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HISTORY: [early-mid 1100s] At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It served as his state temple, though the temple's uncommon westward orientation has led some to suggest that it was constructed as his funerary temple.
The visual impact of Angkor Wat, particularly on one's first visit, is awesome. As you pass through the outer gate and get your first glimpse, its size and architecture make it appear two-dimensional. After you cross through the gate and approach the temple along the walkway, it slowly gains depth and complexity. Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five beehive-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 190m-wide, 5.5km long moat and an exterior wall measuring 1300m x 1500m. The entire area spreads over 2 sq km but the temple itself is 1km square and consists of three levels surmounted by a central tower. The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with magnificent bas-reliefs and carvings (more than 2000 Apsara carvings!).
ADVICE: Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor. However, visit Angkor Thom first to appreciate the beauty of the Apsara carvings and the bas-reliefs. Then, when you finally get to Angkor Wat, you'll be blown away by the almost 2000 distinctively rendered Apsara carvings that adorn the walls throughout the temple. You'll never forget the first time you find a perfect Apsara! In addition, the exterior walls of the lower level display the most extraordinary bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology, and the historical wars of Suryavarman II.
Also, you must visit Angkor Wat at the end of the day (preferably after 4pm; which is perfect coz Angkor Thom is best done in the morning). Not only do you escape the scorching midday heat, the colors of the sunset will take your breath away. Sit outside the temple (preferably with a dead-on view or from the southern reflecting pool - the one on the right when facing Angkor Wat) and watch the colors change on the stone walls. Alternatively, climb to the top level (not for the faint-hearted!) and watch the sun sink into the horizon. You'll never forget how Angkor Wat is set ablaze by the orange rays of the setting sun. Definitely do Angkor Wat at sunset first before doing the sunrise.
We didn't do this but if you do Angkor Wat at sunrise, stake out a position at the northern reflecting pool (the one on the left when facing Angkor Wat) well before sunrise (the grounds open at 4am). The sun will be rising behind the temples so stand to the north-west of the pool and wait for the silhouette of Angkor Wat's distinctively shaped towers against a colored sunrise sky to form. Some of the best colors appear just before the sun breaks over the horizon. Pictures of the temple itself is not great at this hour due to the backlighting.
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