Divine in all senses of the word, Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious building. Built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, his aim was to go bigger and better than his predecessors. In the high classical style of Khmer architecture, it was first a Hindu temple, then Buddhist and now it has become an icon, appearing on the Cambodian flag since 1863, and attracting over half of the international visitors annually to Cambodia.
The place is massive and people spend a week or more exploring it. The outer wall stretches for 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers), there is a moat, and the building itself is three stepped rectangular galleries topped by a quincunx of towers - imagine the five spots on a dice and you've got the shape these five towers make. Along with the sheer size, there's the intricate decoration: bas reliefs in the galleries and devatas (guardian spirits) on the outer walls. This place is the perfect fusion of spiritual devotion and earthly egomania.
Day 1: Get an Overview
Angkor Wat is located about 3.5 mi (5.5 km) north of Siem Reap. On your first day take a tour of the old Royal Temples of Angkor to get a sense of what's where. Visit The Bayon, the centrepiece of the old city, and also the Baphuon Temple, the Royal Enclosure and the Phimeanakas, as well as the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of Leper Kings. But the best preserved and, of course, largest is Angkor Wat. On your first visit here, get a general overview and begin shortlisting what you want to explore on your return visits.
Day 2: Get Better Acquainted
If you're not quite ready to go it alone, take a tour out to the Roluos Temple Group, then spend the afternoon at Angkor Wat. For a magnificent sunset over the towers, climb up to Phnom Bakheng before sundown.
Day 3: Get Up Close
Today is your day to explore Angkor Wat at your leisure. The temple is an architectural impression of the sacred Mount Meru, home of the gods. The five towers represent the five peaks of the mountain. Get up close to the magnificent and extensive bas reliefs which interestingly go counter-clockwise, reverse direction to normal.
This, and the fact that Angkor Wat is oriented to the west instead of the usual east, leads some people to believe it was intended as King Suryavarman II’s mausoleum. Explore the galleries and the outer walls with their dancing figures, and lotus rosettes. Don't miss the celebrated Churning of the Sea of Milk in the eastern gallery, which the World Monuments Fund began restoring in 2008.
Angkor Wat is so special that the whole world pitches it to preserve and restore it. It is a World Heritage Site and Indian, German and other foreign government teams put in great effort and money to assist Cambodia in protecting this temple so that we can appreciate the beauty and vision that went into creating Angkor Wat.