Siem Reap is an area located in the northwest part of Cambodia. Once the seat of power for the great Khmer Empire, this location is home to the most ornate temples and as such is the most popular tourist site for those taking a tour of Cambodia.
Angkor Wat temple, located in the northwestern portion of Cambodia, is the largest religious monument in the world. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, its history dates back to the end of the 12th century when its construction began under the reign of the Khmer Empire King Suryavarman II. Construction appears to have halted when Suryavarman died in 1150, leaving some portions of the complex unfinished. Angkor Wat is a classic example of Khmer Empire architecture, with a harmony of design and precisely planned proportions. Unlike other Khmer Empire temples, this one was constructed facing the west, which has caused some to theorize it was originally intended to be a funerary temple for Suryavarman. Originally dedicated to Vishnu as a Hindu temple, its use was gradually transformed into a Buddhist place of worship moving into the 14th century. Although slightly neglected towards the end of the 16th century, the temple was never overtaken by the jungle, largely due to the natural barrier created by the moat surrounding it. The Thai people were enthralled with it when they invaded to take over in 1431 and the French were also enamored with its splendor in the 19th century when they introduced it to the Western World. Henri Mouhot’s book in published in 1860 ‘Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos and Annam” is largely credited with causing the first big tourism boom to Angkor Wat. The French were part of the catalyst to inspire a major restoration project on the temple in the 20th century. The temple has been and still remains a powerful symbol of Cambodian national pride.