The Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province is the world’s undisputed top tourist destination, according to Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist 2015, an exhaustive list ranking sights and travel hotspots that was released on Monday.
Cambodia’s national landmark scored 34 percent more votes than its closest competitor, the Peruvian ruins of Machu Picchu.
The destinations were ranked by a team of travel experts and authors on their “brilliance” and the resulting top 500 sites should be on every tourist’s must-visit list, according to a press release from Lonely Planet, which says it will publish a book of the locations.
The only other Asian destinations in the top 10 are the Great Wall of China and India’s Taj Mahal, coming in at four and five respectively, with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Peru’s Machu Picchu rounding out the top five.
“Even in a region as richly gifted with temples as Southeast Asia, Angkor is something out of the ordinary—a literal representation of heaven on earth, hewn from thousands of sandstone blocks and carved floor-to-ceiling with legends from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas,” the release says.
The ancient temples, which have topped similar polls by travel sites such as TripAdvisor, have fueled Cambodia’s modern tourism boom, with the latest figures showing 1.23 million foreign tourists visited the archaeological complex in the first six months of this year.
It was a slight drop in the number of visitors compared with the same period last year, according to Cambodia’s Apsara Authority, which blamed global factors such as the MERS virus outbreak in South Korea and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Though Apsara saw a slight drop in revenue and visitors in the first half, July saw a 5 percent bump in tourists compared to the same month last year, with about 160,000 coming to the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Tourism Ministry spokesman Tith Chantha said that coming in No. 1 on another list of global tourist attractions was great news for Cambodia.
“I feel so happy with this. More listings make Cambodia famous and will bring more tourists,” he said, adding that his ministry was working with Apsara to ensure the integrity of the temples. “There will be no problems because of more tourists.”
Apsara Authority spokeswoman Chau Sun Kerya agreed.
“We already have some procedures such as limiting the numbers who visit at a time,” she said.
Twenty years ago, Unesco suggested that the annual number of visitors should not exceed 700,000. But on Tuesday, country head Anne Lemaistre said the organization believed the huge volumes today could be managed.
“The [limited] capacity a temple can absorb at a certain moment…doesn’t mean that we should restrict the number of tourists in Angkor; it’s just a matter of organization—who is where at what time,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Jensen)
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Flight 370 was an AirAsia flight. It was a Malaysia Airlines flight.
© 2015, Huot Chanpav. All rights reserved.