the rental. My second choice, and maybe a better first choice for your first day, would be a hired tuk-tuk. With all the walking involved in exploring the temples and not to mention the heat I think a bicycle rental would be one of my last options although it is the cheapest. My dead last option would be a big tour bus, but that’s solely personal preference.

Scooter Rental Angkor Wat


The Dress Code

Yes, there is a dress code. Yes, you should obey it – at least to some degree. Angkor Wat is a religious site and it’s just plain disrespectful to walk around in shorts so short that I can see you entire ass and a tiny tank-top with your boobs spilling out (yes, I saw this, multiple times). I know it’s hot – and I’m not saying you need to wear full length trousers and a sweater, but cover up a little. The dress code is barely enforced (which I find frustrating) and we only came across three or four spots where you couldn’t enter unless your knees and shoulders were covered. I compromised with an ankle length dress with thin shoulder straps and carried a light cardigan to cover up more when required.


Overall, we enjoyed every moment we spent at Angkor Wat and it should be on everyone’s list of things to see around the world. It easily revivals many of the World Wonders, and I’m honestly shocked it isn’t listed as one. I would recommend at least a three day pass as one day just isn’t enough time to truly enjoy the complex. 


If you have extra time, another beautiful day trip is to Phnom Kulen and the ‘lost city’ of Mahendraparvata. The mountain (Phnom means mountain in Khmer) isn’t included in the Angkor Pass and it’s not cheap to get out there. Also note that it’s nothing like Angkor Wat; it’s something completely different and that’s what I loved about it. Dan and I didn’t visit here but I visited on my previous trip and would recommend it to others. I hired a car to drive me out there (it’s a bit too long of a drive for a tuk-tuk) and my driver accompanied me to many of the spots and acted as a tour guide. You stop at the River of a Thousand Lingas, beautiful waterfalls, and the nearby massive 16th-century reclining gold Buddha carved out of solid rock at Preah Ang Thom. On the mountain, my driver arranged for a motorbike hire to take me deeper into the jungle to awe at a gigantic elephant and lion statue cut from rock at Srah Damrei (Elephant Pond). 

Phnom Kulen (9)

Phnom Kulen (7)

Phnom Kulen (2)

Phnom Kulen (3)

Phnom Kulen (4)

Phnom Kulen (5)

Phnom Kulen (6)

5 thoughts on “Angkor Wat in 3 Days: A Photo Guide

  1. Anna Jean Mallinson says:

    This is astonishing! The low relief carvings are beautiful! I love the tree roots; they must be so old! I love the photos of you in your charming dress and of course Dan seeing the world upside down as he does periodically. Since it is a sacred site I’m glad you eventually saw some monks. Do you sometimes marvel at the structures the human imagination drives people to establish?

  2. Tom says:

    Did you get to visit the 9th century Pyramid on top of phnom Kulen? It’s pretty impressive and I heard there is an ancient highway that runs all across the whole plateau. The mountain city is huge and if one finds a good guide he can direct you to a massive canal cut from solid rock. It’s quite hard to know what your seeing because everything is so thick with jungle trees and everything on the surface of the landscape looks natural but it’s actually been modified by the ancient Khmers.

    • Kyra & Daniel says:

      Hi Tom – Sadly, we didn’t make it to Phnom Kulen this time around in Siem Reap. I’m not sure I knew about the pyramid, but now I’m wishing I read up on it before we left! The new discoveries in the past few years are fascinating. I had an amazing time two years ago when I visited the mountain and rode out to Srah Damrei through the jungle with a local guide. I can only imagine what the area will be like to visit in ten or twenty more years once even more has been discovered, hopefully it stays relatively untouched and hidden in the jungle.

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