Angkor Wat in Cambodia
An historic and deeply spiritual temple, Angkor Wat is an awe-inspiring must-see, both for its grand scale and incredible detail. It's the largest religious monument in the world and one of the most striking destinations in Cambodia, especially if you see it at sunrise.
The temple has been in continuous use since the 12th century, first by Hindus and then later for Buddhists to worship. It still holds deep meaning for both religions today. Walking through the grounds of this incredible structure, you'll be struck by the variety of carvings and statues on display in the complex.
Angkor Wat, which means 'temple city', was the religious centre of the capital of the Khmer empire, and its spiritual purpose is still clear: you'll soak up the atmosphere within its hallowed, richly-decorated walls. No wonder one of the first Western visitors described it as “like no other building in the world”. Prepare for your jaw to drop when you first glimpse Angkor Wat, the most magnificent of all the Angkor temples.
Begin by walking over one of the bridges which cross the huge rectangular moat surrounding the complex. You'll start to feel the separation between the wilderness outside and the serene atmosphere within. The complex rises up through a series of three rectangular terraces to the central shrine and 213m high tower. This traditional Khmer arrangement represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Take in each of the five towers, beautifully shaped like blooming lotus flowers. It's this distinct shape that found pride of place at the centre of the Cambodian flag. This shows just how important Angkor Wat is to the Khmer people. The great central temple is built to include deeply meaningful elements, from the number of arches to the way the entrance faces. Spotting all the significant features is part of the fascination of visiting this incredible location.
Maybe you could try to count the 3,000 nymphs, each unique, carved into its walls. It's a breathtaking spot at any time, but there is a way you can enjoy it even more, and that's by making the trip during the small hours of the morning so you can watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
Seeing the dawn break over this spectacular site is an unforgettable experience. It will mean catching a tuk-tuk at around 5am to be in place in time. Some drivers may charge you more for a morning journey, but it's worth it for the amazing view.
You'll want to position yourself to the west of these remarkable monuments so that as the sun rises, it perfectly silhouettes the temples. The sun's rays will cast distinct shadows on the ground, mingling with the dancing lights created by the sun breaking through the leaves of the surrounding trees.
After sunrise, it's the ideal time to take a deeper look at Angkor Wat itself, or the surrounding temples of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. It'll take more than a day to fully explore all of these sites, but after seeing the dawn from such an incredible perspective, you'll be more than energised enough to last till the sun sets.
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