If you only have one day in Siem Reap, you’re going to want to spend a large percent of it at Angkor Wat and the expanse of world famous ancient ruins. Leave well before sunrise and catch a tuk-tuk over to Angkor Archaeological Park, which lies around 15 minutes from the city center. You’ll want to arrive with enough time to walk into the site and find a spot before the sun peaks over the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat. After the sun rises, take some time to wander the ruins of Angkor and appreciate the magnificence. When you feel you have a good enough grasp, walk back out and get a tuk-tuk to the next ruins. Alternatively, you can hire a tuk-tuk plus a guide, who will show you around while explaining some of the incredible history.
The Angkor passes are sold in three-day and one-week passes in addition to the daily pass that you’ll have, but with only one day in Siem Reap, you’ll have to be selective about which temples you see. After Angkor Wat, you should make your way over to Bayon and Ta Prohm. Bayon is also known as the temple of “faces” and has giant carved smiling faces that you’ll spot with every new turn. Continue on to Ta Prohm, also known as the “Tomb Raider” temple, where parts of the movie were filmed. This temple has massive tree roots growing over it and will truly make you appreciate the power of nature.
If you aren’t templed out, your guide or driver can continue showing you more of the ancient ruins for the rest of the day. (There are enough to keep you occupied for days). However, with only one day in Siem Reap, you may want to get back into the city by mid-afternoon to explore.
After so much walking around the temples, the perfect way to start the second half of your day is with a massage to kick back, relax, and sooth your muscles. If you wander around the city, you’ll see plenty of places offering cheap massages for under $10. If you really want to splurge on high quality, you can get a fantastic massage for around $20.
Once you’re rejuvenated, head to Wat Preah Prom Rath, Siem Reap’s most colorful pagoda to see a more modern temple with ornate decorations. If you time it correctly, you may witness the chanting of the monks. From there, you’re only a short stroll to Old Market (Psah Chas), where you can wander labyrinths of stalls of clothes, jewelry, bags, souvenirs, spices, and more. You can grab snacks at any of the food stalls there, but the better option for dinner is to head to Pub Street, which is lined with bars and restaurants, and choose a nicer sit-down place to try local khmer cuisine. A great option is amok, the national dish of Cambodia, which is a delicious fish curry served in a banana leaf.
Depending on how you’re feeling after dinner, you can either stroll Pub Street stopping at various cocktail bars for a drink, or head to the famous Night Market for more cheap shopping.