Angkor Wat in One Day
We were limited on our time in Cambodia, so we only had one full day to explore the vast Angkor Wat temple complex. While having more time is more ideal, we were determined to make the most of the time we had. So we decided to spend an entire day, sunrise to sunset, at Angkor Wat.
Our tuk-tuk driver picked us up bright at early at 5 am, then we headed out of town toward the complex. We weren’t the only ones with this plan; in fact, it is a must if you are in this area and there were a lot of people on the road at 5 am! Our driver dropped us off in front of what looked like a temple, so we turned on our flashlights and followed the group of people.
It is pitch dark and as make our was across the ancient stone pathway using our flashlights to guide our way. It’s so dark in fact that all we can see are specks of light from the flashlights of people in the crowd. We can hardly see the other people, but we hear their footsteps and whispers. Having never seen the temples in person yet, walking through the temple on this chilly morning with only our flashlight to light our path is a pretty amazing way to be introduced to such a wonder.
Once inside, we locate a large grassy area in front of the main building and find a seat on some fallen temple stones. By this time, we can barely make out the outline of the top of the temple. There is a smoky haze in the sky, likely fields burning in the distance, which enhances the glow of the slowly rising sun.
Once the sun has risen we realize that we have been up for hours already…and we are hungry! It is going to be a long day exploring the many temples in the historic complex, so we need our energy. Lucky for us, there are actually a set of makeshift restaurants that are set back in some trees from the main temple. Talk about a convenient location with amazing views!
After breakfast we spend a couple hours exploring the inside of the Angkor Wat temple. We walk down ancient corridors, hike steep sets of stairs to the upper levels, and examine the ornate carvings. The perk to being here for sunrise is that you have plenty of time to explore this first temple before the crowds arrive; in fact, we were leaving Angkor Wat when most tour groups were arriving.
The next temple on our list was Bayon, the temple of the faces. This complex is surrounded by a large wall, with only small openings for cars. In ancient times, this was a great defense mechanism, but in modern times it is the perfect recipe for a major traffic jam! Once we finally made it into the Bayon complex our driver dropped us off and we spent the rest of the morning hiking around various ruins in the area. We even stumbled across a couple of hidden altars where we were able to present offerings to the Buddha in exchange for good luck. Afterwards, we met up with our driver at a nearby restaurant for lunch.
After a restful lunch break, we head out to explore more temples; including a couple that were way off the beaten tourist path. The Butterfly Temple was set back in the jungle — and we were the ONLY people there. It was nice to get away from the crowds for a while and to do a bit of Geocaching.
Next we hit up the Tah Prom temple, one of the most famous for the trees that are growing right out of the ancient rocks. The jungle is literally swallowing up this temple. You will find many artists in this temple complex making beautiful pieces of art, and we were lucky enough to purchase a painting from a young artist to bring home with us.
Our last stop of the day was Phnom Bakheng, perched on top of a hill. It is a popular place to see the sunset, so we head out a bit early to hike up the hill and get a good spot. Not only do we have to hike up quite a large hill, but to get to the top of the temple is a steep climb as well! Once on top, we are rewarded with an amazing view of the Cambodian countryside.
Even though we are exhausted from this busy day, and covered with dust, it was well worth it. And the sunset was a perfect way to end our full day at Angkor Wat. So while having more time at Angkor is advisable, our story proves that if you are short on time, it is possible to see Angkor Wat in one day.