The famed temples of Angkor are arguably Cambodia’s top attraction – and with good reason. Often described as the 8th wonder of the world and one of humankind's most astonishing achievements, these ancient stone temples are truly breathtaking in their magnitude and wonder, and should sit high up on anyone’s bucket list.
But a tour of the Angkor temples is not cheap – nor should it be. At $20 USD for a day pass, rising to $40 for 3 days and $60 for a week, plus transport, the temples of Angkor can push out the backpacker budget a little.
It’s fortunate, then, that from Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor region, you can view the most significant temples of Angkor Wat in one day – despite what the guidebooks may tell you.
Booking a tour from Siem Reap
After arriving in Siem Reap, a little research around the town can point you in the right direction for tackling this trip. Many guesthouses will offer Angkor Wat tours by tuk-tuk or car, or you can hire a bicycle. Alternately, if you wander through the streets around Pub Street, Psar Chaa and Sivatha Road you will stumble across more tour agency options than you could possibly need.
Whilst in Siem Reap in March 2012, we travelled by tuk-tuk through a guesthouse booking for $12 for the day and can thoroughly recommend it. Biking could be fine during the cooler months but as day-time temperatures most often sit above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and you’re likely to be exhausted very quickly from riding to and climbing up numerous temples, I wouldn’t recommend it.
While a little more expensive, catching a tuk-tuk requires less energy and provides an opportunity to rest between stops. You may even be fortunate enough to have an English-speaking driver who will act as a tour guide.
Angkor at sunrise
To get the most out of one day, it’s a good idea to catch sunrise over Angkor Wat, which unfortunately means an early start. A 5am pickup is the norm and Angkor Wat itself will be the first stop.
Set yourself down to wait inside the walls, near a little lake to get the perfect Angkor Wat photos with the reflection on the water when the sun first shines its head. Breakfast can be grabbed at any of the small restaurants near the lake, but be prepared to bargain hard.
As soon as the sun comes up, make the most of the still relatively-cool temperatures to spend the next few hours touring this amazing site. To ensure that you’re not turned away from any temples, you should wear a shirt or t-shirt rather than a vest, singlet or tank-top and trousers or shorts that go below the knees rather than short skirts.
A guidebook to the ancient Angkor temples can usually be picked up from a kid or hawker for $1 - an Angkor Wat tour guide considerably more.
Angkor in a day
Later in the day, there will be plenty of road-side spots to choose from for lunch, refreshments and souvenirs. Again, be prepared to bargain for a deal.
We successfully covered the temples of Angkor for sunrise, Bayon, Ta Phrom and many others before exhaustion set in around 4pm. To top it all off, you can view the sun setting over Angkor Wat can from Phnom Bakheng Hill – that’s if you have any energy left!