Angkor Wat temple is the reason why millions of tourists descend on Siem Reap each year. This UNESCO World Heritage site was built in the early 12th century and is still the world’s largest religious monument ever built. Although originally built as a Hindu temple and unusually dedicated to Vishnu, it gradually transformed into a Buddhist site.
It was used as the state temple for King Suryavarman II and became his final resting place. The temple was designed to represent the mythical home of the Hindu Gods – Mount Meru.
Angkor Wat has become the national symbol of Cambodia. It is featured on the national flag, many businesses feature the name “Angkor” and there is even a beer named in its honour.
Early-mid 12th century AD
2 Hours – Half Day
Angkor Wat is located about 7km from Siem Reap town. There are two main roads you can take from town. You can head north-east on Sivatha Boulevard and keep going directly to Angkor Wat. Alternatively, you can head north-east on Charles de Gaulle.
However, if you don’t already have your ticket, you will need to head towards the Angkor Ticket Office. The ticket office is located on the corner of Street 60 and the Apsara Road.
You can the continue your journey northeast on Apsara Road and then drive around the moat to the entrance of Angkor Wat. Alternatively, you can head back to Charles de Gaulle and head north-east directly to Angkor.
Whatever way you go to Angkor Wat, you will need to pass through a checkpoint where your tickets will be inspected. You will need your ticket again when entering the temple.
There are many transport options for Angkor Wat. As it is only a short distance from the town, it is possible to cycle or even walk the short distance. The road is flat the whole way and even amateur cyclists should find the ride quite easy. Beware that it can get hot in Siem Reap, especially in the afternoons.
Tuk tuks are a popular way to get to the temples. Taxi, minivans, and minibuses are also available. There are also more unique options including electric cars, electric bicycles, and even transport apps such as Grab or Passapp.
Siem Reap: 6.7km
Angkor Thom: 3.1km
Ta Prohm: 8km
Ticket Office: 7.1km
Angkor Wat is the reason why everyone comes to visit Siem Reap. As a result, all tours are centred around the magnificent temple. There are photography tours, cultural tours, cycling tours, and everything else you could imagine about visiting the temple.
If you have more time, you might want to buy a 3-day pass or a 7-day pass and explore even more of the temples in the Angkor complex.
If you don’t have a lot of time in Siem Reap, you might want to consider the Half-Day Angkor Wat Tour. Other popular tours include the Angkor Adventure Tour, Grand Circuit, Small Circuit, Sunset Tour and the Sunrise Tour.
Although local families still live in the area around Angkor Wat, you won’t find any hotels in the Angkor Archaeological Park. However, due to its close proximity with the temple, Siem Reap has become a thriving tourist town with hundreds of hotels available to suit all budgets.
You will find many accommodation options including cheap homestays, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels, and small hotels.
At the other end of the scale, you will find many large resorts, 5-star hotels, eco-resorts, retreats, and everything in between.
Why Visit Angkor Wat?
Angkor Wat is the reason why nearly everyone comes to Siem Reap. It’s the world’s largest religious monument, it’s absolutely breathtaking, and it’s the why you’re reading this guide! There’s no reason why you shouldn’t visit Angkor Wat if you come to Siem Reap.
The initial construction started in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II. Although unfinished, Suryavarman used Angkor Wat as his state temple. A few years after Suryavarman’s death, the Chams ransacked Angkor and King Jayavarman VII created a new capital city at Angkor Thom and constructed Bayon temple as his state temple.
By the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat had turned into a Buddhist temple.
In the 16th century, the temple was neglected. Although it wasn’t totally abandoned like some of the temples, the moat helped to preserve the temple from the encroaching jungle.
Antonio de Madalena, a Portuguese traveller, was one of the first western travellers to visit the area. He wrote that the building was like nothing else in the world and words could not do it justice.
In the 17th century, there is evidence that Buddhist Japanese settlers had started to live in the area. There are inscriptions which describe the Japanese pilgrims celebrating the Khmer new year with the locals in 1632.
Angkor Wat was rediscovered by the French explorer Mouhot in the 19th century. In the subsequent years, the French continuously studied the temples.
In the 20th century, Angkor Wat underwent extensive restoration. However, there were events which put the restoration work on hold for periods of time. During World War 2, the Japanese invaded Cambodia.
More recently, the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent civil war also made restoration work difficult. Parts of the temple were damaged by stray American bombs during the Vietnamese war. There are also bullet holes from the fighting between the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge.
Unfortunately, during this time there was a lot of looting and almost everything which could be stolen from the temple, was stolen.
In 1992, Angkor became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the 21st century, many have continued to study the temples. New ground-penetrating radar technology has also uncovered buried towers, large structures, and evidence of great settlements around the temples.
Layout and Design
Angkor Wat is a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Hindu Gods. The five towers represent the five peaks of Mount Meru and the wall and moat represent the mountain ranges and ocean respectively.
Unusually, Angkor Wat is orientated to the west. Most Khmer temples were built facing the east. This has led many to believe that Suryavarman intended the temple to be his final resting place. Other historians believe that the west facing temple is due to the fact that it was dedicated to Vishnu instead of Shiva.
The style of the temple is considered to be the classical style of Khmer architecture also known as the Angkor Wat style. The temple was built from sandstone and laterite.
Features include the outer enclosure surrounded by a 190m wide moat. Access to the inner part of the temple is via a sandstone causeway to the west, which is thought to be a later addition.
Entrance buildings (or Gopuras) sit on each of the cardinal points (north, east, south, and west).
In the central structure, there are three main galleries. Each one is higher than the last. Again, each gallery features a gopura at each of the cardinal points. The two inner galleries have towers in the corners with a central tower.
There are also two libraries which feature devatas on the wall. It was thought that these libraries were flooded to represent the ocean in Mount Meru.
Angkor Wat was beautifully decorated with bas reliefs, carvings, sculptures and more.
The east gallery features scenes from the Churning of the Sea of Milk. This carving shows 88 devas and 92 asuras churning the sea. A later addition then shows Vishnu defeating the asuras.
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