Angkor is a region of Cambodia rich in the country’s history and home to the Angkor Archaeological Park, where you’ll find none other than the world’s largest religious structure, Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is the port which serves as your gateway to this ancient marvel and it’s a mainstay of all Mekong river itineraries, some of which offer you multiple days in port, giving you more time to explore. Angkor Wat certainly has a long history and has spent time as both a Hindu then a Buddhist temple complex since its construction in the 12th century by the Khmer king Suryavarman II. It served as a spectacular centre-point to his empire, his state temple and ultimately, his mausoleum and today, it survives as the single biggest reason why so many river cruisers choose to explore Cambodia.
Most excursions to Angkor understandably begin with a trip to Angkor Wat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and Cambodian national symbol truly is an awesome spectacle and when you consider that the outer wall is 2.2 miles long, you’ll realise why it takes a little time to get around. Angkor Wat was something of an architectural first too, as it consisted of both the central temple mountain structure favoured by the Khmer Empire and a plan of outer galleries. The central part of the structure represents Mount Meru, home of the gods, with the distinctive towers which immediately identify Angkor Wat representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The outer walls represent surrounding mountain ranges and access to higher levels of the temple was restricted to only the privileged. Today of course, you’ll enjoy much more freedom of movement than the Khmer laity did and be able to take in some truly stunning carved stonework during your explorations.
Although Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the main attraction, it is in fact the entirety of the Angkor Archaeological Park that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and depending on the duration of your stay, you’ll have the opportunity to see more of the park. Angkor Thom is another must-see, a royal city constructed shortly after Angkor Wat. Its name translates as ‘Great City’ and indeed, it was and certainly for all modern day visitors, it still is. Angkor Thom was the last surviving capital of the Khmer Empire and covers over five square miles of land. Unsurprisingly, there are some celebrated sights on show here, such as the expertly-carved Terrace of Elephants. At the centre of the ancient city lies one of Cambodia’s most celebrated ancient temples and always a popular site with many river cruise excursion itineraries, Bayon. The state temple of King Jayavarman VII, it is perhaps most famous for the huge and dramatic stone faces which are carved into its towers, as well as its beautiful bias relief carvings.
You’ll ideally need to spend at least two days exploring to get the most out of Angkor, and thankfully, most Mekong itineraries will allow you this. Be sure to take care and wear strong walking shoes or boots if exploring the temples and remember to take plenty of water, too.