I visited the Angkor Kingdom of Cambodia two times on 3-day trips in 2008 and 2011 respectively, as three days allowed more time to explore the large ancient kingdom. I would still recommend 3 days for friends and fellow travellers. But due to the large fee hike in February 2017, most of my friends opted for just 1 day.
I worked out this short 1-day itinerary that includes the main essence of Angkor.
However, it will be better to check out my 3-day itinerary before proceeding with this post, unless you are very familiar with the Angkor sites.
Itnerary for 1-Day Visit
If you decide to go for just a 1-day visit, you will need to drop those far-away sites from your itinerary and try to focus on Angkor Wat itself and some must-see sites nearby.
Below is how I will plan a worthwhile 1-day trip, see if it works for you.
Browse the Google Map.
1. Get the 1-day Angkor pass on the day before the visit but after 5pm. Hire a tuk tuk to get to the ticket office or cycle there.
2. Start very early to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat the next day. You will need to be there by 6am to get a good spot. Sunrise is around 6:30am.
3. Check out Angkor Wat. Allocate about 4 hours from after sunrise to probably 11am. Don't spend too much time trying to photograph Angkor Wat with the sun behind it in the morning.
4. Have lunch when possible. There are a number of eating places right outside the main entrance of Angkor Wat. Keep to 30 minutes. It will be a very packed day.
5. Go to Angkor Thom's South Gate. Stop for about 10 minutes.
6. Visit Bayon Temple. About 1 to 2 hours. Note that the sun can be burning hot around noon. If that is the case, swap with Ta Prohm, which offers more shade. You can come back after visiting Ta Prohm.
7. Go to Ta Prohm via Victory Gate. Allocate about 2 hours here.
Note: If you have some time after visiting both Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm, you can visit some of the smaller sites nearer to either of them. Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King are near to Bayon Temple. Srah Srang and Banteay Kdei are nearer to Ta Prohm. And Prasat Kravan is along the way from Ta Prohm to Angkor Wat.
8. Go back to Angkor Wat to take a photo of the full Angkor Wat at around 4pm. In the morning when the sun is behind and above the temple complex, trying to take a photo of its front will be pretty dark. Going back in the afternoon will see the sun shining on its front.
9. Go to Phnom Bakheng for sunset over the paddy fields. Get up there early so you can find a good spot to photograph the sunset.
10. Back to Siem Reap and a good sumptuous dinner.
The trip itself can start as early as 4:30am and end at 7:30pm, a total of 17 hours. If the long hours is too taxing for you, drop either the sunrise or sunset but do start early before the day crowds and tour groups charge in.
Keep your fingers crossed that the weather will hold during the 1-day visit or you may need to revisit the Angkor Kingdom again with another 1-day pass. It will be better to avoid the rain season from July to September for 1-day visit.