Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok
Arrived late at night into Bangkok and took a taxi to Khaosan Road to meet my buddy. Walked the street and even though it was past midnight and there was a lot going on, definite party scene. Favorite part was seeing the baby elephant just walking down the road. Pretty nice first impression of Bangkok.
Day 2: Bangkok
- Wat Pho
- The Grand Palace
- Wat Arun Ratchavararam
Next day slept in a bit and went to Wat Pho. That’s the temple with the huge Buddha, hard to take pictures too because the only place you can go is right in front of it. Walked to the nearby Grand Palace and took pictures of the outside, but didn’t go in because of time constraints. There is a cheap “ferry” boat that goes across the river from Wat Pho to Wat Arun, which is one of my favorite structures in the world. I think the colors, statues, symmetry and setting by the river make for a beautiful setting. Steps are steep though to climb up – be careful.
Day 3: Flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
- Royal Palace of Cambodia
- National Museum of Cambodia
Took an early flight to Phnom Penh and went to Tuol Sleng. This is a former school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison where they tortured people. The prison is pretty much the way it was when it was in use and the museum details the Cambodian genocide. It’s a very sad, somber place but well documented to help you learn about the atrocities that took place there.
Next went to the National Palace and National Museum. The National Palace is clean and a beautiful area, great for photos and worth making a stop to see the Silver Pagoda. However, walking around Phnom Penh you realize how prevalent poverty is – think mom and baby sleeping on the street. It’s tough to see.
Day 4: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
- Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
The prison was a tough place to visit, but the Choeung Ek killing fields were even more so. This is where the Khmer Rouge killed and buried many of the almost 2 million victims. Not much to say other than they are both sad places but it is their history and I’m glad we went to both Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek.
Hired a car to take us to Siem Reap (5 hour ride) and went to see Bakheng Temple when we got there. Got our first glimpse of Angkor Wat from the top, and although Bakheng isn’t a must-see, we got very excited for the next few days.
Day 5: Temples
- Preah Khan
- Ta Prohm
- Banteay Kdei
- Preah Ko
I hired a tuk tuk driver to take me from temple to temple. We started by going to the official ticket office (every driver knows where it is) and bought a 3-day pass for the temples. Visiting these 5 took most of the day and Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and Banteay Kdei were the highlights.
Day 6: Temples
- Angkor Wat
- Angkor Thom
- Bayon Temple
- Tep Pranam
- Ta Keo
- Pre Rup
Both of us hired another driver for the day and went to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Lots of people there for first light, and then we explored the grounds. It’s incredible. You could spend an entire day there, as it is the largest religious monument in the world.
We then went to as many other temples as we could in one day. Tep Pranam has the giant buddha but you could skip that one. Angkor Thom is a huge complex that includes Bayon; it’s not a singular temple. Bayon is the one with many faces and tons of towers and looks like something out of a video game – you can’t miss this one.
Day 7: Temples
- Preah Khan Temple
- Ta Prohm
- Neak Pean
- East Mebon
- Ta Som
Last day in Siem Reap, we did some of the temples I went to previously but they’re so amazing that I didn’t mind going back at all. Preah Khan shouldn’t be missed, and Ta Prohm is pretty famous because part of Tomb Raider was filmed there. There are huge trees with roots growing all over and through what’s left of the temple – definitely go to this one, too.
Day 8: Back to Bangkok
We hired a car to take us back to Bangkok (had to switch drivers at the border). Took around 5-6 hours, got to our hostel and just had dinner. I had a very early flight out the next morning and flew back.
When people ask me where my favorite place I’ve ever been, I have to give a few answers. I always say the thing/place that has most blown my mind are the temples in Cambodia. More so than even Petra and Machu Picchu, I am just entirely in awe of this place. The level of detail in the reliefs are pretty much unfathomable when you consider the size of temples, and the fact that they’re still standing is as well.
Nature and Khmer Rouge have done a lot to bring them down, but they still remain. Trying to imagine what life was like when they were in use is really neat and it really feels like you’re in another world. I think my favorite temple is Bayon, but Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm are right up there. They’re all close to each other and I think the 3-day pass is perfect.
I didn’t get bored or think “well every temple looks the same.” I’m not sure that the order of them is important, but definitely leave at least a half-day to explore Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom is even larger, but there are several temples within. It’s very easy to hire a driver for the day (tuk-tuk), and we had the same one all 3 days. Shared meals with him and got to know him a bit, and really enjoyed that experience.
Phnom Penh is very different from Siem Reap, but I think it’s important to go there to understand what the Cambodians have been through. I thought Bangkok was just okay, I really liked Wat Arun but there was a lot of traffic and it seemed like a very busy place (especially compared to Cambodia).
Traveled in February 2009