Thanks to Google Maps, we have spawned a new generation of “digitals tourists” who like to “visit” faraway beaches, temples and mountains… From their living-room couch. The world, however, is ripe with incredible sites and wonders that lose their splendor if not see in in person and one such structure is Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat, the largest temple in the world, sitting proudly in Siem Reap, the country’s northern region.
Built by Khmer King Suryavarman II in the mid-12th century for Vishnu, the Supreme God of Vaishnavism (one of the three main sects of Hinduism), Angkor Wat is actually just one of a collection of structures at the 154-square-mile Angkor Archaeological Park, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. A prime example of religiously-minded Khmer architecture, the laterite and sandstone structure features over 3,000 unique apsaras, or heavenly nymphs, carved into the walls as well as numerous episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. A sprawling space, Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and features three concentric enclosures, the innermost of which ascends to a central tower. Four gates, which show off elaborate carvings of mythological battles as well as the Khmer court, allow passage in and out.
Our top tips for visiting Angkor Wat:
1. To beat the crowds (several million tourists visit the site every year), be sure to arrive at the temple as early as possible
2. Consider visiting during a Cambodia’s non-peak season in April to October (though May and June are particularly hot, wet and unpleasant).
3. Hire a tuk-tuk, or auto-rickshaw, driver for the day, and ask his advice for the best route around the temple.