Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s crowning glory of ancient architecture.
The paramount monument found in the Angkor Archeological Park, Angkor Wat is one of the world’s largest, and most exquisitely built religious structures. Constructed over a 30 year period in the early 12th century, the ancient temple has become a national symbol of Cambodia, and appears on the country’s flag.
To reach the imposing structure, visitors walk across an ancient stone bridge that spans the wide moat that surrounds Angkor Wat. Khmer architects used moats and water tanks as both defense structures and reservoirs to catch rainwater for the city’s consumption and the irrigation of crops.
The structure was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Vishnu before the spread of Buddhism in the Khmer Empire in the late 13th century. The long gallery halls of the building are capped by three pyramid-like towers that represent Mount Meru, the abode of Hindu gods. The galleries, surprisingly cool throughout the day, are covered in incredibly detailed bas-relief carvings detailing the Reamker, the Khmer Empire’s version of the Ramayana Hindu epic. These ancient carvings seem to dance with a life of their own as you wander through the high-ceilinged corridors watching Hindu gods battle the forces of darkness for supremacy over creation.
At the center of the structure, visitors find an open air courtyard where the pyramid-like spires reach into the sky. A short, thrilling climb up the stair-like edifice deposits visitors into the sanctuaries of the spires. Shiva Lingam, stone idols representing the cosmic might of the Hindu deity Shiva, would have once been enshrined here, but the Khmer Empire’s conversion to Buddhism resulted in the removal of these idols. Today, you’re more likely than not to find a Buddhist monk wrapped in an orange rob lost in meditation and wreathed by the smoke of burning incense sticks inside the spire shrines.
Best Time to Visit Angkor Wat: The best weather to visit Angkor Wat is between the months of December and May when the atmosphere is dry and the temperature relatively low. Higher temperatures begin to blanket the land in June and continue through November. Short but powerful bursts of rain are common during this time of year, which help cool the atmosphere in the mornings and early afternoons. The extra precipitation fills the water tanks and moats around Angkor Wat, and the still waters that reflect the ancient temple makes the entire compound that much more stunning.
How to get to Angkor Wat: Angkor Wat is the pivotal monument in the Angkor Archeological Park. The park is a short drive from the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia’s northwestern region. Guests on our luxury tours of Cambodia reach the area in a private vehicle along with their English speaking tour guide.
Angkor Wat Highlights: Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s paramount attraction. It’s been one of the most talked about ancient structures in Asia since French colonials hacked through the jungle in the 1920s and began to excavate the Angkor Archeological Park. No trip to Cambodia would be complete without visiting this splendid temple.
Appropriate Attire: Western-style clothing choices are fine. Dress for hot weather to explore Angkor Wat and the hundreds of other temples in the area. A good pair of shoes is recommended over sandals.
Angkor Thom is the largest of the former capital cities of the Khmer Empire found in the Angkor Archeological Park.
Built by King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century, Angkor Thom is a sprawling 4-square-mile city surrounded by a massive wall and broad moat. Wars with neighboring Kingdoms prompted Jayavarman VII to build Angkor Thom just a mile or so behind the previous capital of Angkor Wat to protect his kingdom from invasions. It would remain the capital until sometime in the 16th century when the entire area was abandoned for unclear reasons.
The city’s gates are frescoed with gigantic carvings depicting the Reamker, the Khmer Empire’s adaptation of the Hinu epic Ramayana. Bayon Temple is at the heart of the walled city, and all roads run directly towards the central structure. Bayon is the single Mahayana Buddhist shrine in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Significantly larger than Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple is the Khmer Empire’s most massive representation of Mount Meru, where deities in the Hindu religion reside. It’s wide, blockish shape narrows towards the top giving it the profile of a pyramid. The galleries that ring the outside of the structure feature bas-relief carvings depicting historical events such as wars with neighboring kingdoms, daily life in the city, as well as temple ceremonies. The tower in the center of the compound once held the seated Buddha image that’s enshrined in a small pavilion at Angkor Wat.
Best Time to Visit Angkor Thom: The months between December and May have the best weather to explore the massive ruins of Angkor Thom. Temperatures begin to rise quickly in June, and continue to spike into November as the rainy season sweeps the land. While these months are hotter, the extra precipitation that comes with the heat fills the moats and water tanks in the Angkor Archeological Park, making the ruins particularly beautiful during this period.
How to get to Angkor Thom: Angkor Thom is about a mile from Angkor Wat in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Our guests typical reach the area in a private vehicle with their English speaking tour guide as part of their explorations of Cambodia.
Angkor Thom Highlights: Angkor Thom is the most monumental of the Khmer Empire’s sta
Appropriate Attire: Dress for warm weather, but wear a stout pair of shoes. The remains of the Khmer Empire spread for miles, and there is far more than can be seen in a single day.
The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh has housed Cambodia’s royalty since the late 19th century.
The Royal Palace was completed in 1866 after the capital of Cambodia was moved to Phnom Penh from the city of Oudong. King Norodom had been seeking protection from the rising power of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand), and brokered a deal for Cambodia to become a protectorate and colony under French Indochina in 1863. After the agreement was reached, the capital of Cambodia was moved to Phnom Penh, and a French governor was installed.
The Royal Palace’s compound is divided into four main sections spread through a lush garden.
The Throne Hall is a single story structure with a triangular roof capped by three golden spires. It was here that the business of Cambodia’s court was conducted on a daily basis. There are three royal thrones on display inside the hall. The largest is a traditional Khmer throne with nine stone tiers ascending like a pyramid. The other two are modern, European style chairs that appear to be infinitely more comfortable. Above the royal seats, frescoes on the ceiling tell the story of the Reamker, a Khmer version of the Hindu epic Ramayana.
The Moonlight Pavilion is an audience hall used a stage for performances of classical Khmer dances and operas. The building is still used for royal receptions, performances, and the occasional speech delivered by King Norodom Sihamoni, whose coronation feast took place here in 2004.
The Silver Pagoda is the royal chapel and sanctuary. Often called Wat Preah Keo, it houses several of Cambodia’s most revered Buddhist icons. There are numerous Buddha statues wrought from precious metals including gold within the shrine, but the Silver Pagoda’s diamond studded Maitreya Buddha image steals the limelight with more than 9,000 precious gems covering its surface. In the late 20th century Cambodia’s penultimate king, Norodom Sihanouk, had thousands of silver tiles inlayed into the temple’s floors, and it has since been called the Silver Pagoda.
The Khemarin Palace is the official residence of the King of Cambodia, and is separated from the rest of the compound by a low wall. Decidedly modest compared to the other structures on the grounds, the Khemarin Palace is rarely open to the public, but visitors can stroll around the outside for a better look.
Best Time to Visit Royal Palace: The Royal Palace is best visited between December and May during Cambodia’s dry season. The heat and humidity begin to rise in June, and continue to do so as the rainy season progresses through November. Powerful but short rain showers often blow through Phnom Penh during this time of year, bringing a welcome respite from the high temperatures.
How to get to Royal Palace: The Royal Palace is located near Phnom Penh’s Riverside, close to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. Our guests typically reach the area in a private vehicle while touring the city.
Royal Palace Highlights: The Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh’s foremost attractions. Its lush gardens, beautiful architecture, and priceless relics are some of the most memorable sights for our guests enjoying Cambodia tours.
Appropriate Attire: It’s best to dress in modest attire if you’re planning to visit the Royal Palace. Cambodian’s have a deep respect for anything associated with their country’s royal family, and the Silver Pagoda on the grounds is an important Buddhist religious site.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
The Khmer Rouge was a communist regime that that came to power in 1975 after the Cambodian Civil War. Over the course of four years, the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot systematically imprisoned, tortured, and executed an estimated 1 to 3 million Cambodian citizens.
Those connected to the former French colonial rule in Cambodia where the first to be imprisoned at sites like S-21, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. As Pol Pot’s reign continued, the educated and skilled were targeted as part of the Khmer Rouge’s attempts to return Cambodia to a purely agrarian society. As the prisons swelled, the Khmer Rouge began transporting prisoners to sites across the country for mass executions. The extermination camp of Choeung Ek became known as the Killing Fields after Pol Pot’s fall from power, and is believed to be the largest concentration of mass graves from that bloody era.
Some 17,000 people, many of them women and children, were executed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek between 1975 and 1978. Most of them were beaten to death with blunt objects to conserve ammunition. In the 1980s, the remains of almost 9,000 people were exhumed, but slightly less than half of the 129 mass graves were left uncovered but intact. Visitors to this genocide memorial can stroll through the former orchard where the grounds are punctuated with shallow pits filled with bones while listening to audio recordings from the few survivors, and a handful of guards that managed to leave the execution camp alive.
A Buddhist shrine was erected at the center of the memorial in the late ‘80s. The skulls of 8,000 victims, arranged by relative age, are encased in glass panels as a reminder of Cambodia’s conflict ridden recent past.
Best Time to Visit The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek: Cambodia’s weather is the most temperate during the dry season that runs between December and May. The monsoon season begins in June, and is marked by high temperatures that permeate the country through November. Short bursts of powerful rains are common in the mornings and afternoon during this period, which provides cooling relief, and resuscitates the country’s plant life.
How to get to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek: The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is located just a few miles south of Phnom Penh. Guests on our luxury tours of Cambodia can reach the memorial grounds via our private vehicle services while staying in the city.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek Highlights: The Cambodian government encourages tourists to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It provides visitors with a necessary look into the recent history that has shaped Cambodia.
Appropriate Attire: Western-style clothing choices are fine when visiting the memorial, but dressing modestly is advised as a sign of respect for the dead.
The National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia is the country’s finest repository of art and artifacts from the Khmer Empire that once ruled the area from present-day Thailand to southern Vietnam.
The museum is housed in an early 20th century colonial French interpretation of traditional Khmer architecture. George Groslier, the museum’s first curator, designed the building using Cambodian temples as a basis for his plans.
The National Museum of Cambodia is dived into four wings surrounding a lush central garden area. The galleries in each building are ordered chronologically with the leftmost pavilion’s displays showcasing sculptures from the era before the rise of Angkor Wat. Continuing clockwise around the compound, visitors can see the slow metamorphosis of Khmer art over the course of a millennium.
As one of the largest repositories of Buddhist and Hindu religious icons and artifacts in Cambodia, the National Museum has become an important center for Phnom Penh’s religious community. Orange robed Buddhist monks admiring the many ancient sculptures and offering prayers to Buddha statues are a common sight within the museum.
Best Time to Visit National Museum: Cambodia’s best weather falls between December and May during the temperate dry season. High temperatures begin to blanket the land in June, and continue through November during the rainy season. During this time of the year, short bursts of heavy rainfall in the mornings or afternoons help cool the atmosphere considerably.
How to get to National Museum: The National Museum of Cambodia is located just north of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Guests on our luxury tours of Cambodia usually reach the area in a private vehicle as part of their tour of Phnom Penh.
National Museum Highlights: The sculptures of the Khmer Empire are some of Southeast Asia’s most impressive works of art. The National Museum of Cambodia’s well curated displays of ancient artifacts should not be missed.
Appropriate Attire: Western-style apparel is appropriate inside the museum.