The Small Circuit is a circular loop that passes the most impressive Angkor Temples near Siem Reap including Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Here’s how best to do the circuit including tips on when to go and which temples to skip.

By - Mark | Last Updated - 11 Apr 2024 | Go to - Comments & Questions

Down Arrow

The Khmer Empire thrived from the 9th to the 15th centuries, but it peaked in the 12th century when god-kings of Khmer built its most impressive and elaborate temples.

A great way to see the best of the Angkor temples near Siem Reap is to take a route called the Small Circuit.

The Small Circuit is a concise tour of the most majestic temples, including Angkor Wat, the enigmatic stone faces of Bayon, and the jungle-strewn temple of Ta Prohm.

It’s a fantastic route that should be included on any Siem Reap itinerary. All the temples have different characteristics. However, with so much to see, some could be skipped while others are hidden highlights.

This guide includes a map of the route, recommendations on which temples to visit, and walking routes to ensure you don’t miss any highlights.

monks at angkor wat cambodia

IN THIS GUIDE

ANGKOR WAT SMALL CIRCUIT


MAP

GETTING AROUND

SMALL CIRCUIT GUIDE

HOW LONG

WHEN

TICKETS

MORE GUIDES

MAP | ANGKOR WAT SMALL CIRCUIT

There are two circuits of the Angkor Temples. The Small Circuit visits the most famous and historically significant temples; the Grand Circuit visits other temples which are less important, but no less impressive.

The 18-kilometre Small Circuit is marked in red on the map below along with all the major sights. We have also suggested walking routes through the main temples and recommended parking spots.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


HOW TO DO THE SMALL CIRCUIT TOUR

There are several ways to complete the Small Circuit.

TUK-TUK

Hiring a tuk-tuk driver is an excellent way to see the Small Circuit because you get a shady drive to cool off in between the temples. Expect to pay around $13 for the day with water provided by your driver. Sunrise or sunset trips may cost a little extra.  

You can easily book a tuk-tuk through your guesthouse or from tour providers in town. Once you find your first tuk-tuk driver they will most likely want to exchange WhatsApp numbers to take you out on subsequent days.

English-Speaking Guide – Your guesthouse will be able to arrange an English-speaking guide to take you through the temples explaining the history and layout. Expect to pay another $10 for the guide, in addition to the tuk-tuk driver. Alternatively, you’ll find guides offering their services as you approach each temple.

SCOOTER 

Another option to see the Small Circuit is to hire your own scooter and self-drive, following the map and walking route above. Scooters cost $5-8 a day to hire and usually come with unlimited mileage.

The roads around the temples are not very busy, but there is quite a bit of traffic on the road from Siem Reap to get to the start of the small circuit.

The benefit of hiring your own scooter is that you can go where you want and even include the Grand Circuit. It’s also a lot of fun, but you have a little bit more to think about as you’ll need to find somewhere for the scooter at each temple. It can also get a bit hot.

BICYCLE

The first time we did the small circuit we went by bicycle ($3-5 to rent). It’s a great way to explore the temple area, but it’s a 45-minute ride from the centre of Siem Reap to the start of the circuit and 45 minutes back again at the end of the day.

If you include the many hours spent walking around the temples in hot temperatures, we think it’s better to go by tuk-tuk or scooter. Furthermore, if you want to see sunrise or sunset you’ll be cycling there or back in the dark.

TAXI

A taxi tour ($25) is just like a tuk-tuk tour except you’ll have air conditioning, and it might be a tiny bit quicker. But it’s more expensive and nowhere near as much fun.

bikes on the angkor small circuit

ANGKOR WAT SMALL CIRCUIT TOUR

1. ANGKOR WAT

Our Rating – ★★★★★ | Lives up to the hype | Time to Visit – 2 hours.

The most iconic of the Angkor temples, Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and the Khmer Empire’s greatest legacy. It’s the showpiece of the empire’s devotion to religion and the best example of their architectural skill.

Angkor Wat is a powerful symbol of Cambodian culture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

angkor wat sunrise

OUR SUGGESTED ANGKOR WAT ROUTE

Follow the walk marked in Orange on the map above.

From the parking area (Angkor Wat Park on the map), walk towards the imposing towers passing over the moat on the Rainbow Bridge.

Continue straight on and inspect the Northern & Southern Libraries and then the magnificent reflections of Angkor Wat over the North and South Reflecting Pools.

Climb the steps towards the temple but before entering turn right and walk around the wonderfully carved galleries to the back of the temple.

As you go around, you’ll pass images of the Army of Suryavarman II on the south wall and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk on the eastern wall.

Now enter the temple from the back, turn right and climb the steep stairs to the Upper Level (shoulders and knees need to be covered).

Explore the upper level before going back down the steps and then exiting the temple via the Hall of a Thousand Gods, where monks regularly offer blessings.

ANGKOR WAT SUNRISE TIP

Usually, the best place to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat is about three-quarters of the way up the North Reflecting Pool. However, some is currently being done restoration (early 2024) to the northern pool, while this is happening the best sunrise views are from about three-quarters of the way down the South Reflecting Pool.

2. PHNOM BAKHENG

Our Rating – ★★★☆☆ | Go at sunset or skip it | Time to Visit – 75 minutes.

Phnom Bakheng is a mountain temple in honour of Shiva, the Hindu God. It’s not the most impressive of the Angkor Wat temples, but it’s one of the few that remains open for sunset.

There are nice views over the jungle from the top and you can see Angkor Wat in the distance. The main reason to go, however, is for the atmosphere. You’ll often find Monks snapping selfies overlooking the dusty plains of Siem Reap.  

It’s a tiring 25-minute uphill walk to the top and in the heat of the day it can be rather draining without much reward.

We recommend you skip it on the Small Circuit, and (perhaps) come back for sunset some other time.

3. ANGKOR THOM

Our Rating – ★★★★★ | Do not miss Bayon Temple | Time to Visit – 2 hours.

Angkor Thom was one of the most impressive cities of the Angkor period, and evidence of their extensive urban planning.

This ancient city covers an area of 9 square kilometres surrounded by four walls 3 kilometres in length. Each wall has a gate which provides access to the complex over a moat. The most impressive gate is the South Gate, which is how you enter Angkor Thom on the small circuit.

At the centre of the complex is Bayon, an extensively decorated temple with 216 gigantic smiling faces. Surrounding it are numerous other sites, which are best seen by walking between them.

We highly recommend stopping at Bayon Temple on the small circuit. The surrounding temples are also well worth strolling around.

OUR SUGGESTED ANGKOR THOM ROUTE

Follow the walk marked in Purple on the map above.

From the parking area (Bayon Park on the map), walk westwards along the stone concourse into Bayon temple. Do a half loop of the inner walls looking at the carvings before heading into the centre to get up close to the giant faces.

Exit Bayon Temple northwards and when you see another temple on your left follow the thin stone causeway to Baphuon. Climb to the summit for wonderful views over the forest, before descending and winding your way through the trees to Phimeanakas, a Hindu temple surrounded by a pretty moat.

Continue through the trees to small but pretty Preah Palilay, then return to the main path and head past the Terrace of the Leper King to the Terrace of the Elephants. Either get the tuk-tuk driver to pick you up here or walk back to where you parked the bike.

Bayon Temple takes about 30-40 minutes to explore, but if you walk around all the surrounding temples, it will take about 2 hours.

4. TA KEO & SMALLER TEMPLES

Our Rating – ★★★☆☆ | Grab a quick photo of Ta Keo from the base | Time to Visit – 30 minutes.

The Small Circuit now exits Angkor Thom via the Eastern Gate. Ruined and less restored than the South Gate it’s an easy quick stop.

The road then passes between two small temples. Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda. They have interesting carved pediments, but most people quickly skip by. Next is Spean Thmor, an ancient bridge that has seen better days and not worth stopping at.

The highlight of the area is Ta Keo. One of the first temples built entirely from sandstone, it is a monumental, stepped pyramid topped with five massive towers. Even if you don’t climb the stairs to the summit, it’s well worth stopping and grabbing a photo from the base.

5. TA PROHM

Our Rating – ★★★★★ | Essential stop on the circuit | Time to Visit – 90 minutes.

Ta Prohm is the Tomb Raider Temple with ancient walls crumbling under the constriction of the jungle.   

The complex is a maze of corridors, vaults, and closed courtyards. Many are piled up with boulders tossed aside by the advancement of the jungle. Bas-relief adorns many of the walls and porches, enhanced by the flickering shadow of huge encroaching trees.

It’s a magical place and an essential stop on the Small Circuit.

Don’t miss the door surrounded by room from the Tomb Raider movie and the giant Crocodile Tree. The bas-reliefs on the Dancer’s Corridor are also exceptional.

6. BANTEAY KDEI & SRAH SRANG

Our Rating – ★★★☆☆ | Try to squeeze it in | Time to Visit – 45 minutes.

Banteay Kdei is a maze of chambers and corridors, partially overrun by jungle. The temple is adorned with lions, Buddha statues, lintels, and a few bas-reliefs.

It’s much less visited than most of the other temples of Angkor Wat making it a refreshing place to stroll around. We enjoyed visiting, but it’s not as impressive as some of the other temples. Try to squeeze it in if you have time.

Opposite Banteay Kdei is the massive reservoir of Srah Srang. The stone platform offers pretty views over the lake and it’s a popular spot for sunrise or sunset.

7. PRASAT KRAVAN

Our Rating – ★★★☆☆ | Quick easy stop | Time to Visit – 15 minutes.

Prasat Kravan is a 10th-century site containing unique bas-reliefs on its inner walls. It’s a well-preserved small temple and, being only a short distance from the road, it only takes a few minutes to explore.

It’s worth a quick stop.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DO THE SMALL CIRCUIT?

On the Small Circuit there are three temples you should definitely visit – Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm. If you only stopped at these three the circuit takes about 5-6 hours.

However, we suggest you also explore the other temples around Bayon and stop for photos at Angkor Thom South Gate and Ta Keo. Add in a break at one of the many lunch spots on route and it’s better to allow 7-8 hours.

Be aware that if you are travelling from the centre of Siem Reap it takes about 20 minutes to get to the Small Circuit.

BEST TIME TO DO THE SMALL CIRCUIT

The temples open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm with a few exceptions which allow you to visit at sunrise and sunset.

  • Angkor Wat – 5 am to 5:30 pm
  • Phnom Bakheng – 5 am to 7pm

You can do the Small Circuit any time within these hours and in either direction, but we suggest leaving at one of the following times.

TO SEE SUNRISE AT ANGKOR WAT

Start the Small Circuit by heading to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It’s best seen from the North or South Reflecting Ponds, where the sun rises behind the towers and reflections of the temple appear in the water.

After sunrise complete the Small Circuit in a clockwise direction.

TO SEE SUNSET AT PHNOM BAKHENG

If sunrise is too early to start for you, this is an excellent alternative. After breakfast at your guesthouse complete the Small Circuit in reverse (anti-clockwise) starting at Prasat Kravan.

If you leave mid-morning, you should arrive at Angkor Wat about 3:30pm. Explore the interior of the temple first and then get photos from the libraries and over the ponds in the late afternoon (just before it closes at 5.30 pm) when gentle light streams onto its wall and towers.

You can then walk up nearby Phnom Bakheng for sunset.

angkor wat temple siem reap

TICKETS FOR ANGKOR TEMPLES

To visit the Angkor Temples near Siem Reap you need a pass from Angkor Enterprise. You can purchase the pass at the entrance gate to the main Angkor temples, but it can take time.

It’s much more convenient to purchase them in advance online. The pass can then be stored on your phone to show as you enter each temple.

There are three types of tickets:

  • 1-Day Pas ($37) – Entry to all the Angkor temples for 1 day.
  • 3-Day Pass ($62) – Entry to all the Angkor temples for any 3 days in a 10-day period.
  • 7-Day Pass ($72) – Entry to all the above temples for any 7 days in a 1-month period.

The pass will be scanned at the entrance to most of the major temples to monitor how many days have been used. Children under the age of 12 are free but must show their passport

traffic on the angkor small circuit

OTHER CAMBODIA GUIDES TO PLAN YOUR TRIP

paul mark 1
ANYWHERE WE ROAM IS
READER-SUPPORTED

When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Thanks for your support.

You can also buy us a coffee, and follow us on Instagram or Facebook.

- Paul & Mark.