Only Have one day in Angkor Wat? Here’s How to Make the Most of it

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angkor wat

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Photo by Poswiecie via pixabay.

Hidden in the jungles of Cambodia lie the ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world, the symbol of modern Cambodia, and the seat of power of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 13th centuries. Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous site inside the 400 square kilometer Angkor Archaeological Park. Ancient myths claim that this massive structure was constructed in a single night by a divine architect – this may or may not be true, but if you only have one day in which to discover the temple and the myriad of other sites in the park, then you have to be pretty on the ball. Here’s how to make the most out of your day.

Start With Angkor Wat at Dawn

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Photo by Marina & Enrique via flickr.

You didn’t think you could squeeze a 400 square kilometre Unesco World Heritage Site into one day and still get away with a lazy lie in, did you? Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is the perfect way to grasp the significance and beauty of the ancient temple. Sit in perfect silence as the towers gradually emerge from the darkness, and think about this once thriving civilisation that was lost to the jungle for centuries.

Hit Preah Khan Before the Crowds Arrive

temple in cambodia

Emperor Jayavarman VII built Preah Khan in honor of his father. Photo by kolibri5 via pixabay.

Once a mystery, a mere rumour, lost to war and neglect, today over 2 million tourists a year visit Angkor Wat. The good news is most of them aren’t nearly as good at early mornings as you are.  After your dawn vigil at Angkor Wat, make take a 20 minute tuk-tuk ride to Preah Khan so you can get there early enough to beat the crowds. This 12th century temple was built by the emperor Jayavarman VII in honour of his father. At its peak, it housed almost 100,000 staff – just challenge your kids to beat that next Father’s Day!

Enter The Ancient Capital, Angkor Thom


The South Gate takes you to a causeway lined by statues of demons and gods. Photo by dMz via pixabay.

After a morning of temples, you’ll be a ready for something a bit different. A 10 minute drive from Preah Khan, Angkor Thom was the final capital city of the Khmer Empire. This 9 kilometre square complex contains a host of beautiful monuments, and can keep you occupied for several hours. Enter through the beautiful and famous South Gate which takes you over a causeway lined on either side by statues of demons and gods, and you’ll witness the fears and ambitious of a forgotten world.

Getting Hungry?

The archeological park has several pockets of restaurants and stores where you can get decent local food and snacks. Price will certainly be higher (and the quality lower) than you’ll find at hole in the wall restaurants in town, but with the nearest modern city, Siem Reap, a good 6 kilometres away, this is probably the most efficient way to relax, refuel, and recharge for the afternoon of sightseeing.

Relax By the Royal Pool Before Sunset At Pre Rup

Pre Rup

Pre Rup is a must-see before you leave Angkor Wat. Photo by Guillén Pérez via flickr.

After about 30 minutes on your tul-tuk, you’ll follow the ‘Magic Stairs’ down to Srah Sang, a manmade lake dug in the mid 10th century. Breath in the air, cooled by the water, and watch the sun glisten over the stone covered quay. Find a bench to relax and rest a while, before moving onto Pre Rup to finish the day in style. Built in 961/2 and dedicated to the hindu deity Shiva, the Pre Rup temple is one of the most beautiful sites in the Angkor complex. Go in the evening to watch the light fade away, as its twelves shrines fade into the night.

Suddenly Realized That You Have More Time? Here’s What To Do

As you’ve seen, you can get a lot done in a day, but if you manage to squeeze in more time you’ll find Angkor Wat has many more secrets to reveal. Three days would be the perfect amount of time to make the most of the archeological park. Start by spending a full day just at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The four temples, Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan are worth a day between them. On your third day, take it a bit easier and head out to Tonle Sap to see the beautiful freshwater lake. Exhausted? You’ve earned a rest, and a cold glass of Cambodia’s famous Angkor Beer.

Ready to climb to the top of Angkor Wat and gaze out over the largest religious structure in the world? Join our Angkor Wat: City of Temples tour.