Updated: May 2, 2019
I first visited the Angkor Kingdom, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2008 and was back a second time in 2011 as a "guide" to show my parents around.
On both visits, I opted for the 3-day pass to tour the ancient kingdom, the main cluster of historical sites near Siem Reap town. It was more value-for-money to go for 3 days (US$40 for 3 days vs US$20 for 1 day — before the fee hike in Feb 2017). It was also not possible to visit majority of the sites in the Angkor Kingdom, including Angkor Wat, in just one day.
To avoid confusions, I will use "Angkor Kingdom" to refer to all the ancient sites in Siem Reap and "Angkor Wat" is the famous temple complex in the kingdom. The Angkor pass is a ticket to the Angkor Kingdom, not just Angkor Wat.
My 3-day exploration routes in the Angkor Kingdom are shown in the map below.
Browse the Google Map.
Study the map and note the routes for 3-day visit (blue for Day 1, green for Day 2 and orange for Day 3). It is possible to cover most of the Angkor sites in the main cluster in 3 days.
However, you may get an overdose from seeing too many temples. Unless you are seriously interested in temple ruins and their long histories, you can consider dropping some of the lesser significant ones to spend more time on the must-see sites.
1. Hire a tuk tuk for 3 days, preferably through the hotel or guest house for safety reason. Don't try to cycle to the historical sites, which is about 8Km from Siem Reap town. And that is only to the main site of Angkor Wat, it can easily be 25Km for the whole day. However, if you really want to cycle, plan to visit just one or two sites a day at a leisurely pace.
2. Your tuk tuk driver will bring you to purchase the Angkor pass at the ticket office on the way to Angkor Wat. The new office is not along the main road to Angkor Wat and need a little detour. Only cash is accepted at the ticket office and your photo will be printed on the pass. From February 2017, the 3-day pass is US$62. Don't lose the pass, a penalty of US$200 will be levied.
3. If you are going for sunrise on the first day, do purchase your Angkor pass on the day before (after 5pm) to avoid long queue at the ticket office in the early morning of day one and miss the sunrise. Or better yet, go for sunrise on the second or third day — a 3-day visit do offer more flexibility.
MY 3-DAY ITINERARY
Below is a consolidation of the two itineraries of my 3-day visits, check it out and plan an itinerary for your trip. Note that we travelled around the kingdom in hired tuk tuk.
Our first visit to the Angkor Kingdom was during the dry season of May where water levels were lower in ponds and moats. The weather was also the hottest during that time, especially around noon. The second visit was in November after the rain season from June to October.
The best time to be in Siem Reap is after the rain season, so there will be lesser rainfalls to disrupt visiting the Angkor Kingdom but the weather will be hot with occasional late afternoon showers.
DAY 1: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom
We visited the famous Angkor Wat and the most-notable Bayon Temple on the first day, including several smaller sites in Angkor Thom.
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat means "City of Temples" in Khmer. This is the primary reason to be in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat has a really long history that I will not delve into — visit the temple city and learn about it or refer to Wikipedia for information on all the sites.
Sunrise will be at the front entrance to Angkor Wat. The sun will rise behind the temple at around 6:30am — for your info. We were too lazy to get up early for sunrise.
We headed straight for Angkor Wat on the first day. Most visitors would take photos of the full view of Angkor Wat before entering its compound. However, remember that the sun rises behind the temple, so it will be darker in the morning. The best time to take a full view photo of Angkor Wat is in the afternoon when the sun is shining on it from the front.
We started with the outer wall enclosures and checked out the long wall cravings along the corridors of the temple complex's enclosure. The cravings depict the long history of Angkor — an illustrated guide book is required to understand them. We took more than an hour to walk one full round before going into the temple ground.
However, if you are eager to ascend to the top of Angkor Wat, head straight to the central sanctuary before the crowds come in. Start from the sanctuary and explore outward. Check out the wall enclosures last, but don't forget about it.
There are a lot more things to see inside the temple, such as Buddha statues, bas-reliefs, inner sanctuary with more towers, etc.
The central sanctuary is called the Bakan Sanctuary. It has five towers that can be seen from outside Angkor Wat. There were times when the sanctuary was opened for the public to ascend and closed again for repair works. When it was opened, a queuing system would be used to limit the number of visitors going up.
In Hindu mythology, devatas and apsaras were beautiful supernatural female beings that were superb dancers and seduced both gods and men. In the real world, they seduced visitors. Their red and shiny breasts are the results of being groped by countless of visitors (both males and females).
Bas-relief of devatas.
More on the celestial beauties:
Opening time: 5:00am to 6:00pm. This timing applies to all sites in the main cluster, unless otherwise stated.
2. South Gate of Angkor Thom
We entered the premise of the Bayon-style Angkor Thom, or "The Great City", through the South Gate when going from Angkor Wat to the Bayon Temple. There were similar gates to the north, west and east of Angkor Thom but in different states of restoration. The South Gate is one of the better restored gates.
Most visitors would stop in front of the gate to take photos, but the other side was actually much more intact. We went through the gate before stopping to check out the magnificent bas-reliefs on it. The uniqueness of the gate were the four faces looking in four different directions.
Apart from the North, South, East and West Gates, Angkor Thom has a fifth gate, called "Victory Gate", near to the East Gate. The East Gate is also known as the "Gate of Death" where convicts were sent to be executed during the Angkor era. From Angkor Thom to Ta Prohm, the road will pass through Victory Gate instead of the East Gate.
3. Bayon Temple
The Bayon Temple, located right in the middle of Angkor Thom, is another must-see relic. It is well-known for the numerous large serene stone "faces" carved on the towers on the upper terrace of the temple. There were about 200 faces, believed to be of some Buddhas.
The temple used to have 49 towers standing at one point in time, but only 37 remained today. Each tower had 4 faces.