Siem Reap's Angkor Wat welcomes approximately 2 million visitors per year, a temple complex in Cambodia that's regarded as being the world's largest religious structure.
Angkor Wat, known largely as Angkor Archeological Park, is a top tourist attraction in all of the nation, and there are endless reasons why every traveler should scribble this marvel down on their bucket lists. A Hindu turned Buddhist temple, Angkor will leave you speechless with its magnificent architecture, cultural significance, unique history, epic sunrises, and fascinating art.
Here are 10 reasons Angkor Wat is a top spot to visit in Cambodia.
1. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you know anything about UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then it probably doesn't come as a shock to find out that Angkor Wat made the list.
Angkor Archeological Park was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site honor in 1992, and has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings. According to UNESCO, it's one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.
UNESCO deemed Angkor Archeological Park a World Heritage Site primarily because it is home to the ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire, but we'll get into more details about this when discussing Angkor Wat's unique centuries-old history!
2. You'll witness one of the most beautiful sunrises
Travelers from around the world flock to Angkor Wat in order to witness the breathtaking sunrise that occurs each morning over the lotus lake in front of the temple. It's something that can't be missed when visiting Angkor Wat, even if you're not a morning person!
Despite the large crowds of tourists gathering to witness this awe-inspiring sunrise, watching the sun slowly creep over Angkor Wat is like witnessing something that dreams are made of. Even with hundreds of people crowding to watch the sunrise, the moment it actually occurs leaves everyone silent, with each person recognizing that they're witnessing something special.
Maybe it's because I grew up in a family where things like sunrises, sunsets, and pretty moons are regularly discussed, but watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is a moment far from ever being forgotten.
3. It has a centuries-old history
Angkor Archeological Park boasts the incredible remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Angkor Wat's monuments, large water reservoirs, and different ancient urban plans testify to the Khmer Empire and its impressive civilization.
There are remnants of Khmer architecture throughout Angkor Archeological Park, including Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan, and Ta Phrom, according to UNESCO. The Khmer Empire was a Hindu-Buddhist empire that ruled over different regions of Southeast Asia from 802 A.D., until its fall in the 15th century. It was the largest pre-industrial urban centre of its time, and served as the empire's capital for hundreds of years.
4. Tomb Raider was filmed there
Although I don't really want to bring Hollywood into such a compelling piece of ancient architecture, it's hard to deny that Tomb Raider being filmed at Angkor Wat is a pretty neat fact about the archeological park.
Ta Prohm is known as the "Tomb Raider" temple at Angkor Wat, and the Blockbuster hit was filmed there in 2000. Angelina Jolie portrayed Lara Croft, a fictional character and main protagonist of the video game-turned Hollywood film.
Travelers can wander through Ta Prohm and various locations where scenes for the movie were filmed. Ta Phrom has been left nearly untouched, largely unreconstructed, and is being conserved as partial ruins. Gigantic trees are growing out of the temple, giving it a very jungle-like feel that embody the essence of Southeast Asia as a whole.
5. It speaks to Cambodian culture
When wandering through Angkor Archeological Park, its hard not to notice the abundance of monks praying and blessing passersby. That's because Angkor Wat is more than just a temple; its a testament to Cambodian culture as a whole.
Though Angkor Wat consists of hundreds of Hindu temples, Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, dating back as far as the 5th century. Despite this fact, it was during the time of the Khmer Empire that a particular type of Buddhism known as Mayahana Buddhism came into fruition.
Today, the presence of Buddhist monks throughout Angkor Wat symbolizes the nature of Cambodian culture. This presence adjacently represents a blending of two worlds, that being Hinduism and Buddhism, a unique aspect to Cambodia's history and culture.
6. It has some fascinating art
Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries have long histories of matriarchal societies, thus it's no wonder Angkor Archeological Park has more than 2,000 carvings of apsara, which are known as celestial female spirits.
These artworks of female faces and bodies appear both as small carvings on walls and as massive structures throughout the park, alongside other etchings of Hindu and Buddhist myths.
What makes this ancient temple even more interesting is that, just about four years ago, hundreds of hidden paintings were discovered from the 12th century, with detailed murals showing scenes of elephants, deities, orchestral ensembles, and people on horseback.
Angkor Wat's artwork is anything but ordinary, just piling on to the reasons why everyone should book a trip to this unparalleled archeological park.
7. It manifests Hinduism
Despite Buddhism being the official religion of the Cambodian people, Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the god Vishnu. The archeological park may be the greatest representation of Cambodia's historical shift in religion from Buddhism to Hinduism.
Angkor Wat is said to hold the largest concentration of Hindu temples outside of India, with more than 200 Hindu temples throughout. Angkor Archeological Park was originally constructed to represent Mount Meru, the mythical home of Hindu gods.
There are thousands of square miles throughout Angkor Wat that boast carved bas reliefs telling Hindu stories, the most prominent being the Churning of the Ocean Milk. This Hindu story is said to reveal the creation of the universe, along with the battle between good and evil.
8. It's the world's oldest religious structure
Angkor Wat holds a world record and is regarded for being the oldest religious structure across the globe, expanding nearly 200 hectares, including its vast moat.
Considering historically that Angkor Wat housed an entire civilization, this record may not come as the biggest surprise, yet it's still mighty impressive! If you're the type of person that gets giddy over visiting world record sites (I know I do), then you may just want to start considering a trip to this baffling wonder!
9. It's an architectural masterpiece
Gazing upon Angkor Archeological Park and learning that it was built in the 12th century makes it unfathomable to imagine how it possibly could have been constructed without modern day technologies. When you really think about about how the Khmer Dynasty built such an architectural wonder during this time, you'll come to realize that it truly is a masterpiece.
Angkor Wat is a prime example of Khmer architecture. It was designed for the immortal gods, thus it was made from extremely durable materials that have survived several centuries. Some of its architectural intricacies include carvings, bas reliefs, towers, baths, corridors, moats, and libraries.
10. It will leave you speechless
I didn't really know what to expect when I visited Angkor Wat, but after my first day wandering through these historic and breathtaking temples, I was drawn back to them two extra days in a row, and I think this speaks volumes to the experience most people have at Angkor Archeological Park.
You can lose yourself for days at Angkor Wat, because there really is so much to see. Every nook, cranny, and corner offers something different, whether it be giant monuments with beautiful stone faces on them, or tiny carvings in the wall. Angkor Wat may be a bit of a sensory overload, but it will leave you curious, speechless, and feeling a newfound sense of knowledge and wisdom.