The traveller's first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, is matched by only a few select spots on earth. Built by Suryavarman II (r 1112–52) and surrounded by a vast moat, the temple is one of the most inspired monuments ever conceived by the human mind.

Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of Cambodia: it is the national symbol, the epicentre of Khmer civilisation and a source of fierce national pride. It was never abandoned to the elements and has been in virtually continuous use since it was built.

Simply unique, it is a stunning blend of spirituality and symmetry, an enduring example of humanity’s devotion to its gods. Relish the very first approach, as that spine-tingling moment when you emerge on the inner causeway will rarely be felt again. It is the best-preserved temple at Angkor, and repeat visits are rewarded with previously unnoticed details.

What is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat – built by Suryavarman II (r 1112–52) – is the earthly representation of Mount Meru, the Mount Olympus of the Hindu faith, and the abode of ancient gods. The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale, and symmetry, culminating in what is believed to be the world’s largest religious building.

The temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride. Unlike the other Angkor monuments, it was never abandoned to the elements and has been in virtually continuous use since it was built.

Its Etymology

The modern name, Angkor Wat (alternate name: Nokor Wat), means "Temple City" or "City of Temples" in Khmer; Angkor meaning "city" or "capital city", is a vernacular form of the word nokor, which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara. Wat is the Khmer word for "temple grounds", also derived from Sanskrit vāṭa, meaning "enclosure".

The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka (Sanskrit), which means the sacred dwelling of Vishnu.

What does it mean?

Eleanor Mannikka explains in her book Angkor Wat: Time, Space and Kingship that the spatial dimensions of Angkor Wat parallel the lengths of the four ages (Yuga) of classical Hindu thought. Thus the visitor to Angkor Wat who walks the causeway to the main entrance and through the courtyards to the final main tower, which once contained a statue of Vishnu, is metaphorically travelling back to the first age of the creation of the universe.

Like the other temple-mountains of Angkor, Angkor Wat also replicates the spatial universe in miniature. The central tower is Mount Meru, with its surrounding smaller peaks, bounded in turn by continents (the lower courtyards) and the oceans (the moat). The seven-headed naga (mythical serpent) becomes a symbolic rainbow bridge for humankind to reach the abode of the gods.

While Suryavarman II may have planned Angkor Wat as his funerary temple or mausoleum, he was never buried there as he died in battle during a failed expedition to subdue the Dai Viet (Vietnamese).

Below is the glimpse of Angkor Wat Temple in 360o viewing:

Angkor Wat History

Foundation & Expansion

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.

According to a myth, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to the 13th-century Chinese traveller Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect. 

The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. 

As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as "Varah Vishnu-lok" after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished. 

The term Vrah Viṣṇuloka or Parama Viṣṇuloka literally means "The king who has gone to the supreme world of Vishnu", which refer to Suryavarman II posthumously and intend to venerate his glory and memory.

Ancient wars and transformation

In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.

Towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu centre of worship to Buddhism, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was largely neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned. 

Fourteen inscriptions dated from the 17th century discovered in Angkor area testify to Japanese Buddhist pilgrims that had established small settlements alongside Khmer locals. At that time, the temple was thought by the Japanese visitors as the famed Jetavana garden of the Buddha, which originally located in the kingdom of Magadha, India. 

The best-known inscription tells of Ukondayu Kazufusa, who celebrated the Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat in 1632.

Western Discovery

One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese friar who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of." 

In 1860, the temple was effectively rediscovered by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularised 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. 

Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, found it difficult to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as ancient Rome. His reports inspired the French government, already an established presence in Indochina, to study the ruins. 

The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during subsequent clearing and restoration work. There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement, including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. 

Instead there is only the evidence of the monuments themselves. An exploration commission began drawing up a list of principal monuments. Subsequent missions copied inscriptions written on Angkor buildings so scholars might translate them and learn something of Angkor's history.

The splendid artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on 11 August 1863 and invading Siam to take control of the ruins. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Siamese (Thai) control since AD 1351 (Manich Jumsai 2001), or by some accounts, AD 1431. 

By 1885 they had worked up a chronology of the rulers and developed the outlines of a description of the civilization that had produced the temple complex. In 1898 the French decided to commit substantial funds to Angkor's preservation. 

Centuries of neglect had permitted the jungle to recapture many of the more significant structures, and unless efforts were made to free the buildings from the embrace of huge banyan and silk-cotton trees, they might soon be crushed to destruction.

Angkor Wat's aesthetics were also on display in the plaster cast museum of Louis Delaporte called musée Indo-chinois which existed in the Parisian Trocadero Palace from c.1880 to the mid-1920s.

The 20th century saw considerable restoration of Angkor Wat. Gradually teams of laborers and archeologists pushed back the jungle and exposed the expanses of stone, permitting the sun once again to illuminate the dark corners of the temple. 

Angkor Wat caught the attention and imagination of wider audience in Europe when the pavilion of French protectorate of Cambodia, as part of French Indochina, recreated the life-size replica of Angkor Wat during Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931. 

Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time. It is safe to say that from the colonial period onwards until the site's nomination as UNESCO World Heritage in 1992, this specific temple of Angkor Wat was instrumental in the formation of the modern and gradually globalized concept of built cultural heritage. 

Khmer Rouge, Art Thieves, Damages, and international acknowledgement

Restoration work was interrupted by the Cambodian Civil War and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period. Camping Khmer Rouge forces used whatever wood remained in the building structures for firewood, and a shoot-out between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces put a few bullet holes in a bas relief. 

Far more damage was done after the wars, by art thieves working out of Thailand, which, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, claimed almost every head that could be lopped off the structures, including reconstructions.

The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia's diplomatic relations with France, the United States and its neighbour Thailand. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863. 

From a larger historical and even transcultural perspective, however, the temple of Angkor Wat did not become a symbol of national pride sui generis but had been inscribed into a larger politico-cultural process of French-colonial heritage production in which the original temple site was presented in French colonial and universal exhibitions in Paris and Marseille between 1889 and 1937. 

In December 2015, it was announced that a research team from University of Sydney had found a previously unseen ensemble of buried towers built and demolished during the construction of Angkor Wat, as well as massive structure of unknown purpose on its south side and wooden fortifications. 

The findings also include evidence of low-density residential occupation in the region, with a road grid, ponds, and mounds. These indicate that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been used exclusively by the priestly elite, as was previously thought. The team used LiDAR, ground-penetrating radar and targeted excavation to map Angkor Wat.

How was Angkor Wat built?

The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat was built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. The logistics of such an operation are mind-blowing, consuming the labour of thousands. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants. It was not fully completed.

Angkor Wat Architecture

Site and plan

Angkor Wat is a unique combination of the temple mountain (the standard design for the empire's state temples) and the later plan of concentric galleries. The construction of Angkor Wat also suggests that there was a celestial significance with certain features of the temple. 

This is observed in the temple's east–west orientation, and lines of sight from terraces within the temple that show specific towers to be at the precise location of the sunrise on a solstice. 

The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolizes the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat symbolize the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean. Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level. 

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many (including Maurice Glaize and George Coedès) to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple. Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order. 

Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services. The archaeologist Charles Higham also describes a container which may have been a funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower. 

It has been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the disposal of a corpse. Freeman and Jacques, however, note that several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat's alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.

Drawing on the temple's alignment and dimensions, and on the content and arrangement of the bas-reliefs, researcher Eleanor Mannikka argues that the structure represents a claimed new era of peace under King Suryavarman II: "as the measurements of solar and lunar time cycles were built into the sacred space of Angkor Wat, this divine mandate to rule was anchored to consecrated chambers and corridors meant to perpetuate the king's power and to honour and placate the deities manifest in the heavens above." 

Mannikka's suggestions have been received with a mixture of interest and scepticism in academic circles. She distances herself from the speculations of others, such as Graham Hancock, that Angkor Wat is part of a representation of the constellation Draco. 

The Angkor Wat temple's main tower aligns to the morning sun of the Spring Equinox.

Style

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts. The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime has been suggested. 

The temple has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style." 

Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half-galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Typical decorative elements are devatas (or apsaras), bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes.

The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work. Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors. 

Features

Outer enclosure

The outer wall, 1,024 m (3,360 ft) by 802 m (2,631 ft) and 4.5 m (15 ft) high, is surrounded by a 30 m (98 ft) apron of open ground and a moat 190 m (620 ft) wide and over 5 kilometres (3 mi) in perimeter. 

The moat extends 1.5 kilometres from east to west and 1.3 kilometres from north to south. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge. 

There are gopuras at each of the cardinal points; the western is by far the largest and has three ruined towers. Glaize notes that this gopura both hides and echoes the form of the temple proper. Under the southern tower is a statue of Vishnu, known as Ta Reach, which may originally have occupied the temple's central shrine. 

Galleries run between the towers and as far as two further entrances on either side of the gopura often referred to as "elephant gates", as they are large enough to admit those animals. These galleries have square pillars on the outer (west) side and a closed wall on the inner (east) side. 

The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the west face of the wall with dancing figures; and the east face of the wall with balustered windows, dancing male figures on prancing animals, and devatas, including (south of the entrance) the only one in the temple to be showing her teeth.

The outer wall encloses a space of 820,000 square metres (203 acres), which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets. 

Most of the area is now covered by forest. A 350 m (1,150 ft) causeway connects the western gopura to the temple proper, with naga balustrades and six sets of steps leading down to the city on either side. 

Each side also features a library with entrances at each cardinal point, in front of the third set of stairs from the entrance, and a pond between the library and the temple itself. The ponds are later additions to the design, as is the cruciform terrace guarded by lions connecting the causeway to the central structure.

Central structure

The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. Mannikka interprets these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu.

Each gallery has a gopura at each of the points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx with the central tower. Because the temple faces west, the features are all set back towards the east, leaving more space to be filled in each enclosure and gallery on the west side; for the same reason the west-facing steps are shallower than those on the other sides.

The outer gallery measures 187 m (614 ft) by 215 m (705 ft), with pavilions rather than towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. 

Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (the "Hall of a Thousand Gods"). Buddha images were left in the cloister by pilgrims over the centuries, although most have now been removed. 

This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. The four small courtyards marked out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water. North and south of the cloister are libraries.

Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas abound on the walls, singly or in groups of up to four. 

The second-level enclosure is 100 m (330 ft) by 115 m (377 ft), and may originally have been flooded to represent the ocean around Mount Meru. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery. The very steep stairways represent the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods. 

This inner gallery, called the Bakan, is a 60 m (200 ft) square with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. 

Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. The tower above the central shrine rises 43 m (141 ft) to a height of 65 m (213 ft) above the ground; unlike those of previous temple mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four. 

The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas. 

In 1934, the conservator George Trouvé excavated the pit beneath the central shrine: filled with sand and water it had already been robbed of its treasure, but he did find a sacred foundation deposit of gold leaf two metres above ground level.

Decoration

Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat's extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. 

Higham has called these, "the greatest known linear arrangement of stone carving". From the north-west corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). 

On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hinduism. 

On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, showing 92 asuras and 88 devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the sea under Vishnu's direction (Mannikka counts only 91 asuras, and explains the asymmetrical numbers as representing the number of days from the winter solstice to the spring equinox, and from the equinox to the summer solstice). 

It is followed by Vishnu defeating asuras (a 16th-century addition). The northern gallery shows Krishna's victory over Bana (where according to Glaize, "The workmanship is at its worst").

Angkor Wat is decorated with depictions of apsaras and devata; there are more than 1,796 depictions of devata in the present research inventory. Angkor Wat architects employed small apsara images (30 cm (12 in)–40 cm (16 in)) as decorative motifs on pillars and walls. 

They incorporated larger devata images (all full-body portraits measuring approximately 95 cm (37 in)–110 cm (43 in)) more prominently at every level of the temple from the entry pavilion to the tops of the high towers. In 1927, Sappho Marchal published a study cataloging the remarkable diversity of their hair, headdresses, garments, stance, jewellery and decorative flowers, which Marchal concluded were based on actual practices of the Angkor period. 

Construction techniques

The stones, as smooth as polished marble, were laid without mortar with very tight joints that are sometimes hard to find. The blocks were held together by mortise and tenon joints in some cases, while in others they used dovetails and gravity. 

The blocks were presumably put in place by a combination of elephants, coir ropes, pulleys and bamboo scaffolding. Henri Mouhot noted that most of the blocks had holes 2.5 cm (0.98 in) in diameter and 3 cm (1.2 in) deep, with more holes on the larger blocks. 

Some scholars have suggested that these were used to join them together with iron rods, but others claim they were used to hold temporary pegs to help manoeuvre them into place.

The monument was made out of 5 to 10 million sandstone blocks with a maximum weight of 1.5 tons each. In fact, the entire city of Angkor used up far greater amounts of stone than all the Egyptian pyramids combined, and occupied an area significantly greater than modern-day Paris. 

Moreover, unlike the Egyptian pyramids which use limestone quarried barely 0.5 km (0.31 mi) away all the time, the entire city of Angkor was built with sandstone quarried 40 km (25 mi) (or more) away. 

This sandstone had to be transported from Mount Kulen, a quarry approximately 25 miles (40 km) to the northeast. The route has been suggested to span 35 kilometres (22 mi) along a canal towards Tonlé Sap lake, another 35 kilometres (22 mi) crossing the lake, and finally 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) against the current along Siem Reap River, making a total journey of 90 kilometres (56 mi). 

However, Etsuo Uchida and Ichita Shimoda of Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan have discovered in 2011 a shorter 35-kilometre (22 mi) canal connecting Mount Kulen and Angkor Wat using satellite imagery. The two believe that the Khmer used this route instead. 

Virtually all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and even roofs are carved. There are miles of reliefs illustrating scenes from Indian literature including unicorns, griffins, winged dragons pulling chariots as well as warriors following an elephant-mounted leader and celestial dancing girls with elaborate hair styles. 

The gallery wall alone is decorated with almost 1,000 square metres of bas reliefs. Holes on some of the Angkor walls indicate that they may have been decorated with bronze sheets. These were highly prized in ancient times and were a prime target for robbers. 

While excavating Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a stonemason and sculptor, recreated a stone sculpture under 4 feet (1.2 m), this took about 60 days to carve. Roger Hopkins and Mark Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12 quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone. 

The labour force to quarry, transport, carve and install so much sandstone must have run into the thousands including many highly skilled artisans. The skills required to carve these sculptures were developed hundreds of years earlier, as demonstrated by some artefacts that have been dated to the seventh century, before the Khmer came to power.

Angkor Wat today

Restoration and conservation

As with most other ancient temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat has faced extensive damage and deterioration by a combination of plant overgrowth, fungi, ground movements, war damage and theft. The war damage to Angkor Wat's temples however has been very limited, compared to the rest of Cambodia's temple ruins, and it has also received the most attentive restoration.

The restoration of Angkor Wat in the modern era began with the establishment of the Conservation d'Angkor (Angkor Conservancy) by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) in 1908; before that date, activities at the site were primarily concerned with exploration. 

The Conservation d'Angkor was responsible for the research, conservation, and restoration activities carried out at Angkor until the early 1970s, and a major restoration of Angkor was undertaken in the 1960s. However, work on Angkor was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge era and the Conservation d'Angkor was disbanded in 1975. 

Between 1986 and 1992, the Archaeological Survey of India carried out restoration work on the temple, as France did not recognise the Cambodian government at the time. Criticisms have been raised about both the early French restoration attempts and particularly the later Indian work, with concerns over damage done to the stone surface by the use of chemicals and cement. 

In 1992, following an appeal for help by Norodom Sihanouk, Angkor Wat was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage in Danger (later removed in 2004) and World Heritage Site together with an appeal by UNESCO to the international community to save Angkor. 

Zoning of the area was set up to protect the Angkor site in 1994, APSARA was established in 1995 to protect and manage the area, and a law to protect Cambodian heritage was passed in 1996. 

A number of countries such as France, Japan and China are currently involved in various Angkor Wat conservation projects. The German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP) is working to protect the devatas, and other bas-reliefs which decorate the temple, from damage. 

The organisation's survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier restoration efforts. 

Other work involves the repair of collapsed sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse: the west facade of the upper level, for example, has been buttressed by scaffolding since 2002, while a Japanese team completed restoration of the north library of the outer enclosure in 2005. 

World Monuments Fund began conservation work on the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery in 2008 after several years of studies on its condition. The project restored the traditional Khmer roofing system and removed cement used in earlier restoration attempts that had resulted in salts entering the structure behind the bas-relief, discoloring and damaging the sculpted surfaces. The main phase of work ended in 2012, with the final component being the installation of finials on the roof of the gallery in 2013.

Microbial biofilms have been found degrading sandstone at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and the Bayon and West Prasat in Angkor. The dehydration- and radiation-resistant filamentous cyanobacteria can produce organic acids that degrade the stone. 

A dark filamentous fungus was found in internal and external Preah Khan samples, while the alga Trentepohlia was found only in samples taken from external, pink-stained stone at Preah Khan. Replicas have been made to replace some of the lost or damaged sculptures.

Tourism Boom

Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. In 1993, there were only 7,650 visitors to the site; by 2004, government figures show that 561,000 foreign visitors had arrived in Siem Reap province that year, approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia. 

The number reached over a million in 2007, and over two million by 2012. Most visited Angkor Wat, which received over two million foreign tourists in 2013, and 2.6 million by 2018. The site was managed by the private SOKIMEX group between 1990 and 2016, which rented it from the Cambodian government. 

The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little damage, other than some graffiti; ropes and wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and floors, respectively. 

Tourism has also provided some additional funds for maintenance—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by teams sponsored by foreign governments rather than by the Cambodian authorities.

Since Angkor Wat has seen significant growth in tourism throughout the years, UNESCO and its International Co-ordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC), in association with representatives from the Royal Government and APSARA, organised seminars to discuss the concept of "cultural tourism". 

Wanting to avoid commercial and mass tourism, the seminars emphasised the importance of providing high quality accommodation and services in order for the Cambodian government to benefit economically, while also incorporating the richness of Cambodian culture. 

In 2001, this incentive resulted in the concept of the "Angkor Tourist City" which would be developed with regard to traditional Khmer architecture, contain leisure and tourist facilities, and provide luxurious hotels capable of accommodating large numbers of tourists. 

The prospect of developing such large tourist accommodations has encountered concerns from both APSARA and the ICC, claiming that previous tourism developments in the area have neglected construction regulations and more of these projects have the potential to damage landscape features. 

Also, the large scale of these projects has begun to threaten the quality of the nearby town's water, sewage, and electricity systems. It has been noted that such high frequency of tourism and growing demand for quality accommodations in the area, such as the development of a large highway, has had a direct effect on the underground water table, subsequently straining the structural stability of the temples at Angkor Wat. 

Locals of Siem Reap have also voiced concern that the charm and atmosphere of their town have been compromised in order to entertain tourism. Since this local atmosphere is the key component to projects like Angkor Tourist City, the local officials continue to discuss how to successfully incorporate future tourism without sacrificing local values and culture. 

At the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2012, it was agreed that Borobudur and Angkor Wat would become sister sites and the provinces sister provinces.

Special features of Angkor Wat

Western orientation

Symbolically, west is the direction of death, which once led a large number of scholars to conclude that Angkor Wat must have existed primarily as a tomb. This idea was supported by the fact that the magnificent bas-reliefs of the temple were designed to be viewed in an anticlockwise direction, a practice that has precedents in ancient Hindu funerary rites. Vishnu, however, is also frequently associated with the west, and it is now commonly accepted that Angkor Wat most likely served both as a temple and as a mausoleum for Suryavarman II.

Celestial nymphs

Angkor Wat is famous for having more than 3000 beguiling apsaras (heavenly nymphs) carved into its walls. Each of them is unique, and there are 37 different hairstyles for budding stylists to check out. Many of these exquisite apsaras were damaged during efforts to clean the temples with chemicals during the 1980s, but they are being restored by the teams with the German Apsara Conservation Project. Bat urine and droppings also degrade the restored carvings over time.

The level of detail

Visitors to Angkor Wat are struck by its imposing grandeur and, at close quarters, its fascinating decorative flourishes. Stretching around the outside of the central temple complex is an 800m-long series of intricate and astonishing bas-reliefs – carvings depicting historical events and stories from mythology.

Planning your trip to Angkor Wat

Best time to visit Angkor Wat

It is possible to visit Angkor Wat at any time of year, but peak season is from November to February, when the weather is dry and cooler, although it is still hot for most. 

The best time of day to visit Angkor Wat is sunrise when it is cooler but crowded, or lunchtime when most of the tour groups are in town.

Here is more detail about Best time to visit Angkor Wat to have the best of your Angkor Wat tours

Where is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is located in Cambodia, just 3.7 miles (six kilometers) north of Siem Reap, a popular tourist town and the usual base for visiting Angkor Wat.

The primary Angkor Wat site is spread over 402 acres, but Khmer ruins are scattered far across Cambodia. New sites are discovered beneath the jungle foliage each year.

Check the location of Angkor Wat on Google Maps for your reference

How to Get There?

The nearby town of Siem Reap can be reached via good roads from Phnom Penh and buses and taxis make the trip regularly. Those preferring to travel by boat can also make the trip from Phnom Penh in some five or six hours—about the same travel time as by road. The airport in Siem Reap has service to Phnom Penh and regular flights abroad to Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Laos.

Here is the dedicated article about Where is Angkor Wat and How to Get there

How to Visit?

The fast-growing town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor and is filled with lodging, dining, and tour-package options for all budgets and inclinations. Tour buses are available for those whose itineraries match what’s on offer—typically visits to Angkor’s major sites. Those interested in exploring more remote and off-the-beaten-track structures may hire cars or motorbikes with drivers and/or guides who are also able to suggest itineraries. Tethered balloon rides offer a unique aerial perspective from which to view the grand design of the Angkor complex.

Angkor Wat Map

Check the below map plan of Angkor Wat for your reference. If you want to see the map of the whole complex, check this link

How long you will need?

Plan at least three hours to explore the temple, but more like half a day if you want to explore every nook and cranny.

Beyond Angkor Wat, if you want to explore the whole complex, we recommend spending at least 3 days here.

Opening hours

Angkor Wat opens at 5am for visitors who want to see the sunrise from this iconic spot. The upper level (Bakan Sanctuary) is only open from 7.30am. Angkor Wat closes at 6pm.

Angkor Wat Entrance Fee

Below are the Entrance Fees to the Angkor Temples Complex (including Angkor Wat)

  • Single day (1-day) pass – $37.00
  • Three-day (3-day) pass – $62.00
  • Seven-day (7-day) pass – $72.00

According to the rules, the 3-day pass is good for use within 10 days from the issue date. The 7-day pass, on the other hand, is good for use 1 month from the issue date. That way, both passes can be used at the Angkor Wat complex, even if is not used through consecutive days.

Where to stay?

Siem Reap is just 7km from Angkor Wat and is the base for exploring the temples. Check out Siem Reap Travel Guide for more detail

Angkor Wat Restaurant

There are plenty of restaurants near Angkor Wat, below are 2 of them that we usually recommend to our clients.

Blue Pumpkin - Angkor Cafe

Blue Pumpkin is a popular name in urban hubs, with the bakery and restaurant serving up a range of reliable Asian and French meals as well as baked goods, ice cream and sweet treats. The great news is it has opened a small branch just outside the entrance to Angkor Wat, and it opens early, which means if you don’t have time to grab breakfast before heading to the temples for sunrise, you can fuel up here. Be warned though, it fills up quickly at lunch time.

Angkor Reach Restaurant

If hunger strikes while exploring Angkor Wat and you fancy feasting like a local, then Angkor Reach Restaurant will hit the spot. The sprawling restaurant has plenty of tables and chairs in a basic set up – and believe it, they’re needed because this restaurant, which sits opposite Angkor Wat’s western causeway, fills up during peak times. It serves a range of Khmer, Chinese, Thai and international dishes.

Getting around

Choose from motors (motorbike taxis) for one person, remork-motors (tuk-tuks) for two, and private cars or minivans for families or small groups. Ecofriendly options include mountain bikes or electric bicycles. Guided tours can also be arranged in Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat Tours

People say that Angkor Wat is the most visited tourist site in the world. I am not sure if that’s true, but the good news is that whether it’s true or not, Angkor Wat is one of the most culturally and historically rich places in the world.

It also happens to be the world’s largest religious site. Its scale, architecture, and history have always conjured images of an exotic and faraway land in the minds of most foreigners, most of who will sadly never get to see this amazing place.

Full of ancient temples, wafting incense and smiling Buddhas, the Angkor Wat complex in all its splendor deserves one of the top spots on your dream itinerary.

If you are looking for a true experience, we have set out the full package of Angkor Discovery for your reference

Here is the list of Best Angkor Wat Tours that you can join for the best Angkor Wat Experience

Angkor Wat Books

Below are the 5 recommended books about Angkor Wat (click the image to enlarge the book cover):

Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples

  • Author: Dawn Rooney
  • Pages: 496
  • Published: Odyssey Books & Guides, 2011
  • Buy this book

Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship

  • Author: Eleanor Mannikka
  • Pages: 360
  • Published: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000
  • Buy this book

Khmer Mythology: Secrets of Angkor

  • Author: Vittorio Roveda
  • Pages: 181
  • Published: Weatherhill, 1997
  • Buy this book

Angkor Wat: Unearthing Ancient World

  • Author: Alison Behnke
  • Pages: 80
  • Published: Twenty-First Century Books, 2008
  • Buy this book

Sacred Angkor: The Carved Reliefs of Angkor Wat

  • Author: Vittorio Roveda
  • Pages: 290
  • Published: River Books, 2002
  • Buy this book

 

FAQs about Angkor Wat

1. Where is Angkor Wat?

Angkor Wat is located in Cambodia, just 3.7 miles (six kilometers) north of Siem Reap, a popular tourist town and the usual base for visiting Angkor Wat.

The primary Angkor Wat site is spread over 402 acres, but Khmer ruins are scattered far across Cambodia. New sites are discovered beneath the jungle foliage each year.

We have the dedicated article to explain about Where is Angkor Wat and how to get there?

2. What is the nearest airport to Angkor Wat?

The nearest airport to Angkor-Wat is Siem Reap (REP) Airport which is 5.4 km away. Other nearby airports include Ubon (UBP) (230.9 km), Phnom Penh (PNH) (232.4 km), Sihanoukville (KOS) (316 km) and Suvarnabhumi (BKK) (338.2 km).

3. Who built Angkor Wat, When, and How long did it take?

It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century, around the year 1110-1150, making Angkor Wat almost 900 years old. The temple complex, built in the capital of the Khmer Empire, took approximately 30 years to build.

4. What was Angkor Wat built for?

In the 12th century, King Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire began work on a 500-acre (200 hectare) temple in the capital city of Angkor, in what is now Cambodia. The complex was built to honor the Hindu god Vishnu, but 14th-century leaders converted the site into a Buddhist temple.

5. Why was Angkor Wat abandoned?

The cause of the Angkor empire's demise in the early 15th century long remained a mystery. But researchers have now shown that intense monsoon rains that followed a prolonged drought in the region caused widespread damage to the city's infrastructure, leading to its collapse.

6. When was Angkor Wat discovered and by whom?

The Angkor Wat Discovery is the somewhat controversial concept that refers to the visit of French naturalist Henri Mouhot to Angkor Wat in 1860 and the publication of his travel notes in 1863. These memoirs had an unprecedented reception in Europe and Mouhot was credited with the discovery of the "lost city of Angkor".

7. Was Angkor Wat slaves built?

Angkor was built by human labor power. Hundreds of thousands of slaves put their sweat, their blood and their whole lives into its construction. Their experiences and abilities led them to solve the technical and engineering problems, as well as to create the great art works.

8. Is Angkor Wat a 7 Wonders of the World?

Angkor Wat, the largest and oldest religious monument in the world, is increasingly becoming a must-see monument in Asia. Now, the temple is part of Angkor World Heritage Site and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The name, Angkor Wat, means “Temple City” in Khmer.

9. What is inside Angkor Wat?

A sandstone causeway served as the main access point for the temple. Inside these walls, Angkor Wat stretches across more than 200 acres. It's believed that this area included the city, the temple structure and the emperor's palace, which was just north of the temple.

10. What about Angkor Wat Dinosaur?

There are some mysterious dinosaur carvings at Ta Prohm Temple. We have a dedicated about this Cambodia’s Tomb Raider Temple.

11. How big is Angkor Wat?

There is 820,000 Square meters of land within the Outer Walls of Angkor Wat.

The Outer Wall of Angkor Wat measures 1024 meters by 802 meters in circumference.

The Outer Wall is 4½ meters tall and surrounded by a watery Moat, which is 190 meters across.

In total, Angkor Wat’s land area makes it 163ha

These numbers remain consistent in every part of the temple.

Angkor Wat Gallery

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Here is how to chase your Angkor Wat Sunrise

Angkor Wat Sunset

Here is how to chase your Angkor Wat Sunset

Angkor Wat Carvings

Here is our dedicated article about Angkor Wat Carvings

Angkor Wat Monkeys

Angkor Wat Wallpapers (1920*1080)

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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