There are around two dozen or so major temple sites at Angkor, scattered over a considerable area. Package tours tend to follow rigid routes around the sites, although with a little ingenuity you can tweak established itineraries and enhance your experience considerably. Time is very much of the essence. It’s horribly easy to end up rushing around breathlessly, so that one site blends seamlessly into another and you end up templed-out and forgetting almost everything you’ve seen. All the major temples in the environs of Siem Reap can be seen in three days (see our recommended itinerary), although if you can spend longer than this – taking the temples at a more leisurely pace and visiting them during quieter periods of the day – you’ll be richly rewarded.
There are two traditional temple itineraries – the Small (or “Petit”) Circuit and the Grand Circuit – each sold as off-the-peg day-tours just about everywhere in town.
Small Circuit Around 30km. Starts at Angkor Wat, heads north to the Bayon and the rest of Angkor Thom before continuing east to Thommanon, Chau Say Tevoda, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang and Prasat Kravan. The Small Circuit is usually done in just one day, but really contains too many major monuments to properly appreciate in this time and is better broken up and combined with the Grand Circuit over two days.
Grand Circuit Around 36km, or 44km if you include Banteay Samre. Starts at Srah Srang then heads east, via Pre Rup, East Mebon (from where you can extend the circuit to Banteay Samre), Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan. The Grand Circuit can easily be explored in one day (even if you include outlying Banteay Samre), leaving you with a couple of hours to spare when you could visit one or two sights on the Small Circuit.
Roluos The temples of Roluos – in a slightly outlying area west of Siem Reap – are generally covered in a separate day-trip, although they could conceivably be combined with the Grand Circuit in a single, albeit long, day.
The following itinerary allows you to get the most out of three days.
Day One Tour the Grand Circuit in clockwise order, with the addition of Ta Prohm at the end (aiming to arrive at Ta Prohm after 4pm, when the worst of the crowds will have departed).
Day Two Tour the Small Circuit (minus Ta Prohm) in an anticlockwise direction, finishing at Angkor Wat (and visiting the Bayon at the end of your visit to Angkor Thom in order to avoid the crowds).
Day Three Visit the temples of Roluos, combined with a second visit to Angkor Wat (perhaps early in the morning, when the crowds are thinnest) and/or Angkor Thom and the Bayon (or, indeed, anywhere else that’s caught your particular fancy).