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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrAngkor Wat is the world's single, largest religious complex, and Cambodia's epitome claim to fame. As a prized archaeological site, it is as spectacularly impressive as Jordan's Petra or Peru's Machu Picchu: this is the kind of man-made wonder one travels half way across the world to see. In order to see it, you'll need to travel to Siem Reap in north-western Cambodia, where you'll have not just one, but thousands of temples to explore.
Angkor Wat is the main highlight of the humongous Angkor Archaeological Park, which starts just outside Siem Reap town, stretches for over 1000 square kilometres and is literally bursting at the seams with hundreds upon hundreds of temples. Being the largest, boasting a breathtaking location and being wonderfully restored (for the most part at least), Angkor Wat is by far the most popular of all.
History – A Step Back in TimeAngkor Wat was built in the 12th century by order of King Suryavarman II and was, as opposed to many others within the Angkor Archaeological Park, built in honour of the Hindu God, Vishnu . the main difference is that Angkor Wat's entrance was built facing West, whereas all other Angkor temples face the East. The complex took 35 years to complete and, by the time it was completed, was a lot more than just a temple. It was an entire citadel.
It quickly ascended to being the capital of the Kingdom and the most revered Royal temple. Soon after the King's death, Angkor Wat was pillaged by the Chams , the Vietnamese arch-rivals of the Khmers, and was left in state of dramatic disrepair. When the Khmer Kings returned to power, they built a new capital at Angkor Thom and Bayon, and slowly converted Angkor Wat's use to suit Theravada Buddhism instead of Hinduism.
The astonishing aspect of Angkor Wat, aside its architectural splendour, is that unlike most other temples in the Angkor region, this temple was never left unoccupied, throughout its entire existence. In 1992, UNESCO simultaneously included it in its World Heritage list and proclaimed it a World Heritage in Danger site. After extensive restoration, the latter listing was removed in 2004. At present, UNESCO remains a part of the artistic treasure’s future as it works hand in hand with the Cambodian government to make sure that its development, and public access for tourism, does not put the cultural riches in great jeopardy.
In terms of architecture, Angkor Wat is considered the most outstanding creation ever built by the Khmer Empire.
Angkor Wat in detailThe quincunx of the central tower of this temple represents the five peaks, collectively known as Mount Meru. The staircase that leads to the main temple, located in the centre, is a real steep ride.
Angkor Wat is built on a marshy land surrounded by giant waterways. It is for this reason the structure of Angkor Wat is often referred as a floating citadel. The entire construction is made of pure sandstone and laterite is used to cover the outer wall of the temple. The gap between two laterites is presumably patched with slaked lime or resins.
The outer wall of the temple is surrounded by a large open ground and a wide moat. The entry to the temple is on the western, or central, side. Upon entering, you'll see four Gopuram (ornamental towers typical of Hindu temples) located at each cardinal end, of which the western one is the largest. The main temple that stands on the terrace is placed in the highest position from the earth compared to the others. Three large galleries support the temple where each gallery is strategically placed in a tiered formation, above the other. According to the legend, it is said that the galleries were built to pay respect to Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and the Moon.
There is a staircase on the eastern side of the main hall, which leads to the uppermost gallery, where visitors are allowed to ascend. Due to the stairs being narrow and very steep, you'll find attendants here ushering visitors through, two at a time. Please note that children under 12 are not allowed to ascend to the top, and neither is anyone scantily dressed. The staff may not tell you at first that you are not suitably dressed, and usually wait until one is almost at the top until they are informed that entry if forbidden unless one has their shoulders and legs covered. Be informed and you'll avoid being turned back.
Besides the architecture, the interior decoration of the temple is also incredibly spellbinding. The walls of the gallery are adorned with various rock-cut sculptures depicting many stories from the Hindu epic of Ramayana and Mahabharata. As the citadel was built with an intention to dedicate it to the Gods, the decoration of the temple has strong connection with mythical figures. The vast area of the temple wall is decorated with various Hindu Gods and Angels which can still be seen carved on its walls.
Planning your visitIn order to plan a visit to Angkor Wat, one should be mindful of which other nearby temples one wishes to visit. A thorough read of the Angkor Archaeological Park page ought to give you a good insight into the best way to tackle a visit to this, and all other temples.
By and large, you'll need about 2-3 hours at Angkor Wat and this is easily combined with a visit to nearby Angkor Tom, perhaps with a restful lunch-break in between.
Sunrise visits to Angkor Wat (which necessitate a 5am wake up call) are very popular, however being a western facing temple, it's actually a sunset visit which is the most atmospheric. As the temple's entrance basks in the sun's last rays, the entire complex turns a spectacular shade of crimson red. It is quite breathtaking indeed.
Entry to Angkor Wat is included in the Angkor Pass which can be purchased just prior to your first temple visit, on your first sightseeing day.
A one day pass costs USD20, with a 3 and 7 day pass available for USD40 and USD60, respectively. Please note that the multi-day passes denote consecutive days, starting from date of purchase (ie. a 7-day pass will expire after a week, irrespective of how many visits you have made.)
Transport options to visit Angkor Wat and all other temples are numerous and all originate from Siem Reap. Private transport by car or tuk-tuk can be organised through agencies, your hotel/guesthouse owner or through one of the many local guides/tuk-tuk drivers who will no doubt approach you in town. Please note that there is no public transport system in place to cater for tourists.
Another popular option is to rent a bicycle for the day, however this is not the wisest way to go as the riding, and intense sightseeing, may leave one a little worse for wear at day's end.
For more detailed info on prices, and conditions of entry, click on the main Angkor Archaeological Park page. You'll also find extensive info on transport options and the best way to organise a tour.
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Author: epicandrea. Last updated: Feb 18, 2015