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Understand the History of the Khmer Empire with a Visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia

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Perhaps the most important and popular archaeological sites in all of Cambodia is Angkor Wat. Situated about five kilometers from the city of Siem Reap, the temple is within the confines of Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Numerous other temples are located within the park’s 400 square kilometer area.

Angkor Wat was built during the 12th century for King Suryavarman II. It was originally a Hindu temple, but when King, Jayavarman VII converted to Buddhism, so did the temple. Angkor Wat is the epitome of classic Khmer architecture and is one of the world’s most recognizable historical structures, also appearing on the Cambodian national flag. It is the largest temple in the world and is believed to have taken over 30 years of intense labor to complete.

After many centuries of abandonment, some of the structures are still in great shape, owing this to the encroachment of the surrounding jungle. Not only are they beautifully and expertly crafted, they blend in seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

The temples of Angkor are also symbolic. They were built to represent Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. The structures are pyramidal shape and topped by five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. Lingas were also an important aspect of temple building during the Khmer era. Although many of the lingas did not pass the test of time, linga stands can be found in most of the temple rooms.

Visitors to Angkor Wat and the nearby temples will notice certain carvings and structures of mystical creatures throughout the area. One is the apsara, a celestial nymph and spirit of the clouds and waters, usually dancing bare-breasted. They represent female beauty. Another of these creatures is the kala, a monstrous and jawless face found at gateways and meant to guard against evil. The naga, a serpent-like creature with many heads are also widely present around the park.

The large iconic water reservoir (measuring at approximately eight kilometers by two kilometers in size) surrounding Angkor Wat continues to mystify archeologists even until today. It was widely assumed that the purpose of the water reservoir was for irrigation and farming purposes, but some have argued that this was built for religious or even political reasons.

It is highly recommended to view Angkor Wat either during sunrise or sunset. The sun just below the plane of the horizon brings about a beautiful glow and the temple blends in perfectly with this. It is also suggested to bring sun block to protect yourself from the heat. To show your respects, make sure to wear long pants/skirts and shirts with sleeves to the site. This is the dress code Cambodians wear when they visit temples or other holy sites.

If you are planning on visiting Cambodia, a stop to Angkor Wat is a must! Exotissimo’s Angkor Discovery tour focuses solely on exploring Angkor Wat and the nearby temples. If you also like adventure, you may be interested in our Angkor Hike and Bike tour. Witness the marvelous temples of Angkor from the seat of your bike as you pedal to the various destinations in the park. After that, trek through the jungles and refresh yourself at the nearby waterfalls. You can also see our recommended Cambodia tours page for other memorable trips into this fascinating country.

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