I’m often asked what my favorite beach or city or sight is – and when it comes to historic sights, Angkor Wat is on my list of favorites! I have visited it many times during three trips to Siem Reap and I’m still impressed every time I approach it! It is not only the largest, religious monument in the world, it is also one of the most impressive historic sights I have seen around the world and you should add it to your bucket list of things to see!
Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century, at the hight of the Khmer empire. It was built by King Survayarman II, over a period of an estimated 30 years and dedicated to Vishnu as a Hindu temple. It is impressive, from the first impression of its humongous size to discovering all the details of the reliefs carved into its walls. You will first see the 190m wide moat and wall around the temple complex, only bridged in the West by the main causeway and in the East by a smaller ramp. As you enter over the main causeway, you will see the massive temple mount, a typical Hindu representation of Mount Meru, home of the gods. But as you get closer and closer, you start to see the details and you can discern the levels of the temple. You see three towers, like in a 2D photo. Step of the main causeway and head to the little ponds – and you will see 5 towers, with four in each corner around the central tower. After so many visits, the composition of the temple is still stunning – I can only imagine how it must have overwhelmed a visitor 900 years ago, arriving from the country side! It grows on you in size and complexity with every step you take!
As you enter the first gallery, take your time to explore the walls following counter-clockwise: They depict religious and historic scenes in carvings covering the wall all around! The detail of the carvings, with countless people, horses, elephants, religious and mystic figures, is astonishing and you begin to understand why it took 30 years!
Once you have made the circle (or are maxed out on carvings), proceed to the courtyard with its two large structures (libraries) and the inner galleries. It’s helpful to keep a picture of the complex in mind or you might be overwhelmed by the size of this temple and get lost! There seem to be more galleries and arches and towers than you can grasp. At the center is the third level with the main 5 towers. The central one is over 200m high from the ground and stunning to look up to! You can (at this time) climb up to one of the towers to take the breathtaking view from above. Make sure to wear good walking shoes, bring water and take a deep breadth – the climb is steep, so don’t look down 😉
Angkor Wat is famous for a reason and it has gotten much deserved attention world wide. During my first visit in 2002, there were still very few visitors (as the fighting in Cambodia had only ended in 1993). I was shocked on my last two visits how many tourists are now visiting the temples. While it doesn’t take away from the importance or beauty of Angkor Wat, it helps to plan your visit to avoid the worst of the crowds: Try to visit outside peak periods, Christmas/New Year and Chinese New Year. Talk to your driver about the “typical” routine – many groups visit Angkor Wat for sunrise and/or at the end of the day, so you can try a different time of day. While I’d recommend to enter Angkor Wat at least once via the causeway, you can also enter through the much quieter Eastern entrance for a calmer experience!
Neither words nor pictures can really capture the experience that is a visit to Angkor Wat, so I recommend a visit whole heartedly! It’s one of the must-see sights, regardless where you are from, and with todays flight and hotel offerings, you can see it at a wide range of budgets!