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Angkor Wat is the most famous ancient temple site in Cambodia, and visiting the ancient Angkorian temples is the reason most visitors come to Cambodia, and to Siem Reap. With its five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters into the sky, it is truly a monumental, and awe inspiring sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was at one time the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of any visit to the temples of Angkor.
The ruins of Angkor Wat are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and the entrance to the park is located about 3km north of modern-day Siem Reap. There are no hotels within the park grounds, and most visitors to the ancient temples stay in Siem Reap, using it as a base from which to make daily visits to the temples. The most significant temple ruins are found 6 to 25km north of town, with the closest major temple being Angkor Wat. The Roluos Group of temples are 13km east of Siem Reap.
It is best to arrange your tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park with a reputable tour agency and a knowledgeable tour guide. They can assist with purchasing the admission pass, and arrange the transportation you will need. There are also guidebooks available, which will help in understanding the history of the temples.
The magnificent temple ruins of the Angkorian-era from the 9th to the 13th centuries, including Angkor Wat, Bayon and many other ancient temple ruins of the Khmer Empire are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The Park, just north of the town of Siem Reap, is more than 400 square kilometers in size, and is a World Heritage Site.
The temple ruins within the Angkor Archaeological Park are what remains of the thousand year old Angkorian-era capitals and temples of the ancient Khmer Empire. The name ‘Angkor’ comes from the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire that encompassed much of Southeast Asia from 800 and 1400CE, and also refers to the capital cities of the Empire. The Khmer Empire held great wealth and power, and dominated the area of present day Cambodia, as well as much of Thailand, southern Vietnam and Laos militarily, economically, and culturally.
Most of the structures seen today were constructed between the 9th and 12th century CE., and represent the height of Khmer art, architecture, and culture. The Khmer kings constructed magnificent temples, and huge waterworks, and at its zenith, the capital city at Angkor was populated by more than a million people.
Angkor Wat was constructed from the early to mid 1100s by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire’s political and military power. It was built in the shape of an enormous temple-mountain, and reportedly took some 50,000 artisans, workers, and slaves to complete. It was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and is the world's largest religious building. King Suryavarman II built it as his state temple, although the temple has a west facing orientation, and some scholars have theorized that it was actually his funerary temple. Whatever its original purpose, Angkor Wat is one of the world's most awe-inspiring and breathtaking architectural accomplishments of all time.
When one first visits Angkor Wat, the impact is breathtaking, and just seeing photos do not prepare one for the reality of this majestic structure. Approaching along the causeway, at first the architecture and outline against the sky makes it appear almost two- dimensional, like a huge, real-life postcard. However, as one gets nearer, the detail and intricacy become increasingly apparent.
Other temples built in the same time period and in the same style, are Thommanon, Banteay Samre, Wat Atwea and Beng Melea. It is speculated that Beng Melea may have been a model for Angkor Wat.