26 Oct Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site
Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site
Angkor Wat is a historical temple and archeological site in Cambodia. It has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the honor was bestowed upon it in 1992. The site was deemed to be at danger of looting and from a damaged water table. UNESCO has set up many programs to make sure that the site is not at danger and tourism to the site is sustainable over the long term.
The site itself covers 400 km sq. and contains the ruins of many Khmer Empire sites and capitals from before the 15th century. Since the entire area is so large, some picking and choosing has to be done to select the sites that are must sees. Chief among them is the Angkor Wat temple. You should also make a trip to Preah Khan, the Bayon, Ta Prohm and Ta Som.
Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage site is the central temple in the compound and the best preserved. The temple has been heralded for its superlative architecture since Western discovery centuries ago. The temple is near the town of Siem Reap where there are many hotels and restaurants available for tourists. Siem Reap is about 5 km south of Angkor Wat many modes of transport including Tuk Tuks and bicycles are available.
The temple was built in the 12th century by the Khmer king Suryavarman II and was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. The king intended it to be his capital city and state temple. It may have been known as Varah Vishnulok when it was built but there are no inscriptions surviving that can prove this. After the king died, work was halted which is why you will see some of the inscriptions are incomplete. A new king, Jayaarman VII restored the area after it was ransacked by invading Chams. After the empire adopted Buddhism in the 12th century, the temple was slowly transformed into a Buddhist place of worship.
The temple is relatively well preserved compared to the other temples in the area. This is because it was always used in some capacity unlike the other temples and the surrounding water also protected it from the encroaching jungle. It was first visited by a Westerner in 1586 when a Portuguese Monk marvelled at the beauty of the construction. It was popularized in the west by French explorer Henri Mouhot. The temple was fully restored in the 1900s.
The temple is built as a representation of Mount Meru where the Hindu gods are said to live. The five towers symbolize the peaks of Mery and the moats around the temple are the ocean. It is built in a classical Khmer architectural style and the temple has given the style its name- the Angkor Wat Style. The temple is known for its very symmetrical and balanced style which gives it great harmony.
Preah Khan is another temple in the area. It is not as restored as Angkor Wat and a lot of vegetation has taken over. After Angkor Wat, Preah Khan is a must see as well. The Stupa at the site is also a marvel especially when the sun strikes it just right.
Bayon is another temple built in the 12th or 13th century that is in the Angkor region. The temple is known for its massive stone faces that depict serene expressions which are arranged around the towers and main peak. It also has very detailed bas reliefs that show scenes from mythology and history.
Originally called Rajavihara, this is one of the most untouched temples in the area. The lack of restoration has let the jungle reclaim it and the ruins are spectacular with massive silk-cotton trees growing out of it. This is one of the most photographed sites in the area.
Ta Som is a smaller temple in the area and has one shrine. It is also in ruins with nature taking over. However, it is still beautiful and the fig trees growing among the ruins making it a great sight.
Getting to the Angkor Archeological Park
You can get to Siem Reap by plane from most major international airports. There are also buses and trains available from Bangkok to the border from where you can take a bus to Siem Reap for about $10. From Siem Reap, there are tour buses available that charge about 25 to 70 dollars including a guide for a day. You can also hire a car or motorbike with a driver although a motorbike is cheaper costing under $10. Tuk Tuks with drivers are also available for tours. One of the best ways to see the area is on bicycle and you can rent one in Siem Reap for about a dollar a day.
You will need to buy a pass to enter the Angkor Park where all the temples are. Between 5 am and 6pm these passes are available at the front gate. You can buy a one day pass for $20 and 3 day pass for $40 and a 7 day pass for $60. It takes at least 3 days to see all the spots properly but take your time and get the 7 day pass to save money if you plan to stay in the area for a week. The passes do not have to be used on consecutive days.
There are many hostels and restaurants in Siem Reap offering cheap accommodation and food. Additionally, be aware of scams. You do not need to pay for your driver to get into the park because entry is free for Cambodians. When travelling by bus across the Thai border, some bus guides may ask for additionally money for a visa but entry visas are available at the border, so wait until then to avoid getting scammed. When entering from Thailand, the train may be the cheapest and the best way to avoid scams but it does take longer than buses.
Make sure you stay hydrated and pick a dry season to visit the park. The weather can be brutal when it is wet or when it is too hot. Use lots of sunscreen and stay in the shade.