Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat, translated from Khmer (the official language of Cambodia) literally means “City Temple.”
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century.
Angkor Wat – built by Suryavarman II (r 1112–52) – is the earthly representation of the Hindu faith and the abode of ancient gods. The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in what is believed to be the world’s largest religious building. The temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride.
The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat was built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. The logistics of such an operation are mind blowing, consuming the labour of thousands. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants, yet it was still not fully completed.
As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly. It is not possible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees. Local authorities have recently released visitor ‘code of conduct’ guidelines and a video to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch or sit on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.