The remains of the medieval Khmer empire cover hundreds of square miles, meaning there’s much more to the Angkor area than the Angkor Wat temple complex alone. With three days to explore Angkor, you can bag the “big three” temples, savor sunrise and sunset, hike Phnom Kulen National Park, and see less-visited Beng Mealea and Koh Ker. Here’s how.
Day 1: Jungle Waterfalls and Ruins
Spend your first day exploring Phnom Kulen National Park, a site of Buddhist pilgrimage today and a focal point for Hindu worship during the Khmer empire. Splash in a waterfall; admire Angkor-era riverbed carvings; soak up the atmosphere at 9th-century ruined temples; and, when conditions permit, visit the vast stone animals at Elephant Pond (Sra Damrei). Opt for an air-conditioned vehicle over a tuk-tuk when it comes to transport. Back in Siem Reap, soothe tired feet with a “doctor fish” pedicure, then choose between a street-food feast and one of several restaurants that help prepare young Cambodians from disadvantaged backgrounds for hospitality careers. Marum is well-regarded.
Day 2: Ancient Angkor
The Khmer empire spanned five centuries, so start the day by exploring one of its earlier—and less-visited—incarnations, still covered in jungle. Koh Ker, the 10th-century capital city, covered around 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) at its peak, so opt for both a driver and a guide. On your way back toward Siem Reap, stop at the 12th-century temple Beng Mealea. With trees, vines, and local wildlife clambering over its tumbled stones, it’s one of the Angkor area’s most atmospheric temples. Over dinner, take in a performance of delicate and timeless Apsara (nymph) dance, created for a Khmer princess in the middle of the 20th century.
Day 3: The Big Three
Spend your last day in the Angkor area soaking up the big three: Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom. Start the day with a spectacular sunrise at the Angkor Wat temple complex, then head to Ta Prohm (the so-called Tomb Raider temple) as soon as it opens to beat the crowds. Next, explore Angkor Thom, the last great capital of the medieval Khmer kings and home to the Bayon Temple with its hundreds of serene faces. Once the crowds have thinned a little, return to Angkor Wat and learn about the religion that underpins its sacred architecture. If the sky looks promising, scale Phnom Bakheng for an epic sunset from an ancient temple. Back in Siem Reap, wrap up your stay in style with dinner at Wat Damnak, among the nation’s top fine-dining restaurants.