Angkor Wat Small Circuit Self-Guided Cycling Tour

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Self-Guided Cycling Tour
Angkor Wat Small Circuit Self-Guided Cycling Tour

This self-guided cycling tour of the Angkor Wat Small Circuit hits all the major temples, including Angkor Temple itself, the Bayon, the Tomb Raider Temple, and many minor temples.

Map of Angkor Wat Small Circuit Cycling Tour Route

This is a self-guided cycling tour. If you prefer to go on a guided bike tour, there are several well-reviewed and affordable options*. We also cycled the Big Circuit of Angkor Wat, which passes through more countryside, has some great cycling and visits the more remote temples. See our Overall Guide to Cycling at Angkor Wat for information about bike rental and more.

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Cycling Route (36 km)

The Small Circuit is a 36 km cycle with 55 metres climb. This includes the 2 x 5 km from town and back to the Angkor Wat Moat, making the loop itself only 26 km cycling. This cycling route starts from the main roundabout in Siem Reap. You see all the main temples at Angkor Wat, summarized in a table below.

Our self-guided tour involves a few small overlaps in the cycling route. This allows you to see the sunrise from the reflection ponds at Angkor Wat, yet visit the temple mainly in the afternoon when the light on the temple is best. We also backtracked 1.5 km at the end to watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng, the temple on the hill.

Cycling from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat

Cycling from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat is fairly simple. First you need to head for a roundabout in the centre of town – where the main road (Highway 6) crosses the Siem Reap River. This is about 1 km north of Pub Street – just follow the river up. On the left (west) of the river there is a small roundabout with a statue in the middle.

From this roundabout, head north, on Charles de Gaulle Road, not the smaller road that is parallel to the river. On your right you’ll see an open concrete park area, where various groups of locals dance to loud music in the morning and chill out in at night. On your left are some gardens. You’ll soon see Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor on your left, with its beaming white frontage, followed by the Angkor National Museum.

Roughly 1 km north of the junction, a green cycle lane appears on the right-hand side of the road. It is mainly on the pavement, though watch out when crossing the side roads. Unfortunately this cycle lane only lasts for another 1 km, but by then you are out of town and the road is quieter. There’s also a large margin on the road that you can cycle in. It’s quite dark in the early morning and evening, so remember to bring a headtorch*.

Visit the Ticket Checkpoint

Shortly after the green cycle lane ends is the Angkor Ticket Checkpoint, on the right of the road. It is signed but doesn’t mention Angkor Wat at all, so we were unclear if it was for us. It was, and you have to visit the ticket checkpoint. There is a small ‘WAY IN’ sign – head in here and over to the officials who will check your tickets. They will mark it such that at subsequent temples, the guards will see that you have had your ticket already checked. You must stop here first thing every day that you visit the temples.

After the Angkor Ticket Checkpoint, it’s another 2 km cycle in the margins of the road (quieter in the mornings than evenings) through the jungle. Suddenly you will reach a T-junction, with the wide moat of Angkor Wat Temple in front of you.

To the left is the entrance to Angkor Wat 1.5 km away (including the sunrise viewpoint) and beyond that, Angkor Thom. To the right is the road to the sunrise viewpoint at Srah Srang Reservoir and beyond that either the Small Circuit or Big Circuit loops.

Entering Angkor Wat

Cycling directions: First, follow the description in the blue box above to reach the southern edge of the large moat surrounding Angkor Wat Temple. At the junction, head left and cycle around the moat right up to the entrance walkway across the moat to Angkor Temple. Since you’re on a bike you get to cycle right to this entrance, while tuk-tuk riders are dropped off much further away.

Lock your bikes, and then admire Angkor Wat Temple, with the distinctive towers rising up in the distance. If you’re very early, it may still be dark and you won’t see much yet. If you’re here around sunrise, it’s also a nice place to watch the sun come up. At 5 am you’re allowed to cross into the temple complex.

1. Angkor Wat Sunrise Walk

The first walk to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat is roughly 1.5 km with no climb. It’s one of the most pleasant walks since it’s relatively cold! The favourite sunrise spots to take photos from are along the western edges of the reflection pools. From here you see the dramatic silhouettes of the central temple towers, surrounded by palm trees, all reflected in the water with a reddish sky behind.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat on a cycle tour of the small circuit loop.

Warning – it can be very busy (in pre-covid times) – be at the causeway ticket check as soon as it opens at 5 am to get a good spot. Sunrise varies from 5:30 am in mid-June to 6:30 am in mid-December, but it’s around 6 am most of the year. You may have to wait a while for the sun to finally rise over the temple, but you’ll probably be back at your bikes around 30-45 minutes after sunrise.

To get to the reflection pools, walk across the causeway then head immediately left. Enter through the main gate for the full dramatic effect of seeing Angkor Wat spread out before you for the first time. Head towards the temple and you’ll soon see the reflection pools, one on either side of the walkway. Either pool is fine, though some say the northern pool (on the left), at the northwest corner is the best spot. However, it depends on the state of the pools – sometimes they are covered in algae – you don’t want this because you won’t see a full reflection.

Alternative Sunrise Spots

  • Angkor Wat Bike Parking – sunset is also nice right where you park your bikes, before walking across the causeway into the temple complex itself. There’s also more space here if it’s crowded.
  • Phnom Bakheng – the temple is at the top of a hill two kilometres further to the north. You also need to allow time for the 15-minute walk to the top.
  • Srah Srang Temple – for the views over the water (the sunrise spot for our self-guided Big Circuit Trip on Day 2)

Cycling directions: After the sun has risen, head back out of the temple complex. The light is much better to explore Angor Wat Temple in the afternoon, so this self-guided tour returns here later.
Cycle back the way you came to the T-junction in the middle of the moat. Continue onwards and around the corner on the other side. Follow the tarred road as it bends to your right away from the water. It’s about 4 km along the road to the next stop.
At some point you’ll notice a cycle path winding through the trees on the side of the road. Though tarred, in places the surface is quite bumpy. We took the road, though on our second day on the Big Circuit Tour we took the cycle path because it was more fun than cycling along the road.
The road bends gradually to head north, and you’ll soon see the face-tower entrance gate of the next stop.

2. Banteay Kdei Temple Walk

This temple is one of the less-visited temples. It is similar to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan temples but much smaller. The face-tower of the eastern entrance gate (just by the road) is a real highlight, especially in the early morning sunlight. The walk through Banteay Kdei Temple and back is roughly 1 km with no climb. It’s fairly shady and peaceful, and the temple is in a slightly ruined state, making it quite romantic.

Banteay Kdei Temple on the small circuit of Angkor Wat
Banteay Kdei Temple
Banteay Kdei Temple entrane gate, cycling past on the small circuit of Angkor Wat

This temple was a Buddhist monastic complex, still in use in the 1900s. A statue of Lord Buddha, draped in golden cloth, resides in the centre of the temple sanctuary. We walked straight through the long central corridor of the temple to the far end, then returned around the outside to our bikes at the eastern entrance.

If you are worried about time, you can skip this temple – it’s not one of the most dramatic temples, though it is still nice. Since we visited this temple near the beginning, we thought it was amazing. However, later we realized it wasn’t when compared to the others. If you change your mind, you can also visit while cycling the Big Circuit on Day 2.

Srah Srang Temple, which is more of an elaborate landing platform than a temple, is just opposite the entrance to Banteay Kdei. You can pop over for a quick look now, or visit it for a sunrise view over the water on our Big Circuit Cycling Tour.

Cycling Onwards

Cycling directions: Get back on your bike and head northwards along the road. In a few hundred metres you’ll reach a junction. Turn left (right is the Big Circuit, to complete on Day 2).

Food: Roughly 300 metres after this junction, we stopped for breakfast at a small restaurant on the right side of the road. It’s here on Google Maps, and on MapsMe it’s called ‘Cheap and good local food’. The name says it all. We had hot, salty noodle soup (vegetarian, though meat and fish were also available) and it was super delicious and revitalising. I’d never imagined such a soup would be nice for breakfast, but it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

Cycling directions: Continue along the road a short distance and then head right to the East Entrance to Ta Prohm Temple.

3. Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm is the Tomb Raider Temple, famous for the scene where Lara Croft is running around the temple complex, ducking through doorways and on the lookout for enemies. The walk in this temple is about 2 km and it might take you about 1 hour to explore. It’s a lovely temple and you can discover hidden places by yourself among the tree roots and rubble. It has purposefully been left in its ‘natural state’ covered by jungle, rather than restored. However, work is being done to restore some sections and prop up sections that are falling down.

Ta Prohm Temple, the tomb raider temple at angkor wat
Ta Prohm Temple tree roots, on a cycle tour of the small circuit at angkor wat
tree roots at Ta Prohm Temple on a cycle tour around the small circuit at angkor wat

We entered from the less popular eastern entrance. This was a good idea because it meant we saw fewer people. The temple layout is quite confusing, so lots of people don’t seem to make it to the eastern side! Most of the buildings are covered in huge tree roots. They are sometimes the only thing holding the stones together and the walls upright. It’s beautiful, enigmatic and very evocative.

Tree Roots in the Temple

The two trees species you can see are banyans (a strangler fig) and kapoks (a silk cotton tree). The banyans are smaller with many thinner, smoother grey roots. The kapoks have the much larger roots. Many of the roots have wiggled their way into the stone walls, but as the trees die, their roots die and this can cause the walls to collapse. Few new trees grow on the walls so eventually the trees will be entirely gone from this temple.

Visiting Ta Prohm Temple, tomb raider temple, on a self-guided cycle tour of Angkro Wat
tree roots at Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

It’s best to visit this temple early on in the day, as is done on this cycle tour of the Small Circuit, since it gets busier as the day goes on and more and more tour groups arrive.

Cycling directions: Cycle back down the side road you came up and turn right (west). The road bends around the outside of Ta Prohm and you pass the car park at the main, busier entrance to the temple. Follow the main tarred road as it bends left to the parking for the next temple.

4. Ta Keo Temple

Visiting Ta Keo Temple on a self-guided cycling tour of the small circuit at Angkor Wat
Main shrine at the top of Ta Keo Temple
Steep steps at Ta Keo Temple

Exploring Ta Keo Temple involves quite some climb, so take water with you. This is the first pyramidal temple on the route and quite different from the others. It’s fairly impressive and there are great views from the top. To get there, the signboards direct you to the best and easiest stairs to climb up. Even so, the steps are rather steep and it’s not for people with a fear of heights.

Cycling directions: After returning to your bikes, you can take the fun little dirt path around the other side of the temple from the road. When you rejoin the road, head right and then left following the main route. Cross a bridge, and soon you’ll see two smaller temples on either side of the road.

5. Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda Temples

Cycling past Chau Say Tevoda Temple in Angkor Wat
Chau Say Tevoda Temple
Cycling past Thommanon Temple in Angkor Wat
Thommanon Temple

These twin temples are Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda. They are small but uncrowded, shady and rather ornate. If you only visit one, the southern one on the left of the road, Chau Say Tevoda Temple, is more impressive than the other.

Cycling directions: Cycle slightly further and you’ll see an impressive entrance gate in a large wall. This is called Victory Gate.

Cycling Into Angkor Thom Complex

The grand stone gateway leads into the mighty Angkor Thom. This means ‘Great City’ and is the name of the large walled complex centred on the Bayon – the famous ‘many faces’ temple. Most of the area is covered by jungle, with some cleared areas near the middle where the temples are. Everything inside was built around 1200 AD.

You can actually cycle around on top of the walls – we cycled around half of them on our second day during the Big Circuit Cycle Tour. The full loop of the walls is 12 km, each side roughly 3 km. So the area inside the walls is quite huge, and archaeological evidence suggests that maybe 1 million people lived here.

Entrance Gates to Angkor Thom

Cycling through Victory Gate on a self-guided tour of the small circuit of Angkor Wat
Victory Gate

There are five impressive entrance gates in the walls of Angkor Thom, one on each side plus an extra one on the eastern side. In front of the gates are large stone statues of fierce warriors, gods on one side and demons on the other. A fairly busy road runs North-South through the walls, using the north and south entrance gates. This makes the gates on the eastern and western sides are a lot nicer and quieter. However, the southern gate, where this cycling tour eventually leads, has the most heads remaining on the warriors so it’s also good to see.

Victory Gate

This is the main gate on the eastern side of Angkor Thom that you come to directly along the road. It’s super cool and the road isn’t so busy.

Cycling directions: You can either pass straight through Victory Gate or add on an extra 1 km to visit the very uncrowded Gate of the Dead. To visit this gate, backtrack 200 metres from Victory Gate and head south down a small dirt path. It’s just slightly further back than a larger gravel track coming in from the north. After 500 metres turn right on a straight dirt path and soon you’ll reach the Gate of the Dead.

Gate of the Dead

This is perhaps the most evocative and special of all the gates into the Angkor Thom complex because there is no paved road passing through. Only a trail leads under the gateway and you can only visit on foot or with a bike. This means hardly any people are there and you might have it all to yourself.

Cycling directions: Pass through the Gate of the Dead. Either find the small dirt path heading back north through the jungle, or continue a bit further to the clear gravel track also heading north and back to the main paved road.

Cycling directions: Continue cycling left (west) along the main road to the centre of the Angkor Thom area. At the T-junction, turn right (north). When the road begins to bend left, head straight on to the car park on the right of the road. Grab a drink and leave your bikes here for a lovely walk around the jungle and nearby temples. Note that the main road has been moved recently (away from the Stone Terraces) and some older maps don’t have the new road layout.

6. Temples, Terraces and Jungle Walk

Random Temples inside Angkor Thom
Random Temples inside Angkor Thom

This walk is 3 km through lovely shaded jungle and past deserted ruins. Remember to bring some water. To start, cross the main road and head left by the stone walls. On the way you walk along the Leper Terrace and Elephant Terrace and up the impressive entrance to Baphuon Temple. After climbing up this pyramid temple, you descend down the other side and leave around the back (where you can see a reclining Buddha in the walls).

You then wander through the peaceful jungle, passing a pyramidal temple (Phimeanakas), some large ponds, gates and walls. The path comes out of the jungle at the tiny but magical Preah Palilay Temple. You then walk back through a more recent temple with active worship, to the car park and a coconut or cold Coca-Cola. I really enjoyed this lovely walk and would definitely recommend it.

Leper and Elephant Terraces

Leper Terrace on a walk through Angkor Thom Temple Complex
Leper Terrace
Elephant Terrace on a walk through Angkor Thom Temple Complex
Elephant Terrace

The Leper Terrace, or Terrace of the Leper King, is the first terrace you come to. According to legend, the King got leprosy from the venom of a giant serpent he was fighting. There are many, many stone carvings here in a narrow maze of a passageway that feels a bit like Indiana Jones. This is in a semi-secret walkway between two walls at the base of the terrace.

The Elephant Terrace is continuous with and to the south of the Leper Terrace. It was used by the king and important people to review their armies, who lined up in the big open area in front. There are many carved elephants in the terrace, hence the name. Some are within the walls while others are more 3D.

Bapuon Temple

Walking towards Bapuon Temple, a walk on a cycle tour of the small circuit of Angkor Wat
Walking towards Bapuon Temple
Reclining Buddha in the back wall of the Bapuon Temple
Reclining Buddha in the back wall of the Bapuon Temple

The Bapuon Temple is a grand, pyramidal temple. You walk along an impressive, elevated walkway by some water to reach the temple itself. Then there’s a steep climb to the top, from which there are great views. When you descend around the back, make sure to try and see the reclining Buddha in the back wall. Somehow we couldn’t really see it when we looked in real life, but in the photos we took it was very obvious.

More Jungle and Temples

Heading right through the jungle from the far side of Bapuon, you’ll soon come to Phimeanakas Temple. There used to be a royal palace just next door, but it was made out of wood so has long disappeared. There’s also a large pond here, with sandstone steps surrounding it. It’s nice and shady and peaceful here.

Preah Palilay Temple in Angkor Wat on a cycle around the small circuit
Preah Palilay Temple

Continuing to the left of the pond, the path passes through a little gate in the wall and continues through shady jungle to Preah Palilay. This is a very little temple, but it’s rather cute and there’s something magical about it, lost in the jungle all by itself.

Head right here and you’ll walk through Tep Pranam. This temple is still in use and a large stone Buddha is also worshipped here. Ater this temple you’ll be back at the road and car park where you started.

Other Temples in Angkor Thom

On the eastern edge of the large grassy area in the centre of Angkor Thom are several temples. The orange towers are the Suor Prat Towers, 12 small and identical towers lining the east side of the Royal Square. Apparently, to settle disputes back in the day, the two arguing men were placed in one of the towers and left there for a few days. The one who was in the wrong would get some illness, while whoever had right on their side was unharmed.

Cycling directions: Get back on your bike and head south along the main road. Soon you’ll reach the next temple.

7. Bayon Temple

The Bayon Temple is the famous temple with many faces covering all the towers. It’s a great place to visit in the afternoon light, and also at this time most of the tour groups have gone.

Bayon Temple on a self-guided cycling tour of Angkor Wat in Cambodia

We parked our bikes at the west entrance, but make sure you check out the eastern entrance as well – it’s the main temple entrance. There are many stone carvings (bas reliefs) on the walls inside the temple, but the many many towers of large stone heads are the most impressive thing. It’s a bit of a maze inside, especially as it’s fairly symmetrical so hard to know where you started. Note that the third level is now closed (2022) because of damage from too many tourists.

Bayon Temple clos up of face carvings
Faces at Bayon Temple on a self-guided tour of Angkor Wat
Faces at Bayon Temple on a cycle tour of Angkor Wat

Cycling directions: Continue cycling south along the main road, passing the South Gate. Stop to take a look and then head onwards. You’ll pass a hill on your right (west) where this cycle tour returns later to view the sunset. Two quick kilometres further on you’ll be back at the parking for Angkor Wat.

8. Angkor Wat Afternoon Exploration

Our second walk around Angkor Wat was about 5 km in the afternoon heat. Our umbrella came in use here as it sheltered us from the direct rays of the sun. There are also lots of inside areas you can explore, which are shady and much cooler than outside. It’s quite a long walk, but inside the complex there are toilets and people selling cold water, other drinks and snacks.

Angkor Wat Temple on a cycling tour

You can only enter Angkor Wat at the western end, where this cycle tour leads. The temple and towers look nice from the causeway so stop and rest awhile before walking in. There are guides waiting at the entrance if you want a tour guide for this temple.

Shortening the Small Circuit Cycle Tour

The Big Circuit Tour on our second day is actually shorter timewise than the Small Circuit Tour because there are fewer temples. We spent about 13 hours exploring on the first day (Small Circuit) and 8-9 hours on the second day (Big Circuit). If you want to shorten the Small Circuit, it would make sense to save the afternoon visit to Angkor Wat for the afternoon of the second day. That would give a more equal split in time.

If you want to miss a temple on the Small Circuit, miss Banteay Kdei. This was our first temple (apart from Angkor Wat) so we thought it was amazing, but after seeing all the others we realized it was slightly below average. That’s not to say it isn’t worth seeing – not that many people visit so you might have the temple all to yourself – but there are not any special features so it’s not a must-see.

Angkor Wat Architecture

Angkor Wat was built around 1150AD, several decades before those at Angkor Thom. Originally dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu God, Buddha statues have now replaced several original Hindu statues as the religion of Cambodia has changed. It was built to represent the Hindu Universe, showing the five peaks of Mount Meru (a sacred mountain) at the top.

The temple has three levels, with the top of the tallest tower 65 metres high. The third level is closed on ‘Buddhist Days’ – check which days these are so you don’t visit on a closed day. Otherwise, the higest terrace is open from 7 am and there can be queues to head up. There are great views from up here and it’s also a nice place for sunset.

Inside the temple, especially on the first level, you’ll find many bas reliefs (stone carvings). There are depictions of great battles from Hindu Epics. One wall is devoted to a popular story – Gods and Demons churning the ocean of milk to extract the elixir of immortality. The Gods had promised to share the elixir with the Demons, but in the end they didn’t and drank it all themselves. This scene is also depicted in 3D at the entrance gates to Angkor Thom.

Cycling directions: After getting back to your bikes, cycle the few kilometres back to the parking for Phnom Bakheng.

9. Phnom Bakheng Temple Sunset Walk

Phnom Bakheng Temple, also known as Sunset Hill, is a 2km walk with 55 metres of climb upwards. We walked up the ‘steep’ path to the left on the way up, and came back down the winding ‘elephant’ path. Neither path is very steep, but the elephant path is wider and easier to walk down in the fading light.

The temple is not that impressive today, but it was built in the 9th century, so one of the oldest temples. It used to be at the centre of a great city, with walls even larger than those of Angkor Thom However, the walls were made of mud rather than stone and have long since disappeared.

Temple Views from the Hill

Sunset view of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng Temple
Sunset view of Angkor Wat
Sun setting over Tonle Sap Lake at the end of a self-guided cycling tour of Angkor Wat
Sun setting over Tonle Sap Lake

The main point of visiting Phnom Bakheng is for the views and to watch the sunset. Some people say you can see the sunset over Angkor Wat Temple, but actually the temple is very far away and you can only get a nice photo if you have a camera with a zoom-in lens. The trees also slightly block the view.

The sunset is in the opposite direction to Angkor Wat, and this is nice because it sets over Tonle Sap Lake. However, the hill does get rather crowded, and there’s not much shade while you wait for the sun to set. On the way down the hill there’s also a very nice lookout point which is quieter but has equally nice views of the sunset.

Cycling directions: From the car park at the base of the hill, head back towards Angkor Wat and around the corner following the moat. You’ll soon reach the road heading straight back to Siem Reap, which you can follow all the way back down. Remember a headlight as it is dark after sunset.

This completes the Angkor Wat Small Circuit Cycling Tour. Below is a summary of the temples seen on the route. For another day of fun exploration, read our Angkor Wat Big Circuit Cycling Guide. Or see our Overall Guide to Cycling at Angkor Wat for more details about bike rental and organization.

Angkor Wat Small Circuit Cycling Tour Temple Ratings

Apart from the cycle, which is 36 km, you also end up walking quite a long way (roughly 17 km) while exploring all of the temples. To reduce this distance you can miss Banteay Kdei, or save Angkor Wat or Phnom Bakheng for the following day.

TempleRatingHighlightsDistance, km
Angkor Wat Sunrise****Temple silhouetted by sunrise1.5
Banteay Kdei**Few visitors1
Srah Srang*View over reservoir0.3
Ta Prohm*****Trees growing out of temple – Tomb Raider movie2
Ta Keo****Impressive structure, nice views1
Thommanon & Chau Say Tevoda***Small but cute0.7
Victory Gate****Less busy than N and S Gates, impressive stone statues and gate0
Baphuon Temple, Leper & Elephant Terrace, Forest Walk, Preah Palilay Temple*****Interesting sculptures on terraces, impressive temple entrance and views from the top, walk through peaceful trees to a hidden temple 3
Bayon *****Many, many large sculpted stone faces, beautiful construction1.3
Angkor Wat Afternoon*****Beautiful light, amazing views, worth the heat5
Phnom Bakheng***Beautiful sunset, but too crowded2
Agnkor Wat Small Circuit Temple Summary, with approximate walking distances

Guidebooks to explore more of Cambodia


For more information, see our Overall Guide to Cycling at Angkor Wat or our Angkor Wat Big Circuit Self-Guided Cycle Route.

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