For both history buffs and luxury travelers, Angkor Wat is a must-see.
Angkor Wat can hardly be called a secret destination—more than two million tourists visit the historical Cambodian temple each year, the site has served as a movie set, and #angkorwat has nearly 600,000 posts on Instagram. But even when battling the crowds, there’s something about the magical aura of the Angkor complex that let’s you feel like you’re discovering a world of your own.
It's just a small part of an archeological site
Though Angkor Wat is a destination in and of itself, it’s actually part of a much larger complex of temples, reservoirs, and canals. The Angkor Archeological Park is spread across nearly 100,000 acres (that’s more than twice the size of Brooklyn).
Angkor was the Khmer capital
Angkor is considered by UNESCO, which lists it as a World Heritage Site, to be one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. Besides it’s undeniable splendor, there’s good historical reason: The Khmer Empire, which was a huge part of the cultural and political landscape of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 14th centuries, was centered around then-capital Angkor.
It may be have been used for funerals
Built in the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, the temple is recognized as the largest religious structure in the world. Though most Hindu temples face east, Angkor Wat faces west, leading some scholars and archeologists to believe it was for funeral use.
Buddhists now use the Hindu temple
The temple is still in use today, though not by people practicing Hinduism. Within a few centuries of its construction, the population of Angkor converted to Buddhism.
There are other worthwhile sites here
Angkor Wat isn’t the only temple worth visiting. Ta Prohm, Preah Kahn, and Ta Som, with their intricately carved stone and brick structures beneath the braided roots and vines of Ficus and Tetrameles trees, are more than worth peeling yourself away from beauty of the main temple.
More than 200 paintings cover the walls
There are likely also more than a few secrets left at Angkor. A few years ago, researcher Noel Hidalgo Tan noticed black and red markings on the wall of the temple. He took a few photos, and later, when he edited them, realized they were much more detailed than he’d originally noticed. When researchers went back to look for more, they found over 200 paintings.
Ask a local driver for advice
You won’t need to find hidden paintings to feel as though you’re discovering something incredible. Nearby Siem Reap has a strong tourist industry built around the temples, and it isn’t hard to find a driver to take you to the site. Let him or her know what you’re looking for: whether you want to be there first thing in the morning to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat or you’d prefer to skip the main temple all together and head for some of the lesser visited sites, chances are your driver will be able to recommend a perfect plan.