At 4:40 am we stumbled out of bed, took a quick shower, and were out the door by 4:50. Our tuk tuk taxi driver who we arranged through the hotel was already waiting outside for us. Within a few short moments we were whipping through the dark morning streets of Siem Reap, and on our way to tour Angkor Wat!
Shops were already open and makeshift markets were in full swing. As we raced to get our tickets in time we took in the quiet, sleepy side of Siem Reap. We ended up having an amazing day visiting Angkor Wat.
In this post we’ll let you know what to expect, from sunrise to the very last temple on the Angkor Wat small circuit route!
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Early Morning Visiting Angkor Wat
Just after 5am we arrived at the main ticket office which was already packed with locals and tuk tuks. Everyone darted into different lines and nervously looked at their watches, as the famous Angkor Wat sunrise grew closer with every minute.
We walked down the long hall of ticket counters to the end where there was shockingly no one in line! This calmed our panic about missing the sunrise. Before we knew it we were quickly back with our driver, and off again into the darkness.
*Update: Since our visit you now have the option to book your tickets online.
→ If you are looking for a tour of Angkor Wat make sure to check GetYourGuide! You can find everything from sunrise to private guides and exploring the temples by bicycle.
Angkor Wat in the Dark
After several ticket checks our driver dropped us in the parking lot of the Angkor Wat temple. Not knowing how we would find him once it became light out, he assured us he’d be waiting in two hours back at the same spot to continue our Angkor wat tour.
At the time we thought there was no way that we would need a whole two hours as we were visiting Angkor Wat in one day, but we definitely did!
We then walked through the darkness following a stream of tourists who all questioned if they were heading the right way. The path was lit by only cellphone lights, and a small sliver of the moon until you finally arrive inside Angkor Wat.
→ 18 Amazing Angkor Wat Facts That You Won’t Believe Are Real
Angkor Wat Sunrise
Once you get to your Angkor Wat sunrise spot you’ll notice you can either go to the left or right of the main walkway entrance. People lined both sides, but the left with the pond was considerably more crowded.
Immediately, locals were pushing papers towards us. “Coffee? Breakfast??” They repeated.
Over 300 people stood, sat, and laid on the ground, all waiting to see the sunrise over the temple in the distance. We looped around the end and fought through the crowd to a place near the front.
As soon as the sky turned pink and the warm glow lifted from beyond the temple, everyones cameras started to click as they tried to get the perfect photo!
Exploring Angkor Wat Temple
What you might not know before going is that the sun actually takes quite awhile to reach over the top of temple. Wanting to be the first inside, we darted in as soon as the Angkor Wat sunrise peaked out.
Following the others who had entered already, we got in line for the climb up to the highest part of the temple.
Don’t skip this when you visit! The line moves quick, and from the top of Angkor Wat you’ll have incredible views everything! We explored the top, circled the middle, and even looped the outer section before returning to our sunrise spot.
By now the crowds had dispersed, and we had the entire area to ourselves. Honestly, we’re so happy we went in early to beat the crowds on our Angkor Wat tour!
Now we had all the time in the world to get some photos and take in the serene environment. Well… That was until the walk back! Just after sunrise the massive monkeys come out to play.
They seemed to keep to themselves as they hunted through the trash, and sat around on the steps. Some people were having fun with them, but it’s best to not test your luck and get too close.
Start of the Angkor Wat Small Circuit
While the other tuk tuk drivers were lounging in their hanging hammocks, our guy was alert and waiting for us right when we came out.
This was probably because we were in Angkor Wat for over two hours and he most likely thought we were lost. Nevertheless, it was comforting to hear “Mr. Jake! Mr. Jake!” as we were ushered back to his tuk tuk.
He wiped off the fallen leaves from the seat and we were quickly on the main road, racing towards the next temple on the Angkor Wat small circuit.
It’s important to note that you can spend as much or as little time in a temple as you want. That’s the beauty of hiring a private tuk tuk for your Angkor Wat tour!
As long as you decide on a price and which circuit you want, you can feel free to take your time. (More to come about this at the bottom of the post!) Also, know that your driver expects you to stop for lunch, and he can easily find the closest restrooms when asked.
Walking up to Bayon Temple, we were immediately impressed by the rocky faces that towered over us smiling. Unfortunately, we must have hit it right at the same time as a tour bus because hundreds of other people filled every inch of the temple.
We made the climb to the top and marveled at the detailed stone that surrounded us. Even with the crowds, this was honestly still our favorite part of seeing Angkor Wat in one day!
Wat Preah Ngok
We came out from Bayon to find our driver relaxing in the shade and socializing with others. We were surprised when he told us we could walk to the next temple.
This would actually become a common theme throughout the day. The temple complex is massive, and more often than not you’ll be seeing multiple temples on each stop.
Much less crowded than any of the others, it was a refreshing change from fighting through the morning crowds at the Angkor Wat sunrise.
We climbed the long set of steep stairs that were built onto the side of the temple, and made our way to the top. This would be another theme of the day… We hope you’re ready to hike!
Just as we started to really feel the morning heat on the Angkor Wat small circuit we arrived at Ta Keo. What we found was a gigantic and beautiful temple with some of the steepest steps that we came across all day.
I would be lying if we didn’t think for a brief moment about snapping a photo and not making the long climb to the top… But if you’re only going to visit Angkor Wat once, why not do it right?!
We made the climb with others who got on their knees and literally crawled up the side of the temple. Ta Keo isn’t one of the most famous or advertised temples, but we loved exploring it on our Angkor Wat tour.
Maybe it was the sheer size that impressed us, or the fact that we really had to work for the view! Either way, make sure to include this one even if you’re seeing Angkor Wat in one day.
Ta Prohm was the temple we were most looking forward to before visiting Angkor Wat. You may recognize this from famous movies such as Tomb Raider, and you’ll see why it’s so special upon entering!
We made sure to double check with our driver that it would be one of the stops we made. Pulling up to the parking lot, we could see the crowds of tourists already before going in.
There were restaurants and cafes mixed between tuk tuks and tour buses. We followed the slew of others who made the walk into Ta Prohm, and pushed our way between the crowds. If this had been our entire experience we might have left disappointed as it was so packed with people.
Luckily, there are no set routes you have to take unless you’re on an official Angkor Wat tour. So many people choose to just follow the sea of tourists and get stuck in the circle of seeing the main areas.
I don’t know why we did, but we are so thankful that we decided to break away and head to the far side of the temple. We were shocked when we saw we had an entire section to ourselves!
Here we walked through the different buildings, and took photos with the trees that had overtaken the stone walls. This is where we truly fell in love with Ta Prohm!
Fast forward 9 hours later… Exhausted and running on fumes after starting at 5am, we were just about tapped out from all the sites and history. Walking into our last temple it was somewhat of a surreal experience.
We were tired, hot, and in desperate need of water, but couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with excitement for the day. We walked slowly, and were relieved when we saw this temple thankfully had no stairs.
There’s something truly unique about this final temple on the Angkor Wat small circuit. It’s compact and not as crowded or well-known as the others.
Walking slowly and without the mass of tourists, we were able to take in the intricate details and carvings of the stone. At this point we sat down and just took a moment to think back on the morning, and take in the beauty we had witnessed seeing Angkor Wat in one day.
Our Angkor Wat Tour
If we can recommend anything from our experience it’s to make sure to appreciate each structure and moment for what it is!
Honestly, visiting Angkor Wat in one day is exhausting so if you have more time definitely go for a 3 or 7 day ticket. After we found the driver for the last time we sped back to Siem Reap.
It was hard to comprehend everything we saw on the Angkor Wat small circuit. Almost 600 photos later on our camera, and our minds were still spinning from the journey visiting Angkor Wat!
All we could do was sit on Pub Street, drink a .50 cent beer, and reflect on our newfound appreciation for Cambodia.
→ How to Visit Angkor Wat: Dress Code, Top Tips, & Information
Where To Stay In Siem Reap Cambodia
Luxury – Park Hyatt Siem Reap – Ultra luxury in the heart of Siem Reap. We’ve recommended a lot of Park Hyatt’s over the years as they’re one of the nicest hotel chains in Asia.
Fun – Chateau d’Angkor La Residence – Stay near all the action, but still have the ability to escape the craziness of Siem Reap and Pub street. Upscale hotel with traditional amenities and a beautiful pool to cool down.
Budget – Chamraoen’s Home – Quick walk to the Siem Reap Night Market, and amazing local food in the area. Great wifi, clean rooms, and owned by a very helpful family. They can easily set up a tuk tuk driver for Angkor Wat!
Hostel – Mad Monkey Hostel Siem Reap – There’s plenty of hostels in Siem Reap as it’s a huge backpacker haven. Mad Monkey is a popular chain in SEA with travelers who like to socialize. You can pick form dorm as well as twin beds and there is a large pool.
→ 12 Top Tips & Things to Do in Siem Reap Before the Temples
Have any questions on visiting Angkor Wat in one day or have your own tips for seeing the beautiful Angkor Wat sunrise? Let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Cambodia Travel Planning
Cambodia: Make sure to check out all our Cambodia articles including our popular 2 to 3 Week Cambodia Itinerary! We cover everything from Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem to the Kep Crab Market and Kampot boat tour!
Flights: We always find deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia for under $50 USD!
Transportation: 12Go is what we use to book ferries, trains, buses, and private transfers while traveling through Southeast Asia.
Accommodation: Compare competitive sites for hotels such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for activities all over Cambodia. You can book everything from an Angkor Wat small group sunrise tour to visiting the Kompong Phluk floating village, and even take a Cambodian pottery class!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Here’s all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists! Including electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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What was the price for the tuk tuk driver for the day?
We booked it through our hotel and it was about $20 plus a small tip. He waited for us outside every temple and even explained some facts to us. Really can’t beat that deal!