Constructed: 1113-1150 C.D. King: Suryavarman II Religion: Hinduism, dedicated to Lord Vishnu Time needed for visit: at least 3 hours, its is recommended to visit several times Best time to visit: Anytime; less tourists in the morning after sunrise, from 9 to noon; best light in the afternoon (Angkor Wat's main entrance is oriented towards the west!!)
Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor. At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple mountain' dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu.
Angkor Wat's uncommon westward orientation
Vishnu is generally associated with the West, what would explain the temples uncommon westward orientation. Angkor Wat served as Suryavarman II's state temple, though the westward orientation has led some to suggest that is was constructed as Suryavarman II's funery temple (in most ancient cultures, like in Egypt, the West represents the world of the death.) Anyway, thanks to further research we know today that Angkor Wat was constructed in the Southeastern quarter of the elder capital Yosodharapura, whose center was the Bakheng Temple. Yet, this is another - and maybe the best - reason for its westward orientation. Otherwise, Angkor Wat would have turned "its back" to the main access road of Yasodharapura.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall measuring 1300 meters x 1500 meters. The temple itself is 1 km square and consits of three levels surmounted by a central tower. The temple mountain is associated in Hindu mythology with Mount Meru, seat of the gods and center of the universe. The great researcher George Coedès has formulated this idea in this way: Angkor Wat is "a representation on a human scale of the mountain which is the axis of the world." The enclosing wall represents the wall of rock encircling the universe. The moats symbolizes the eternal ocean. The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with bas-reliefs and carvings. Nearly 2000 distinctively rendered apsara carvings adorn the walls throughout the temple and represent some of the finest examples of apsara carvings in Angkorian era art.
But it is the exterior walls of the lower level that display the most extraordinary bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology, and the historical wars of Suryavarman II.
It is in the viewing of the bas-reliefs that our tourguides will be helpful.
The northern reflecting pool in front is the most popular sunrise location. For sunrise, it's necessary to arrive very early, well before sunrise begins. The sun will rise behind Angkor Wat providing a silhouette of Angkor's distinctively shaped towers against a colored sunrise sky. Some of the best colors appear just before the sun breaks over the horizon.
The visual impact of Angkor Wat, particularly on one's first visit, is awesome. As you pass through the outer gate and get your first glimpse, its size and architecture make it appear two dimensional, like a giant postcard photo against the sky.
After you cross through the gate and approach the temple along the walkway it slowly gains depth and complexity. To maximize this effect you should make your first visit in optimal lighting conditions, i.e. after 2.00 PM. The first level of Angkor Wat is the most artistically interesting. Most visitors begin their exploration with the bas-reliefs that cover the exterior wall of the first level, following the bas-reliefs counterclockwise around the temple. Bas-relief highlights include the mythological Battle of Kuru on the west wall; the historical march of the army of Suryavarman II, builder of Angkor Wat, against the Cham, followed by scenes from Heaven and Hell on the south wall; and the classic 'Churning of the Ocean Milk' on the north wall. The temple interior is not as densely carved as the first level exterior, but still sports hundreds of fine carvings of apsaras and scenes from Hindu mythology.
Our guides will be helpful in explaining the stories of the various chambers, statues and architectural forms to be found in the interior.
At the upper-most of your tour of the temple, the central tower of the third level houses four Buddha images, each facing a different cardinal point, highlighting the fact that though Angkor Wat was constructed as a Hindu temple, it has served as a Buddhist temple since Buddhism became Cambodia's dominant religion in the 14th century. Due to high tourist flows, the maximum length of stay on the temple's third level is restricted to 30 minutes