3 Days in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Updated: Sep 22
A 3-day itinerary for visiting Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. Visit the less popular Angkor sites, a nearby village, and spend time shopping and eating in the vibrant town of Siem Reap. Don’t try to squeeze Angkor Wat into one day and leave!
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Buy Angkor Wat Tickets
The Angkor ticket office closes at 7 pm. Depending on when your flight lands, try to buy passes on the afternoon of your arrival. Then you will be ready to go on day one, without a morning stop at the ticket office. Tickets must be bought in person at this one office, there isn’t an option to buy them in advance, or online, even if you have a guide.
Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Bakheng Temples
Depending on what time you arrived the day before, the first stop of the day will likely be the Angkor ticket office to buy your passes. Buy a two or three-day pass if you are following this itinerary. Don’t lose your pass. The park employees will check it upon entrance to all of the archeological sites, so keep it somewhere easily accessible. They sell sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks at the ticket office too. See bookings and getting around for more information on drivers and guides for the day.
After buying tickets, head to the Angkor grounds and start the day at Angkor Thom. The grounds of Angkor Thom include multiple other temples. Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple (look for monkeys as you enter this one), Elephant Terrace Temple, and the Terrace of Leper King Temple. It will take a few hours walking to see all of these temples.
Next head to Ta Prohm Temple, a short drive or tuk tuk ride away. This is the famous temple used for filming in the Tomb Raider movie. It has trees and roots growing out of the temples.
Most itineraries that try to pack the top sites into one day. They suggest a quick lunch near Angkor and then spend more time at Angkor Wat or other temples that afternoon. I recommend visiting Angkor in the morning and then when midday heat comes, go back into Siem Reap (a 15-20 minute drive) and have lunch at one of the cafes there. The cafes in Siem Reap have a culture of their own with healthy, refreshing lunch options. Many support local charities as well. The Where to Eat section outlines cafe lunch options. After lunch, head to your hotel or a nearby spa and enjoy a traditional Khmer Cambodian massage. A relaxing lunch and massage are a needed break from the sun and heat on day one.
In the early evening drive back out to the Angkor area to watch the sunset. We hiked the short path to Bakheng Temple to watch the sunset from the top.
A few notes on going to Bakheng Temple to watch the sunset:
There is a 20 minute hike uphill to reach the temple. It is not a difficult hike but with the Cambodian heat you will end up sweaty.
Arrive at the top of the hill an hour before sunset minimum, to ensure a spot on top of the temple.
The park limits the number of people that can be on top of the temple at once (to protect the structure) to 300 people.
If there’s a long line to climb to the top of the temple (there was when I went), you could also hike back down the hill the way you come up and watch the sunset from one of the viewpoints on the hike. The view will be similar
Bakheng Temple does not offer a sunset with a view of The Angkor Wat Temple. From the top of the temple the view is of the Angkor Wat area and general landscape.
If you want to wait in line, the line does eventually move once the sun starts going down. We were confident we wouldn’t be allowed up in time to see the sunset. After an hour of waiting we were able to see the end of the sunset from the top.
There are other options for sunset views in the area. They are all less known and will likely have less crowds.
Pre Rup- Is another temple that is open until 7pm so visitors can watch the sunset from the top. It also gives views of the Cambodian countryside.
Angkor Thom Moat- At the South Gate of Angkor Thom there is a sunset show that reflects in the water of the moat.
Srah Srang- Is a small reservoir across from the Banteay Kdei Temple. There is a viewing platform across from the Banteay Kdei Temple for watching the sunset reflect over the water. Visitors also sit on the grass around the reservoir and still have a view.
Angkor Wat Moat- On the East side of Angkor Wat (outside of the gate, the gate closes at 5:30pm) there is a sunset show that reflects in the water of the moat.
Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea
I recommend watching the sunrise on day two rather than day one. You will be more rested post flight, and you don’t have to go to the ticket office before sunrise, which would cause an even earlier wake up call.
We had our hotel pack a boxed breakfast (a common offering there), and it included fruit and pastries. We left our boxes in the car to eat after sunrise.
Our guide led us in the dark to the viewing spot by the pond in front of Angkor Wat. If you don’t have a guide, use your cell phone flashlight and follow the other tourists. If you care about the perfect photo, go a half an hour or hour earlier than what your guide/driver tells you for a departure time. That’s the best way to be sure to have a clear viewing spot in case of crowds. If you only want to enjoy the sunrise views and a clear photo isn’t important, go at whatever time the guide suggests. There are people walking around selling coffee and snacks while you wait (fyi- the coffee was borderline undrinkable though).
We started touring the inside of Angkor Wat once the sun was up but before it was above the temple structure and visible. By going in before the sun was completely visible, we beat most of the sunrise viewing crowd and were able to view all of Angkor Wat during the golden hour.
After walking through part of the interior you will come to a spot where you have to line up to wait to go into the top. This is the one place where park employees will require hats off and appropriate clothing (sleeves and covered knees). We were only in line for 15 minutes and it’s worth the wait. The top offers views of all of the Angkor grounds and close up encounters with carvings and architectural details inside.
After walking through the rest of the Angkor Wat structure we ate our snacks in the car and then headed to one of the Temple sites outside of the main area, Beng Mealea. Beng Mealea is an hour drive outside of town, with views of the Cambodian countryside along the drive. We went there straight from Angkor instead going back to the hotel for breakfast like many guides suggest. This helped us to beat the crowds at Beng Mealea.
Beng Mealea ended up being our favorite stop of the trip. It was quiet, peaceful and significantly less crowded than the other Angkor stops. The structure was built in the 12th century with the same layout as Angkor Wat, but the temple buildings are in significantly worse condition than other sites we saw. The jungle has essentially consumed the ruins and they have trees growing into them and all around, making it kind of magical. Visitors can walk around the wooded park area and see the temple remains spread throughout. This stop is now included in the Angkor Pass, so there is no extra charge to visit it.
After Beng Mealea we headed back into town for another cafe lunch. After lunch go to Banteay Srei. It is another Angkor Wat Site that is outside of the main area but is in much better condition than Beng Mealea. It is a pink 10th-century temple built from red sandstone with decorative wall carvings.
For dinner options in Siem Reap go to the Where to Eat section.
That night after dinner we explored the night markets and Pub Street. In addition to shopping and food in the markets, foot and shoulder massages are offered and there are foot baths with fish that will eat the dead skin off your feet. There are insects and fun delicacies to try eating too! There are multiple night markets in the area but they all had similar shopping and activities.
Floating Village and Siem Reap
We wanted to spend one day seeing part of Cambodia besides the Angkor Wat Archaeological Sites. There are two popular options for this:
1. A countryside biking tour
2. A boat tour of the nearby floating village. This was the outing we went on. It was interesting to see the colorful floating village and how the local population fishes and lives there. The homes are designed to handle significant changes in water levels.
The outing did feel touristy though and it felt a bit awkward staring at the homes of locals. There were also multiple points where the locals aggressively tried to sell us food and trinkets. The driver and van to take us on this tour was $57USD. A guide for the outing is an extra $50USD, but I don’t think a guide is necessary.
There is a small fee for the boat ride through the river and another fee for the optional row boat excursion through the mangrove trees.
In the afternoon we went back to Siem Reap and explored the Kandal Village neighborhood. It is an up and coming artsy neighborhood. There are modern cafes and shops that sell home goods, artwork, clothing and more, mostly made by locally artisans. The shopping selection was more unique and seemingly higher quality than what was in the markets around Pub Street. For more information on my favorite stores go to the Shopping section.
Building an Itinerary for a Cambodia Trip
It is possible to see Angkor Wat’s highlights in one day, but I do not recommend it. My parents and I planned three days in Angkor Wat and it was the right amount of time to see and enjoy Angkor, as well as Siem Reap and a bit of the Cambodian countryside. For a longer trip, this itinerary can be combined with Shanghai, China, Beijing and The Great Wall or any other stop in nearby Asian countries. Flights are more limited to Siem Reap, so connecting to traveling to or from major cities helps keep flight costs down.
Lodging in Siem Reap
There are many hotel options in the area. Read reviews and look at pictures carefully though, many of the properties are dated. Cambodia is known for its service and hospitality, so it’s likely that any hotel option will have outstanding service. If easily accessible massages are important to you, look for a hotel that has a spa onsite.
Advanced Bookings for Siem Reap
To book your guide, driver and activities it is normal to have the hotel help you when you arrive. Drivers and guides don’t book out in advance so it is easy to coordinate the bookings upon arrival. If you need a guide or driver for the day you arrive, then email the hotel to book that initial day in advance.
An English speaking guide was $50USD/day (total, not per person). If you want to save on costs, the area is navigable without a guide. I recommend that you hire a guide for only the first day to learn the history of the area and temples, and then explore on your own after that.
What to Wear and Pack for a Siem Reap Trip
What to Wear
Conservative Clothing- The Angkor Wat buildings are religious temples so most women tourists wear pants or skirts below the knees and have their shoulders covered. Men were fine in shorts above the knees. The only place there was staff that enforced that dress code was at the entrance to the top of Angkor Wat. It is hot year round in Siem Reap, 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit on average, so lightweight breathable fabrics are helpful. We never were bitten by mosquitos, and did not need long pants and sleeves to avoid bites.
Comfortable Shoes and Clothing- Wear clothing easy to move in and shoes that help you balance on tiny stairs. At many sites there are options to climb up small, ancient stairs that lead to viewpoints or to other parts of the temple. Avoid flip flops for these stair climbs.
A hat- It will help to block out the sun and heat, especially as you hit midday sun.
What to Pack
A lightweight backpack is useful for visiting the Angkor sites. It is helpful to be hands free when climbing stairs to Temples.
What to Eat in Siem Reap
Red curry chicken- A coconut based red curry sauce that is often cooked in a banana leaf to retain moisture.
Spring Rolls- This appetizer is steamed or fried rice paper that wraps around vegetables or pork and is served with a dipping sauce.
Num Kom- A dessert made with sweetened rice and coconut wrapped in a banana leaf
Bok Lahong - A Cambodian savory papaya salad
Passionfruit Soda- A Popular non-alcoholic drink in Siem Reap, fresh passion fruit with soda water.
Where to Eat in Siem Reap
Sister Srey- Has a healthy, fresh menu and it helps to support local students
New Leaf- Is another lunch cafe that supports local charities.
Little Red Fox- A cute coffee cafe in the Kandal Village area.
Fine Dining Options
Malis - A fine dining option along the river in Siem Reap, with a contemporary take on many local dishes
Chanrey Tree- A mid range restaurant with Cambodian jungle decor and local traditional dishes.
Madam Butterfly- This restaurant Is set in a traditional wooden Khmer home with indoor and outdoor seating. They serve traditional Khmer cuisine with a bit of Thai and Chinese influence.
Embassy- A fine dining option in a modern setting
Budget friendly dinner options
Khmer Grill- It offers an authentic Cambodian dining experience with a relaxed atmosphere.
Shopping in Siem Reap
There are many inexpensive gifts and souvenirs sold in Siem Reap’s markets: scarves, tropical/vacation dresses, pants, shirts, bags and wicker purses. I bought a woven purse in the markets of Siem Reap that I have seen sold in the States for 10x the price. Plan to leave room in your luggage for shopping finds!
In and around Angkor, there are local artists selling their paintings as well. In shops outside of the markets you will also find home goods like pillow cases and throws, bowls, make up bags, and other gifts.
There is shopping everywhere you go, but it’s most heavily concentrated in the markets around Pub Street, around the Angkor Wat sites, and then in Kandal Village (discussed more Day 3). In the markets negotiating prices is common practice. Don’t buy your item at whatever initial price they first mention, negotiate the price down. In shops in Kandal Village the prices aren’t negotiable.
In Kandal Village a couple of my favorite shops were:
Louise Loubatieres- It sells scarves, cushions, throws, art, bowls, clothing and more.
Trunkh- They sell clothing, homewares and gifts.
Getting Around Siem Reap
If you aren’t traveling with a tour group there are two main options for transit for going to Angkor sites:
Hire a driver. After climbing up temples in the Cambodian heat, coming back to a car with AC and ice cold waters it feels worth the extra expense for a driver. Drivers can also serve as quasi guides, providing local and historical information in between stops and tips for visiting the sites. The English language skills of a driver usually aren’t as strong as a guide, but they are able to communicate a bit. A minivan with a driver was $57USD/day (total not per person).
Tuk tuks. This is the budget friendly option. Individual rides are usually between $2-$5USD. Tuk Tuk drivers also offer the option to stay with you all day as you explore Angkor. They can then serve as your quasi ‘guide’ giving you information during the rides and letting you know which direction to go at each site. Tuk tuks are an authentic Southeast Asian feeling experience, and they can weave through traffic and zip you around the Temples easier than a car. Keep in mind tuk tuks don’t have AC and the drivers often speak minimal English.
When to Go to Siem Reap
Go in the off season! At minimum avoid going over Christmas, Western New Year and Chinese New Year. The Chinese make up one of the largest tourist groups that visit the area. The crowd levels can change your experience at Angkor significantly. We traveled in high season over the holiday break, and the crowds were the worst I have seen in my travels abroad. I have friends that went at other times of year and they had a different experience. A friend that went in May had much smaller crowds.
Other Tips for a Siem Reap Trip
US Dollars are the main currency used in Siem Reap, the ATM’s even dispense US Dollars.
Credit cards are accepted in higher-end restaurants and stores but bring small bills for tuk tuks and shopping in markets.
English was widely spoken in Siem Reap and at all of the sites we visited.
Trip Dates: January 1st- January 5th, 2020