Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to Lonely Planet, it is the world's largest religious building. The name Angkor Wat can also refer to the whole site, 248 square miles in size, containing the remains of more than 100 Khmer Empire temples. The Angkor ruins are set amidst jungle and farmland approximately a 20 minutes drive from the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia, southeast Asia.
Visitors to Angkor Wat will tread in the footsteps of an ancient civilization, the Khmer, who lived between the ninth and the fiteenth century. Angkor Wat, the five-towered, ornately carved temple, was built in the early twelfth century by Suryavaram II. He designed it to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and to represent Hindu cosmology. The city of Angkor became an important pilgrimage site until it was abandoned in 1432. It lay covered by the jungle until rediscovered by French explorers in 1860.
Angkor Wat isn't the only temple of interest and most visitors will carry on to visit more of Angkor. However, it's a massive site and seeing its highlights requires a little planning. Starting at Angkor Wat, the Small Circuit takes in many of the major temples and some of the minor temples in the park. It stretches for 10 miles and visitors will see Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and some smaller temples, such as The Terrace of the Elephants. If visitors have more time, they can take the Grand Circuit, a 16-mile route covering outlying monuments as well as the famous temples, ending back at Angkor Wat.
Air-conditioned tour buses will take visitors to the most important sites in comfort but they miss out some of the more remote locations. However, visitors can hire a car or motorbike with a driver for the day. Travel around Angkor Wat in a tuk tuk can usually be arranged through guesthouse accommodation and is a little cheaper than motorized transport. Other options include bikes, elephant rides and helicopter trips.
When to Visit
December and January are considered ideal months to visit Angkor Wat to take advantage of relatively low humidity and less rainfall. However, this is also peak season for tourists so the site will be busy. April in Cambodia can reach 100 F and May and June is monsoon season. The rain tends to fall in short bursts so it won't necessarily spoil your visit. Travelers should consider the time they visit; get an early start to avoid some of the tour groups and to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
There is nowhere to stay inside Angkor Wat itself so travelers' base when visiting the site will likely be in the small town of Siem Reap. Lonely Planet claims Siem Reap "has reinvented itself as the epicenter of the new Cambodia, with more guesthouses and hotels than temples, world-class wining and dining and sumptuous spas" so visitors will have something to do once they have finished exploring the ruins.
Admission to the entire Angkor site is $20 for one day, $40 for three days and $60 for one week. A non-transferable three-day pass is valid for any three days in a week, a seven-day pass for any one week in a month.