One Relic to Rule Them All
Crowds may swarm upon it daily from sunrise onwards, but exposure hasn’t dulled the impact of the largest religious monument in the world. Commissioned by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as the centerpiece of the mighty Khmer empire, the structure is inspired by Hindu sacred design and is estimated to have taken around 30 years to build. The biggest surprise upon visiting might be learning that the vast complex of spires, moats, frescoes, cloisters, and balustrades was constructed in such speedy fashion. You won’t be alone while witnessing it, but sunrise over the iconic temple remains one of the essential experiences in Southeast Asia. A return in the afternoon when the camera-toting hordes have dispersed is also advisable.
By Duncan Forgan, AFAR Local Expert
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12th-Century Khmer Temple Complex
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat is one of the most mysterious temples in the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The hidden "village" (it's more like a never-ending maze of wats and cultural confusion) was re-discovered by the French in the 19th century and literally cut out of the jungle. Upon arrival in Siem Reap, you have your pick of motorbike, taxi, or tuk-tuk tour guides to take you through the life of the city, from 3-day tours to 24-hour wat-a-thons. One of the most intriguing aspects of the temples is the mix of Buddhist and Hindu power that was obviously traded over years of rulers. This is a can't-miss for history buffs and anyone out there who likes a good mystery. Between the people, the temples, the nightlife, and the extremely reasonable prices, Siem Reap is a great time.
By Rob Kerwin