Last updated on December 4th, 2018
From a few hours to a few years in Angkor
You don’t necessarily have more than a few days in Siem Reap. Or maybe you’re wondering whether it’s worth hopping on a flight to just spend a few hours to see Angkor? Or on the contrary, you’ve decided to spend a few months in Siem Reap as part of your trip around the world? There’s plenty to do and to see in Siem Reap, from the absolute essential to everyday experiences that will give you insight into the lives of the locals.
A few hours in angkor…
We have met travellers who just had a few hours to spend in Siem Reap. On a conference or business trip in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Saigon or even Singapore? Who knows when your next visit to this side of the planet will be? Seize the day: Angkor Wat is a wonder to behold.
A few hours: Angkor Wat
One day in Angkor…
In one day you can get a good sense of Angkor. Start with Angkor Thom early morning where you’ll be snapping pictures of the moat, the outer wall and one of the four monumental gates. At the centre of Angkor Thom spend enough time to admire the towering faces and the intricate bas-reliefs. Not far from Bayon, walk ponderously along the Terrace of Elephants. Have lunch at one of the stalls in Angkor Thom, or in Angkor Wat where you’ll spend the afternoon. As the sun sets, grab some refreshments and admire.
One Day: Bayon, Gates of Angkor Thom, Terrace of Elephants, Angkor Wat
Two days in Angkor…
You’ll have a bit more time to go through the small circuit: a loop that includes Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang (one of two still functioning Angkorian reservoirs), and Ta Prohm. On the big circuit, you’ll have to stop at Preah Khan and Neak Poan. Add Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the Khleang for a more thorough visit of Angkor Thom.
Day 1: Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang, Ta Prohm
Day 2: Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Bayon, Gates of Angkor Thom, Terrace of Elephants, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Khleang
Three days in Angkor…
A third day allows you to travel further away to Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women, about 30 km northeast of Siem Reap. It’s a good half-day trip and you can visit Banteay Samre, Pre Rup and Kravan on the way back.
Day 3: Banteay Srei, Banteay Samre, Pre Rup, Kravan
Four days in Angkor…
On the fourth day, travel to the Roluos group of temples, 15 km west of Siem Reap on the national road to Phnom Penh. Bakong is the most imposing edifice with Preah Koh nearby and Lolei to the north. Half a day should be enough. At this stage, you’re probably starting to get templed out. A bit of shopping and pool might do you good. Or if you have unspent energy, a trek up Phnom Bakheng, located between Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, will reward you with a great panorama of the region. However, do not dillydally as to avoid the mad crowds of the not-so-romantic sunset on Bakheng.
Day 4: Phnom Bakong, Preah Koh, Lolei
Five days in Angkor…
Mount Kulen, the founding site of the first Angkor, is located 50 km northeast of Siem Reap. This whole day excursion requires a separate $27 entrance ticket (paid to another private operator). After a winding road up the forest, visitors will discover riverbed carvings and lingas.
Day 5: Phnom Kulen
Six days in Angkor…
Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s great freshwater lake and its main source of fish, plays a central role in the country’s culture and economy. The rainy season increases the size of the lake fivefold to more than 16,000 km2.
On the way to Tonle Sap, stop at the Western Baray, a still functioning example of the famed Angkorian elevated reservoirs. Alternatively, you could drive out to Beng Mealea, some 70 km east of Siem Reap, another massive 12th century temple located on the old Angkorian highway.
Day 6: Tonle Sap and Western Baray or Beng Mealea
A week in Angkor…
You can even relax a little by the pool or at a café…
A week will still feel short but will allow you to experience Angkor at your own tempo. Three temples a day is the ideal pace for your stay to feel like a memorable experience, rather than a blurred slide projection. Try some of our suggestions for temples off the beaten track.
A month in Angkor…
With a month, assiduous visitors will be able to visit all the monuments on the small and big temple circuits, in addition to day excursions beyond Siem Reap and Angkor.
Now you have time to properly discover the town of Siem Reap. Try one of our walks of Siem Reap pagodas and wat. Siem Reap markets are not limited to souvenirs, and there are far more opportunities for eating and drinking than Pub Street and other tourist traps.
If you think you’ve seen all the temples of Angkor, you are far from right. You may have had time to explore the likes of Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and Jayavarman VII’s landmarks but don’t overlook smaller shrines by the road side.
A few years in Angkor…
This is what it will take to truly begin to understand the magic of Angkor and to enjoy at one’s pace its beauties and mysteries. One can never go to Angkor one time too many.
There is always a bas-relief to be discovered yet again, an apsara smile under a different light, another picture to take, a meditation spot to calm down… There are probably much more than the 1500 cultural artefacts that UNESCO has recognised as of major cultural significance over an area as large as any modern capital city.
It is not unusual to run into people who first came to visit Siem Reap for a few days. Decided to come back again… Settled down, got a job, then another one, then before they knew it, have lived here for a few years. The local expatriates seem to be on development postings or business assignments for an initial couple of years, then get extended for up to five years… then eventually move on or stay in Angkor for the rest of their lives…
Maybe you wish to join the ranks of the early Portuguese settlers (Fernandez, De Lopez, De Monteiro etc.) who never left Cambodia, or the French archaeologists and explorers who still steadfastly prowl Siem Reap’s bars and Angkor’s temples? Siem Reap is a small provincial city with a global attraction for a large expatriate community from other Asian countries, Europe, America and beyond.
For the long term resident, life in Siem Reap can be pretty uneventful, compared to Phnom Penh for instance. But the beauty of the old temples and the villages of Angkor still cast a powerful spell on those who find their way to this legendary city.
If you find our blog useful, please consider making a hotel or flight booking with our affiliate links. Happy travels!