Standing as the largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is home to hundreds and hundreds of ancient temples. Angkor Wat, which translates to the City of Temples, was built between 1113 and 1150 AD and served as the capital of the ruling Khmer Empire. Much more than just temples, Angkor Wat included schools, libraries, a place to worship, and various other structures making up an entire city.
Abandoned in the 15th century due to war, the erosion of the state’s religion and natural disaster, Angkor Wat was quite literally left for the jungle — with trees and wild animals slowly devouring its many massive temples. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Angkor Wat was rediscovered by a young French explorer. Quite simply, Angkor Wat has stood the test of time.
In 1992, Angkor Wat was named as a World Heritage Site, helping to eliminate illegal looting and unregulated tourism. Today, Angkor Wat is one of the world’s greatest sites to be seen — and below are my top reasons why Angkor Wat should be at the very top of your travel bucket list!
Because you will never witness a more beautiful sunrise…
Despite sharing this moment with thousands of other tourists who crowd the lotus lake in front of Angkor Wat, there is something so extremely magical about watching the sun peek from behind Angkor’s iconic spires. The sunrise was the highlight of our trip to Angkor Wat, and waking up at 4am was worth every missed minute of sleep.
The temple architecture is more than impressive…
Considering Angkor Wat was built during the 12th century, the intricate carvings, corridors, towers, baths, and moats are bound to leave you speechless. Believe me when I say you’ll have more “pinch me” moments than you can count.
It’s easy to venture off the beaten path…
Having spent our first day visiting the many popular temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm), it was so refreshing to venture off the beaten path and visit lesser known temples. My absolute favorite was Banteay Srei, solely for how peaceful and beautiful the temple grounds were, but I also enjoyed visiting some of our tour guide’s favorites — many of which we were the only people in sight.
You can channel your inner Indiana Jones…
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to channel my inner Indiana Jones outside of Disneyland! From discovering ancient temples to hidden corridors and dodging giant roots overtaking temple complexes, we were ready for Tomb Raider Part II!
Angkor Wat embodies both Hinduism and Buddhism…
Originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat shifted to a Buddhist temple in the late 13th century. Despite the religious shift of power, Angkor Wat houses more than 200 Hindu temples, the largest concentration outside of India.
Quite simply, you will leave amazed…
There is no where else on earth like Angkor Wat. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many “OMG” or “I can’t believe I’m experiencing this” type moments. The sheer magnificence, size and beauty of the temples will leave you amazed and speechless.
Visiting Angkor Wat & Other Logistics
There are so many different ways to experience Angkor Wat — largely dependent on time and budget. Tickets to Angkor Wat can be purchased as one, three or seven day passes, so unless you’re limited on time, I would definitely recommend investing in the three-day pass. We spent two full days at Angkor Wat and felt this was the perfect balance between temple-exploring and temple-fatigue. (And believe me, temple-fatigue is a real thing!)
Because Angkor Wat is a religious structure, you need to dress appropriately. No tank tops, short shorts, or other revealing clothing. To make matters a bit complicated, it is likely to be hot AF when visiting… We visited in January (the dry season), and it was at least 95 degrees and so extremely humid, even by 9am. It would be smart to wear something light and airy. Sneakers are best if you plan to do a lot of walking, but sandals were convenient every time we had to slip our shoes on and off.
As for exploring Angkor Wat, you can go solo or hire a tour guide. We decided to splurge and hire a tour guide, and I am so glad we did — it was worth every penny! Our tour guide was so incredibly knowledgeable, and we left Cambodia feeling as though we had an insider’s perspective on Cambodia’s history and culture. A major benefit of hiring a tour guide was having an air conditioned car and ice cold water waiting for us after exploring the temple grounds. Our tour guide picked us up in the mornings from our hotel, had more knowledge than I thought was humanly possible, and provided us with recommendations for both Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. (Here’s my Siem Reap travel guide in case you missed it!)
If you have an extra hour or two while visiting Angkor Wat, I cannot recommend the Cambodian Landmine Museum enough. Cambodia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, and each year, people are still injured or killed by landmines that have yet to be disarmed or removed from years of conflict and fighting. The museum is incredibly eye opening — you won’t regret stopping by.