The majestic Angkor Wat

A Monk at Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is breathtaking sprawling, carved ruins of a once great civilization. Angkor Wat is the primary reason that more than 50% of international tourists visit Cambodia on guided tours to Cambodia.

Cambodians are proud of their ancient monument and put it on the Cambodian flag in 1850.

Angkor Wat is the best representation of classical style of Khmer architecture. The temple has been built to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu Mythology lord of Brahma and the demi-god devtas.

Constructed in the early 12th century (between 1113 and 1150) Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and one of the world’s most visited religious sites on tours to Cambodia. It was dedicated to Vishnu, a Hindu deity, rather than the current king.

Angkor Wat is unusually oriented to the west, a direction typically associated with death in Hindu culture. Archaeologists and scholars disagree as to why the ancient builders chose to deviate from the ‘norm’ at the time. Bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat read counterclockwise, another indication that the temple is associated with funeral rituals.

Angkor Wat was shifted from Hindu to Buddhist use sometime around the late 13th century. The temple is still used by Buddhists today.

Angkor Wat was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The site suffered from decades of unregulated tourism and looting; many ancient statues have been decapitated and their heads sold to private collectors. An international collaborative effort has helped to slowly restore sites and prevent further collapse of unstable structures. Most of the money to restore Angkor Wat comes from foreign aid. Only an estimated 28% of ticket sales goes back into the temples.

The Angkor temple Ta Prohm — famous for the large vines that strangle the ruins — was used as the set for the hit movie Tomb Raider.

Although most tourists know of the Angkor Wat temple complex, the city comprises of Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple which are equally intriguing. The site receives more than 2 million visitors annually for a reason – It ebbs an aura of divinity that can only be found in Incan and Mayan holy shrines.