Angkor Wat lies 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred at Baphuon. In an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures, it is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites.
It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Temple, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.
In the mid-19th century, the temple was visited by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularized the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, in which he wrote:
"One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.