After two weeks as a volunteer visiting Cambodia, I have seen many amazing sights. But watching the sun rise over the spirals of the famous Angkor Wat temple is one of the most enchanting experiences I’ve had here.
The Angkor Wat temple is the biggest in the Angkor complex, but with over 50 other temples to see, you can easily spend a day or more exploring the 400 square kilometres of ruins.
If you only have one day to do it, how can you be sure to get the full experience? Making the most of your visit will require a strategic plan to make sure you see all the most popular temples while still allowing time to explore some others in between.
Read on for our best tips and tricks to enjoying a day at Angkor Wat.
How do I get to Angkor Wat?
From Siem Reap, Cambodia, the journey will take about 20 minutes. The most popular mode of transportation is the tuk-tuk. They will range in price anywhere from 15 USD to 20 USD for the day.
Pro tip: Try and arrange a ride with a driver you can easily communicate with. Many temples have a separate entrance and exit so you will have to get picked up at a different place from where you entered.
If you only understand English, it will be much easier if you have a driver that speaks and understands English too, so you are on the same page about where you will need to be picked up after you finish exploring each temple in the Angkor Wat complex.
You also have the option to hire a private car or minivan, which will be quite a bit more expensive. However, if you are travelling to Angkor Wat during Cambodia’s dry season (November to April), it will be boiling hot. A vehicle with air-conditioning to transport you between temples will be a welcome relief from the elements.
What is the best way to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat?
In order to beat the crowds (and the heat) you’ll have to arrive at about 5:00. You must purchase your ticket beforehand at the official ticket office for the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is located just before the entrance to the temple complex.
Pro tip: This can be done on the morning of your visit. However, the ticket office doesn’t open until 5:00. So if you want to be one of the first people in the complex, buy your ticket the day before.
The price for a day ticket to Angkor Wat is 37 USD and should be paid with cash in USD or riel. Make sure you keep your ticket handy throughout the day, as it will have to be checked at each temple you go into.
Arriving at Angkor Wat at 5:00 will allow you to get a front row seat to the show. The most popular place to view the sunrise is a pond in front of the temple. This allows you to see the sunrise both in front of you and in the reflection of the water.
But if you want to go against the flow, stick to the left side of the temple. Not only are the pinks and purples of the sky just as vibrant here, but all five of the spirals at the top of the temple will be visible from this viewpoint.
I saw the sunrise at Angkor Wat… now what?
After the sun has risen, it’s time to do some exploring. The Angkor Wat temple is just as stunning up close as it is from far away. The detail in the engravings will have you captivated and dreaming about the stories the dilapidated walls hold. The size of it may seem overwhelming, but getting lost is half the fun.
Pro tip: The temple will be very busy as soon as the sun has risen fully. To avoid the crowds, head straight to the back and work your way to the front. Everyone else will be going the opposite direction.
What other temples should I go to?
When you’re visiting Cambodia with only one day to explore the massive complex, there are certain temples that you shouldn’t miss. Below is a list of the temples and reasons why you should visit them over the others.
Bayon Temple (the four faces temple)
This temple is famous for the faces engraved into the stone. With 216 of them, you will be enraptured for hours on end, studying the differences. This temple was my favourite by far. Looking into the eyes of each face, I felt that they were all staring back at me, trying to convey the stories that each of them held.
Angkor Thom (the bridge)
Technically this isn’t a temple, but the statues lining the bridge represent both gods and demons and are intricately carved with great detail. The bridge goes over the moat that surrounds the Angkor Wat temple and offers a view of the water and surrounding forest that creates a grand backdrop for the figures.
Ta Som (the tree doorway temple)
The most popular feature of this temple is the massive tree protruding from the stone entrance. It engulfs the entire doorway and will make you feel as though you are walking through the trunk to get to the inside of the temple. This is something you must see to believe. It is smaller and less crowded than the other temples and will be a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the morning.
Ta Prohm (the “Tomb Raider” temple)
This is one of the more famous temples because of its role in the film Tomb Raider. The roots of the trees overflow onto the stone and seem to swallow up entire sections of the wall. You will feel like you are in your very own movie as you wander through this temple.
How should I organise my day at Angkor Wat?
With an overwhelming number of temples to visit, the possibilities of how you prepare your day are endless! However, if you choose to stick to the temples mentioned above, here is an itinerary.
5:00 – Arrive at the Angkor Ticket Office
5:15 – Watch sunrise at Angkor Wat temple
6:00 – Begin exploring the Angkor Wat temple
7:30 – Stop for a break and a bite to eat
8:00 – Head over to the bridge and Bayon temple
10:00 – Drive about 20 minutes to the Ta Som temple and explore
11:30 – Stop for lunch at one of the many food stalls
12:30 – Spend the last couple hours perusing Ta Prohm
Pro tip: If you want to spend more than eight hours in the Angkor Wat complex, there is an abundance of temples you can choose from to visit. And if you make it till sunset, head over to the Pre Rup temple for the best view.
How can I visit Angkor Wat responsibly and respectfully?
Like any other religious or historical site, there are certain guidelines that should be respected. Below are some things to be aware of when visiting the Angkor Wat temples:
- Dress modestly. Shoulders and knees must be covered, and you should avoid wearing any headgear if possible.
- Do not use your finger to point, especially at people. Instead, gesture with your full hand and your palm facing down, as having your palms up can be offensive.
- If you happen to encounter a monk while touring the temples, be respectful of their space and move out of their path if they are walking. If the monk is seated, always sit lower than them. And NEVER take a picture of a monk without their permission, especially while they are praying.
- Also, do not touch a Buddha statue, and ask permission before taking photographs. Never turn your back on a Buddha statue to take a selfie.
Although this attraction is one of the most popular for tourists visiting Cambodia, it is worth braving the crowds to experience the intrigue that each individual Angkor Wat temple holds. They are all different and contain so many unique qualities. They’ll have you losing track of time while wandering the ruins.
If you are interested in combining the magic of a sunrise over one of the most famous temples in the world, and the reward of volunteering in a local Cambodian village, then join us at our GVI Kampong Cham location. Give us a call or check out the other blog posts about Kampong Cham to see the possibilities!