Cambodia – Angkor Wat

Best time to go: Cambodia has a tropical climate, with monsoons from June to October. Best time to go is in the dry season – November to May.

For more than 500 years, the city of Angkor in north-western Cambodia was the capital of the Khmer Empire, and Angkor Wat is the largest and the most striking monument of Angkor. Angkor Wat literally means ‘capital monastery’ and was a temple built by King Suryavarman II who ruled in the early part of the twelfth century. The temple was originally built in honour of the Hindu gods, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, but was later dedicated to Buddhism.

Angkor Wat is within a complex extending 15 miles (24 km) from east to west and 8 miles (13 km) from north to south. The complex encompassed numerous reservoirs and moats which were intended to symbolise the ocean around Mount Meru, the dwelling place of the gods.

Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a moat and has five towers symbolising peaks of Mount Meru. The central temple complex consists of three storeys enclosing a square surrounded by galleries.

The temple walls are decorated with extraordinary bas-relief sculptures depicting Hindu gods and scenes from Khmer battles.

The Angkor complex was abandoned in the early 15th century. It was maintained by Theravada Buddhist monks until the late 19th century and from then on it became the subject of interest from western archaeologists. Visitors to Angkor Wat today marvel at the beauty and mystery of the temple that has survived the centuries remarkably well.

Did you know?

  • parts of the film Tomb Raider were filmed in Angkor Wat
  • it has been estimated that at one time more than a million people lived in the Angkor complex
  • Angkor Wat features on the flag of Cambodia