Angkor Wat: Guide to the Small Circuit Tour

The Small Circuit Tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park hits the three major highlights – Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. These three are the primary temples on the tour bus route and are incredibly crowded from the time that they open until the time they close. But they are the most popular for good reason, these temples are absolutely stunning!

Read on to learn all about the temples that are included in the Small Circuit Tour, and be sure to check out all that is included in the Grand Circuit Tour if you have some additional time in Siem Reap.

Enjoy!


Entrance Prices and Hours

Angkor Archaeological Park Entrance Fees

  • 1-day ticket – $37 USD
  • 3-day ticket (valid for 1 week) – $62 USD
  • 7-day ticket (valid for 1 month)- $72 USD
  • Children under 12 are free but must show their passport.
  • Tickets issued after 5:00pm are valid for the next day.
  • These tickets include entrance to all temples except Kulen Mountain and Bengmealea temple.

Angkor Archaeological Park Hours

  • Angkor Wat Temple and Srah Srang: 5:00am – 5:30pm (open for sunrise)
  • Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup Temples: 5:00am – 7:00pm (open for sunrise and sunset)
  • All other temples: 7:30am – 5:30pm

The ticket office is technically open daily from 5:00am – 5:30pm daily. However ticket agents usually begin selling tickets at 4:30am so you can arrive even earlier if you want to get a prime sunrise-viewing spot.


Small Circuit Tour Route

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: South Gate of Angkor Thom
Southern Entrance of Angkor Thom

The Small Circuit Tour route generally starts with sunrise at Angkor Wat and continues clockwise. This tour is a must if you only have one day to spend in the Angkor Archaeological Park as it covers the most popular and picturesque temples.

If you’d like to make any modifications to your tour route, be sure to hire a tuk-tuk driver who speaks English. Negotiate the changes and the price ahead of time so that there are no surprises for either of you.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Entrance to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of the entire Angkor Archaeological Park and is still used for religious purposes to this day. It is not uncommon to see monks here, often offering blessings for a small donation. The temple appears on the Cambodian flag and is the main tourist draw to the country.

This temple was built in the first half of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II and it is estimated that it took 30 years to complete. He meant for the temple to be his eventual mausoleum and dedicated the building to Vishnu.

The most spectacular view of Angkor Wat is from across the pond at the main entrance. This is where crowds gather every morning for sunrise. The symmetrical temple reflects in the calm water at it’s base to create a beautiful photograph.

Once inside you can wander around temple or the grounds. You can also climb the steep set of stairs to the temple in the center of the complex. There is usually a queue to get in as the number of people that are allowed at a time is restricted. This area does not open until 6:40am and it is one of the few areas in the park where the conservative dress code is enforced.

Opening Hours: 5:00am – 5:30pm

Phnom Bakheng

Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat: Phnom Bakheng

It’s a bit of a climb to get up to the top of the hill where Phnom Bakheng overlooks the park below. It’s about a 15-minute uphill walk on a dusty path to the top. The temple is undergoing a lot of construction so it’s difficult to get a photo without a giant crane in the background.

The main temple itself is fairly small and sits in the middle of a platform. Smaller pagodas sit in the corners. Most people choose to visit Phnom Bakheng for sunrise or sunset because of it’s setting high on a hill with a view of the jungle below.

Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat: View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng
View of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng (200mm Zoom)

Sunset is by far the most popular time to visit Phnom Bakheng. If you have a camera with a zoom lens you can see Angkor Wat far in the distance. The temple turns a beautiful shade of gold when the sun is setting. However, only 300 people are allowed in the temple at a time so if you don’t arrive about 3 hours before sunset, you’ll have to wait in line.

While Phenom Bakheng is along the Small Circuit Route most tourist skip it. So if you really want to visit, be sure to tell your tuk-tuk driver ahead of time.

Opening Hours: 5:00am – 7:00pm

Bayon Temple

Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat: Bayon Temple

Bayon is one of the most impressive temples in the entire Angkor Archaeological Park. It’s the second of the “Big Three” that you’ll visit on the Small Circuit Tour (Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm). Bayon sits at the center of the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom (which translates to “great city”). Be sure to stop at the gates when you enter and exit this city as they are quite impressive!

As you approach this massive Gothic-style temple you’ll notice that you keep seeing one particular face smirking down at you. There are 216 faces of either the former king, Jayavarman VII, or the face of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. Historians have differing opinions.

Head up to the rooftop of this temple and you’ll see huge, well-preserved faces – some close enough to touch while others loom far above you. It’s quite spectacular to see and you’ll want to spend a while up here snapping photos. There are a few entrepreneurial locals here who may offer to take your photo while making a kissing face toward one of the statues. Just be aware that they are looking for a tip.

Bayon is best to visit in the early morning, before the tour buses arrive. From 7:30am until about 8:30am you’ll find far fewer tourists here as most people are still exploring Angkor Wat. Plan on spending about 2 hours at this temple to get the full experience.

Opening Hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Baphuon Temple

Baphuon Temple is a good one to skip if you are short on time. It’s a huge temple with a steep set of stairs leading to the top. From there you’ll be rewarded with nice views of the area. The reason this temple is skippable is that the architecture isn’t nearly as interesting as other temples in the area. There are no intricate carvings or strangler figs wrapping around the ruins.

If you do decide to stop at Baphuon, be sure to follow the “way of visit” signs when you exit the temple. The path will lead you through an ancient stone gate, past the 10th-century Hindu pyramid of Phimeanakas and finally bring you to Prasat Preah Palilay.

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Prasat Preah Palilay

This small temple has had almost no reconstruction work done on it and has several large trees growing up through the rubble. It is quite a spectacular site to behold and you’ll likely have it all to yourself as almost no tourists visit this particular temple.

Once you get back to the road you can either follow the Terrace of the Elephants back to your tuk-tuk, or cross the road and check out a few more off-the-beaten-path temples. These are not a part of the typical tourist track so you’re unlikely to run into other tourists here.

Opening Hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Terrace of the Elephants

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Terrace of the Elephants

This is a long pathway that runs alongside the road near Baphuon Temple. It is a 300-meter royal terrace where the king would watch events in the parade grounds or hold audiences with the citizens of Angkor. The elephant carvings lining the sides of the terrace give it its name.

Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Chau Say Tevoda Hindu Temple

Just after you exit the east gate (known as Victory Gate) of Angkor Thom you’ll pass Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda, a pair of small but picturesque temples with wonderfully preserved Aspara carvings.

If you’re feeling overheated and exhausted these temples are certainly skippable. But since they are overlooked by most tourists, they make for a nice escape from the crowds you’ll experience at the other temples on the Small Circuit Tour.

Ta Keo

Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat: Ta Keo Temple

You’ll need to climb a very steep set of tall, uneven stairs to reach the top of Ta Keo. You can enjoy views of the surrounding area from above. And you can step inside of the small temple at the very top to see a shrine to Buddha.

Opening Hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Ta Prohm

Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat: Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm is another of the most impressive temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The Cambodian jungle has gone to work in consuming the massive temples. Strangler figs have wrapped around the stone structures in such an impressive manner, it’s impossible not to be in awe of Mother Nature.

This temple is massive so be sure to note where your tuk-tuk drops you off. Some drop off at the temple’s main entrance and some in the back. Signs clearly mark the direction that you’ll need to go if you want to follow the flow of traffic. It’s easy to get turned around here and you’ll want to spend at least an hour as the photo possiblities are endless!

Unfortunately the most magnificent spots in Ta Prohm, where the trees have really taken over, are roped off so photos can be difficult. While most of the temples in Angkor are a bit of a free-for-all in terms of exploring, this one has more walkways that you’ll need to stick to. The highlight from the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie is a popular photo stop for the huge tours that descend on the temple around 9:00am.

Opening Hours: 7:30am – 5:30pm

Banteay Kdei

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Entrance to Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei is a beautiful temple that seems to be a bit structurally unsound. Look closely at the columns and walls here, you’ll see that many are being held together by rust-colored wire. Some areas look like they are ready to topple at any moment!

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Banteay Kdei

Take your time here, the carvings are really spectacular and it’s not as crowded as some of the more popular temples. The name Banteay Kdei literally translates as “a citadel of chambers” and you’ll find plenty of crumbling hallways and chambers to explore.

Finally, don’t miss the enormous tree at the back of the temple that is taking over a small retaining wall.

Srah Srang

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour: Srah Srang (Srassrang)
Srah Srang at Sunrise

Just across the road from Banteay Kdei, you’ll find the massive man-made lake of Srah Srang (sometimes spelled Srassrang). It’s the perfect spot to relax for after a long, hot day of temple exploration in Angkor Wat. There is a small shop here where you can get a big bowl of cheap noodle soup and a really strong cup of coffee.

If you have any energy left you can ask your driver for one final stop at the small temple of Prasat Kravan. If you’re feeling a bit templed-out (and if you’re anything like us, you will!), don’t feel bad about skipping it and heading straight back to town for a cold drink and a dip in your hotel pool. You’ve earned it!

We hope you enjoy the Small Circuit Tour of Angkor Wat!


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