Visitors to the Vatican are often awestruck by the immensity of the Catholic spiritual center, but it is actually a visit to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat that will take you to the largest religious building in the world. With an area of almost 2 square miles, this massive temple and surrounding complex have served as a spiritual beacon for Hindus and Buddhists for nearly 900 years.
Angkor Wat was built in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu by Khmer king Suryavarman II in the early 1100’s to serve as his temple and capital city. Located in Angkor, Cambodia, the name is directly translated as “Angkor School” (though the term wat is used to refer to most Southeast Asian monasteries) as there is no inscription or record of its original name. While it was a Hindu temple for over 200 years, it was converted to Theravada Buddhism with the entire empire when King Srindravarman deposed his father-in-law after spending 10 years in Sri Lanka becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk.
This gem nestled in the forests of Cambodia just north of Siem Reap is truly a majestic monument to a rich cultural region that has experienced numerous hardships in more recent years. As an enormous source of pride to the Cambodian people, it has been featured on every Cambodian flag design ever used (with the exception of the puppet state installed by the Japanese during World War II).
Angkor Wat is a national monument, UNESCO World Heritage Site, religious epicenter for millions worldwide and can’t-miss destination for any traveler in Southeast Asia. Though it’s open all day, we recommend arriving just before sunrise to see the incredible sight of the sunrise behind the monument. It’s then best to explore the nearby monuments at Angkor Thom and on the Little Circuit and Big Circuit of nearby temples before returning to Angkor Wat in the early afternoon to view it in optimum light.
Angkor Wat is accessible from nearby Siem Reap, or from any number of Southeast Asian ports in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
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