Cambodia is on everyone’s bucket list for one reason: Angkor Wat – the “city of temples”. And rightfully so! It’s the largest religious monument in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site, and has been virtually continually in use since it was built in the early 12th century.
Two days is plenty to enjoy the main temples, and get off the beaten track to explore Cambodia’s countryside. If you’re a history or archaeology buff, you may want to consider staying for three days but it’s really not necessary. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a trip to Cambodia and visit the Angkor Wat temples:
Day 1: Temple town
Get in the previous night, so you are well rested before starting the day early and exploring the Angkor Wat complex. Did you know the complex (sprawling over 400 square kilometers) has over 1000 temples?! The most important one is obviously Angkor Wat – built as a Hindu temple by the Khmer Empire over a 30-year period, and converted into a Buddhist temple by the 17th century. The Angkor complex was home to 1 million people at one point!
The routes are divided into two circuits to make life easier for tourists:
- Small Circuit covers a 17 km route of the main temples: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Phrom and a few others
- Grand Circuit covers a 26 km route, going over the Small Circuit in addition to several smaller temples.
If you are only in Siem Reap for 2 days (and frankly, even if you are there for longer), I would only recommend doing the Small Circuit. You will cover the most important temples, and after a point, they all start to look alike anyway. You would rather spend the rest of your time exploring Siem Reap, and trying some of the outdoor activities. Here’s a look at some of the best temples in the Small Circuit:
Try and save visiting the main Angkor Wat temple for sunrise or sunset – the colors are stunning!
Angkor Thom and Bayon:
The Angkor Thom houses several smaller temples, the most famous of which is the Bayon temple, popularized due to the 216 stone faces carved onto its exteriors.
This is the Tomb Raider temple – giant trees with roots spreading all over 😀
High up on the tourist itinerary is watching the sun set from Phnom Bakheng. This temple is set high on a hill, and the trek up is definitely exhausting. They only allow 300 visitors at a time, so get here by 4pm to grab a spot. You’ll be sharing the view with lots of other tourists, so it might be tricky to get photographs without anyone in it.
While the sun set was beautiful, it wasn’t more beautiful than any other sun set you’ve ever seen. I think this is worth it more for the opportunity to see the complex from above, and take a break for a couple of hours to enjoy the panoramic views.
Day 2: Outdoor Activities and Street Food
Spend the second day cycling, quad biking or zip lining. There are several companies that operate in the area. I chose to do a half day bike ride through the Cambodian countryside with Camouflage Adventure. It was absolutely amazing! We literally cycled through rice and wheat paddies, stopped for coconut water on the route, and crossed several villages. The tour company picks you up from your hotel, and provides all the gear you need! They also do cycle rides through the Angkor complex, biking tours from Siem Reap to Chiang Mai, and mountain biking.
Spend the evening at Pub Street – the most famous in Siem Reap. You’ll find lots of restaurants, bars, street food stalls, local shopping markets, and $1 massage spots.
- Cambodia is a cheap destination. You can search for flights here.
- Entry passes to the Angkor complex cost $20 for 1 day, $40 for 3 days, and $60 for 7 days
- The complex hours are 5am – 6pm
- Dress modestly – shoulders and legs should be covered
- Cambodia can be visited year round! Weather is generally warm to hot the entire year. November to March are the driest (and coolest) months, with temperatures between 20-30 degrees Celsius.
- You will need about 4 hours to explore the entire Angkor complex, and perhaps another hour or two watching the sun set at Phnom Bakheng.
- The cycle tour with Camouflage Adventure cost about $25 per person.
- I stayed at a gorgeous boutique hotel (Saem Siem Reap). Rooms were so affordable for how luxurious the hotel was: $80-$100/night for a double occupancy room. Highly recommended