The temple of Angkor Wat, located within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor complex, is famous the world over – and for very good reason. It is a stunning combination of architectural and artistic mastery and a beautiful symbol of spiritual devotion. Built in the 12th century by king of the Khmer empire, Suryavarman II, it is the largest religious structure in the world.
Of the entire Angkor Archaeological Park complex, Angkor Wat, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, is the most beautifully preserved structure. With five finely sculpted towers representing the peaks of the sacred Mount Meru, a 200-metre-wide moat wrapping itself protectively around the temple ground and a sweeping 250-metre-long causeway leading right up to the majestic entrance, the whole visual spectacle is nothing short of breathtaking.
Sheltered within the first level is the magnificent Gallery of Bas-Reliefs, one of the greatest treasures of the Angkor complex. Boasting 1,200 square metres of intricate sandstone carvings depicting mythological stories and historical battle scenes, the artworks form an exquisite textured-wallpaper effect and encompass all four wings of the outer gallery. The most famous of the reliefs is the three-tiered depiction of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk scene from the Hindu mythological epic Bhagavata Purana. You’ll find it in the east gallery.
Entry to Angkor Wat is through the western gate. Angkor Wat is 6 kilometres north of the city of Siem Reap, and you can easily access it by tuktuk or taxi. Walk north of Angkor Wat to the neighbouring ancient city of Angkor Thom, home to the mind-boggling Bayon Temple and well worth a combined visit. As there is collectively so much to see, it’s best to set aside a full day to explore Angkor Wat and its surrounds.