Discovering what's wat in Siem Reap

Known best for the sprawling ancient city of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is home to many more sites of spiritual beauty, right in the centre of the action and just waiting to be explored. 


 Wat Preah Phrom Rath’s main Buddha image, sitting on a lotus base and named Preah Ang Chee Buddha.
Phnom Penh Post
Ancient Angkorian temples are Siem Reap’s main tourist draw card, but increasing numbers of travellers with a spiritual bent are discovering what’s what with local wats. Siem Reap is blessed with four major wats, or pagodas, in the downtown district, another five significant examples north of the town, and four in the south towards Tonle Sap.But Siem Reap’s most famous, Angkor Wat, is not a wat at all. In April 2000, researcher and author Ray Zepp noted, “Names of pagodas begin with the word wat, such as Wat Bo, Wat Sway or Wat Damnak. So why not say ‘Wat Angkor’ instead of ‘Angkor Wat’? The answer is that it is not a wat; it is a city (Angkor) in the form of a wat. So, in this case, ‘wat’ is an adjective modifying Angkor, just as Angkor Thom means ‘great Angkor’, with the adjective ‘thom’ as the modifier.”

Siem Reap’s four downtown wats are the most visited, with Wat Bo (Eastern Pagoda) the district’s largest and perhaps the most historic, having been founded in the 18th century.

Wat Kesseraram (Pagoda of the Cornflower Petals), next to Sokha Hotel, has one of the largest collections of Buddha paintings in the region. It’s an important meditation centre and also home to bones from the Khmer Rouge era. Pol Pot’s henchmen, figuring the wat was a symbol of excess, razed the school and built a torture chamber.

Wat Damnak is the principal pagoda in town, the centre of learning, and is believed to have been built about 1919. Khmer Rouge soldiers were housed here, but for some reason the buildings were left intact.

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