Angkor Wat: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Angkor Wat: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Extending over 400 square kilometers, UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat is not only one of Cambodia’s most impressive attractions but also the largest religious monument in the world.

Yet it doesn’t only hold religious importance: Angkor Wat was the capital of the Khmer Empire for centuries and is now a unique archaeological site that can give visitors a precise idea of what the Khmer civilization must have been, thanks to well-preserved monuments, several urban plans, hydraulic structures, and communication routes.

No less than 2 million tourists come to Angkor Wat every year. Half of these are foreigners who need to apply for a Cambodian visa in order to reach and visit the site.

In this article, you will learn about the history and significance of the site and find useful tourist information for Angkor Wat: tickets, when to go, and accessibility.

When Was Angkor Wat Built?

Khmer king Suyavarman II ordered the design and construction of Angkor Wat at the beginning of the 12th century to serve as his capital city.

The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka (“sacred dwelling of Vishnu) as it was originally intended as a Hindu temple site dedicated to the deity Vishnu. After the death of king Suyavarman II, Angkor Wat gradually became a Buddhist worship center and continued to serve as such until now — this explains the change of name (Angkor Wat means “city of temples”).

Although parts of the site have been neglected throughout the centuries, Angkor Wat was never completely abandoned. It started attracting the attention of Westerners from the 16th century when Portuguese friar António de Madalena wrote:

“(It) is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

Today, Angkor Wat is a living UNESCO Heritage Site where the local population keeps ancestral traditions alive. Local believers still venerate the site’s deities and regularly perform ancient rituals and prayers. The site was also home to a ancient hospital and medicine university and the area is still an important center for the care and use of medicinal plants.

Is Angkor Wat Worth Seeing?

There is nothing quite like Angkor Wat. Yet, Westerners have compared the site to the best remains of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and to the grandeur of the Pyramids.

The site is a powerful and iconic symbol of Cambodia and a source of great national pride. A representation of Angkor Wat has been featured on all Cambodian national flags since the design of its first version in 1863.

Because of its well-preserved state and exquisite architecture and decorations, Angkor Wat is the most popular attraction in the country with foreign visitors who every year fly to Cambodia to admire it.

The monument is often praised for grandeur and harmony, a prime example of Khmer architecture. Visitors can expect to see:

  • Khmer towers shaped like lotus buds
  • Galleries and cruciform terraces
  • Rich decorative elements like devatas and apsaras, bas-reliefs, and pediments
  • Basins, dikes, reservoirs, and canals

Angkor Wat: Ticket and Accessibility

Angkor Wat opening time is 5 am to allow visitors to see the sunrise from this privileged spot — it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The closing time is 5:30 pm.

Angkor Wat ticket prices vary depending on how much time you intend to spend within the site. A single-day ticket costs $37, a three-day entrance is worth $67 and if you wish to have access for a whole week, you’ll need to purchase a $72 pass. Around 30% of ticket revenues are spent on temple maintenance.

Most visitors deciding where to stay to visit Angkor Wat opt for Siem Reap, which is just 7 km away. Many guided tours also start here. Once in the area, you have a range of options to get around, from motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks to private cars and minivans.

While exploring Angkor Wat, be mindful that you are in a sacred religious site. This means that visitors are expected to be respectful and dress modestly. The higher parts of Angkor Wat cannot be entered unless both your upper arms and legs are covered.

Remember also that you are in Cambodia and need to observe the local customs and laws. These include not sitting cross-legged inside a temple, respecting the monks, and respecting the terms of your Online Visa for Cambodia.

What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is open all year round. Peak season is considered to be between November and February. During this time, the weather is dry and allows for a more comfortable visit. However, remember that temperatures can get pretty high and the best time of the day to visit is sunrise when it’s cooler.

Keep in mind that Angkor Wat is an extensive area with much to see. 3 hours is the minimum time you can dedicate to your visit, but a half-day will give you a better opportunity to explore this Cambodian archaeological treasure.