For many thousands of years, the art of stone carving has flourished in Cambodia. From the small statues made by local artisans to the famous, breathtaking carvings found at Angkor Wat, stone carving has become one of the country's most cherished art forms. Stone carving has been both a passion and a livelihood for many a Cambodian sculptor and has, in recent decades, survived war, genocide (in which many of the country's artists were murdered by the Khmer Rouge), and tyranny to be passed on to a whole new generation of artists.

The art of stone carving in Cambodia is one that has a very long, fascinating history which goes back to the foundation of the Khmer nation.

Within the scope of this article, we will learn more about the history of Cambodia stone carvings and the legends & myth of the stone carvings inside Angkor Wat

The Art of Stone Carvings of Cambodia

Natural Materials

Behind the success of stone carving in Cambodia is the stone itself. The most popular stone used for carving is 400-million-year-old sandstone found in Banteay Meanchey, as well as Kompong Thom and Pursat. This type of stone is perfect for carving and has been used for all kinds of sculptures ranging from simple little stone sculptures to giant Buddhas.

Stone from Phnom Kulen is used for some of the more elaborate carvings, such as the temple carvings at Angkor Wat, but the Cambodian government has restricted usage of this stone for restoration purposes only.

The Beginnings of Khmer Stone Sculpture

The art of stone carving in Cambodia has roots that predate the foundation of the Angkor kingdom by many centuries. Some of Cambodia's oldest known stone sculptures were made in the Funan kingdom (located in the modern-day south of the country), which existed in the 1st or 2nd century AD until the 6th century AD, as well as in the pre-Angkor kingdom of Chenla.

During this period of time, Cambodia was exposed to a heavy amount of Indian culture due to the opening of trade routes between the Middle East and China which passed through the kingdom. This influence came primarily in the Sanskrit language, which was used in inscriptions, and in the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

Hinduism became Cambodia's official religion during this period of time and remained the official religion until the 12th century AD. Many of the sculptures from this period of time were made of the three principal deities in the Hindu religion. That is, Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the preserver).

Buddhism was introduced sometime in the 1st century AD and gradually flourished in the Cambodian kingdoms along with Hinduism. Sculptors were carving sculptures of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva some 500 years later.

Both Hindu and Buddhist-themed sculptures from this period of time had a strong Indian influence in their delicately-carved and detailed body features, a princely disposition that still manages to remain benevolent, and body postures that feature a slight hip sway. Also, both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures were placed around temples and were often created for this purpose.

A new and unique Khmer style of sculpture began to appear in the 7th century AD. This style was more frontal in nature, extremely accurate and life-like in details, and often featured a prominent, amiable smile (i.e. the smiling Buddha statues from the period).

Stone Carvings and Sculptures of the Early Angkor Period

The Angkor period began in 802 AD when Jayavarman II was proclaimed a "god-king" and "universal monarch", declared independence from Java, and proclaimed a unified Khmer kingdom.

The massive stone sculptures became popular during the reign of Indravarman I, one of Jayavarman II's successors, who ruled from 877-886 AD. It was during his reign that the capital city of Hariharalaya (16 miles south of Angkor) was established and with it a number of temples in or around the city. These temples were - and still are - very luxurious and the sculptures of the period reflect the splendor of the era. The statues and sculptures are massive, imposing, and somber.

Statues from the early Angkor period were typically Hindu gods and goddesses such as Vishnu and Shiva built on a massive, grand scale.

The Glory and Splendor of Angkor

At the end of the ninth century AD, Indravarman's son Yasovarman I relocated the capital of the kingdom to Angkor. For most of the next 400 or so years, Angkor would remain the capital of the Kambujadesha (or Kambuja) kingdom and a vast number of temples, including the famed Angkor Wat, were built around the capital city.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, one of the world's most magnificent religious sites and Cambodia's national treasure, was built in the 12th century AD during the reign of Suryavarman II (1113?-about 1145 AD). Angkor Wat features some of the most magnificent and famous stone carvings and murals found in Cambodia.

Built at first as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple over time. Statues of both Vishnu and the Buddha can be found across much of the temple complex. However, much of the temple's fame stems from the murals that can be found on the inner walls of the outer gallery. Intricately carved murals of scenes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as of Suryavarman II can be found on these walls.

Here is everything about Angkor Wat

The Fall of Angkor

The Khmer empire fell in the year 1431 when Thai forces from the kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern-day Ayutthaya province, Thailand) launched a number of raids on Kambujadesha and eventually captured Angkor. The Khmer dynasty moved its seat of power south to Phnom Penh, which is now the capital of the modern-day Cambodian nation.

After the fall of Angkor and the Khmer empire, Khmer carving in general became limited to the handicraft-type projects we know today. That is, small Buddha sculptures and statues, deity carvings, and so on.

The Decline of Khmer Stone Carving

During the turbulent years of the war raging next door in South Vietnam, civil war, and totalitarian rule by the Khmer Rouge, the art of stone carving in Cambodia was almost completely lost. Many of the country's artists were either killed in war or murdered by the Khmer Rouge during the period of their rule from 1975-1979. A few artists managed to flee abroad and some of these artists have returned home to help teach the precious traditional arts to a whole new generation.

Stone Carving in Today's Cambodia

Since the 1980s a new generation of artists in Cambodia have begun learning the traditional arts and crafts of the country including stone carving and have kept those traditions alive.

During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of Cambodian art students went to various Communist bloc nations in eastern Europe such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the USSR to learn the art of stone carving. These art students are today's artists and teachers in Cambodia.

In addition, a number of foreign and domestic NGOs and art organizations have been set up in or have gone to Cambodia to teach the arts, preserve the existing historical pieces, restore the decaying ancient temples, and help Cambodian artists turn their passion for art into businesses. One of the most prominent of these groups is Artisans d' Angkor, which was set up by the Cambodian government organization Chantiers-Écoles de Formation Professionelle (CEFP). Not only has this group done all of the above but has set up a number of shops around Cambodia where their students can sell their crafts! Some of their shops can be found in Phnom Penh (both in the city and at the airport) and in Siem Reap, near Angkor.

The legends & myth of Stone Carvings of Angkor Wat

Galleries of Bas relief

By their beauty they first attract, by their strangeness they hold attention, Helen Churchill Candee wrote of the bas-reliefs in the 1920. The Gallery of Bas-reliefs, surrounding the first level of Angkor Wat, contains 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet) of sandstone carvings. The relief covers most of the inner wall of all four sides of the gallery and extend for two meters (seven feet) from top to bottom.

The detail, quality composition and execution give them an unequalled status in world art. Columns along the outer wall of the gallery create an intriguing interplay of light and shadow on the relief. The effect is one of textured wallpaper that looks like the work of painters rather than sculptors' The bas-reliefs are of dazzling rich decoration-always kept in check, never allowed to run unbridled over wall and ceiling possess strength and repose, imagination and power of fantasy, wherever one looks [the] main effect is one of "supreme dignity "wrote a visitor 50 years ago.

The bas-reliefs are divided into eight sections, two on each wall of the square gallery each section depicts a specific theme. In addition, the two pavilions at the corners of the west Gallery have a variety of scenes. The book does not include description of badly damaged relief.

Some others are unidentifiable .The composition of the relief can be divided into two types scenes without any attempt to contain or separate the contents and scenes contain or separate the contents; and scenes contained in panels which are some-times superimposed on one another-this type is probably later. The panels run horizontally along the wall and generally consist of two or three parts.

Sometimes the borders at the top bottom are also decorated. Themes for the bas-reliefs derive from two main sources-Indian epics and sacred books and warfare of the Angkor Period. Some scholars suggest that the placement of a relief has a relevance to its theme. The relief on the east and west walls, for example, depict themes related to the rising and setting sun.

The word bas means low or shallow and refers to the degree of projection of the relief. The method of creating relief at Angkor Wat was generally to carve away the background leaving the design in relief. Sometime, though the method was reversed giving a sunken appearance. of some of the relief have a polished appearance on the surface.

There are two theories as to why this occurred. The position of the sheen and its occurrence in important parts of the relief suggest it may have resulted from visitors rubbing their hands over them. Some art historians, though think it was the result of lacquer applied over the relief. Traces of gilt and paint, particularly black and red, can also be found on some of the relief's.

They are probably the remains of an undercoat or a fixative. Several primitive artistic conventions are seen in the bas-reliefs. A river is represented by two parallel vertical lines with fish swimming between them. As in Egyptian art, a person's rank is indicated by size.

The higher the rank the larger the size. In battle scenes, broken shafts on the ceremonial umbrellas of a chief signify defeat. Perspective is shown by planes placed one above the other. The higher up the wall, the further away is the scene. Figures with legs far apart and knees flexed are in a flying posture.

Angkor Wat Galleries Guide

Description of the bas-reliefs in this article follows the normal route for viewing Angkor Wat. They begin in the middle of the West Gallery and continue counterclockwise. The other half of the West Gallery is at the end of the section. Identifying characteristics are in parenthesis and the locations of scenes on the bas-reliefs are in bold type.

West Gallery, South wing: Battle of Kurukshetra

The decisive confrontation takes place in the plain of the Kuruk. Amongst the Pandavas. Arjuna is the worthiest of royalty. I Iis war chariot is driven by Krishna. his closest friend. The sculptors of this panel divided the event into two halves: on side, coming from the left are the Kauravas(1948-1949), and on the other, coming from the right, the Pandava warriors (150, page 102,103). The contact point is in the middle when the ballet takes place.

Here, as in other panels, the scene is the furious melee of two armies marching one against the other and starting the battle. However, unlike the other reliefs, there is nothing supernatural, no fantastic human or animal figures. The two armies of warriors, equipped in a similar way, closely resemble the Khmer army on the panel of the “Historic procession”.

Their chiefs, mounted on the chariots or elephants, have the conical mukutaf the devas and legendary heroes. The soldiers march past in the lower register: some have breastplates and others carry a curved shield on their chests. A gong suspended on posts is carried by a group of soldiers and beats out the rhythm of the march.

There is a large number of generals and one can see the typical posture given them by the sculptors, brandishing their bows in one hand and their arrows in the other, in theatrical manner which repeats itself with a few variations all along the panel. Although this relief is somewhat confused, the details of the costumes, the headdresses, and armory are indicated with great precision. The horses are treated in a half decorative, half realistic manner, and are shown in elegant postures.

At the base of the panels lie the dead and wounded; in the upper register one can see a fallen warrior, riddled with so many arrows that he cannot be laid down on a bed. It is Bishma (72, page 58), the general-in-chief of the Kaurava army, wounded by the innumerable arrows shot by Arjuna, in charge of a group of the Padava army. Bishma, suspended in the air by the arrows penetrating his body, is in the process of leaving his will to his family; this is so long that it has taken 1000 years to complete.

The closer one gets to the center of the panel, the more the melee becomes confused (115); it is an entanglement of arms and legs, but the stylized decorative attitude of the fighters, gives a solemn and noble character to the battle. Some poses of the warriors are very acrobatic; the generals, when brandishing their bows, have their left arm quite unrealistically poised behind their heads, in order to see the person at person at whom they are aiming.

Towards the middle of the panel there are the interlocutors of the famous dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita: Arjuna, standing on his chariot, and Krishna, with four arms, acting as coachman (71, page 58). Proceeding towards the end of the panel to the right, the scenes become calmer, since considerable symmetry characterizes the composition. It is the mirror image of the parade on the left but depicts instead the Pandavas.

It is notable that all the characters and costumes are set in a recognizably Khmer world, and not an Indian one, as in the Indonesian reliefs of Borobudur (Fontein, 1990).

Southern gallery, West wing: Historical Procession (over 100 m long)

This relief deals with King Suryavarman II, whose posthumous name is Paramavishnuloka (3, page 11). In the upper register we can see the solemn audience granted by the king, seated on a richly decorated throne. He has a graceful natural pose, but not without nobility, and gives instructions to personages seated nearby. All around are advisers or religious people, and soldiers respectfully grouped. The rank of the king is demonstrated by the 14 parasols required by protocol, complementing the flywhisks.

In recent times, the crowds of visitors to the temple have covered the image of the King with gold leaf, in an act of respect and veneration. In contrast, the demonic and hateful figures have been dirtied by the betel spittle of the visitors.

Amongst the group surrounding the king, one can see a Brahmin priest, recognizable by his high chignon (152). One of the main  state ministers (153), whose rank is show by his slightly larger size, sits in front, but turns his head towards the king, his right arm on his heart, a typical pose of loyalty and obedience.

In the lower registers there is a parade of the queens, princesses, and ladies of the court (154).

The highest-ranking ones are carried in hammocks or palanquins covered with a canopy; attending them are the servants and slaves. They go through a forest inhabited by deer, and pick fruit from trees enlivened by many birds (111, page 81).

In the second part of the relief, the soldiers descend from the mountain and the infantry parades in marching order, escorting the generals and high dignitaries mounted on elephants.
There are 21 main figures in the procession: the king himself, and his Rajahota, plus his 19 ministers whose names and titles are inscribed below them on the relief. Each has the appropriate number of parasols for his rand.

The generals and dignitaries are standing on their elephants in poses full of nobility, their left foot on the war saddle, and their right on the croup of the animal; they carry a spear and hold a large leather shield for protection. The mahout who guides the animal, sits on his neck (91, page 67). The generals, like the infantry, have their lower body clothed in a sampot, whose long tails hang down from the belt to gather on the side.

The soldiers have helmets decorated with an animal head and carry round shields (153). The horses of the chiefs are sculpted in great detail (155). In many cases, the king (156) and the generals are conspicuously holding a phak, the characteristic long-handled club. This instrument (never seen in use by ordinary people on the Bayon reliefs) is still used nowadays in Cambodia. India.

The parade continues, in a rather monotonous way. The soldiers at the end of the column are shown accelerating their march by lengthening their steps in order to catch up with those ahead who are marching in step.

In an evident attempt to introduce some diversion into the stereotyped poses, repeated many times, the sculptors have included some amusing details: the elephant of one of the generals, perhaps stung by an insect, suddenly turns his head in a menacing way towards the observer.

Towards the three-quarter point of the panel, an interruption occurs in the military parade, to give way to a cortege of priests: Brahmins with high chignons, playing small bells. The Rajahota, or royal priest, is carried on a hammock (157), just like the abbot of a pagoda nowadays. The ark follows, containing the sacred fire, and escorting the army to sanctify the battle and attract the attention of the gods.

Numerous porters are preceded by trumpeters, drummers, conch players, and an enormous gong beaten with a large mallet. In this group, there are also two clowns dancing in a grotesque way and some banner-carriers juggling with their insignia. The same clowns accompany religious processions in present-day Cambodia. At the end of the panel, a group of unusual people appears, with extravagant costumes, long vests with pendants, bizarre hair styles with three or four plumes and five rows of superimposed beads.

The general is covered with bracelets and necklaces, plus many other decorative elements (158). The soldiers are tattooed under the cheek and have an uncouth physiognomy. Fortunately, an inscription solves the enigma:”They are the Siamese”, perhaps incorporated into the Khmer army.

Southern gallery, East wing: The Heavens and Hells (c.60 m long).

The beginning of the relief shows three different superimposed registers. Inscriptions indicate that the upper two are leading people to the heavens while the lower one leads to the hells. In the upper two there is a procession of noble people carried on palanquins by their slaves, ladies (159) and noblemen (160), while the commoners walk along quietly, some with their children.

The people in the heavens live in the peace and serenity of celestial palaces supported by Atlases and Garudas (161), while in the sky apsaras are dancing(162).The 19 men sheltered in heaven may represent the 19 ministers seen in the Historic procession.

Those condemned to hell are made to parade before Yama, the god of time and death, who brandishes clubs in his many arms, and is seated on a buffalo (65, page 55). It is he who delivers judgement, but it is Dharmma (in royal attire) who pronounce the sentences, assisted by Citragupta (66, see page 55), rewarding the good, and punishing the bad by throwing them into different hells which are at the base of the panel.

The reliefs present a series of tortures of refined cruelty and unbelievable diversity (68-70, page 56 and 163, 164). Below are mentioned a few of the 32 tortures that the sculptors conjured up with their sadistic and perverse imaginations.

Each torture is indicated by an inscription revealing the sin of the victim. Crooks and thieves have their tongues pulled out with tongs by the demons who also put their feet into their own mouths, and then throw them into a raging, fetid river (since 12 different hells are reserved for them, theft must have been very common’.).

In the ‘hell of weeping those who are guilty of injustice are chained, beaten, and slashed by great two-edged swords; false witnesses are skinned alive, suspended from trees and then ground in a mortar. those who have harmed somebody or taken the possessions of others are plunged into a basin of molten lead and tin. In the ‘hell of the breaking of bones. the bones are really broken by blows with a club.

For those who have destroyed the gardens. houses and ponds of others. stakes are stuck in their throats. People who have furtively seduced another’s wife (reference to love philters). or those who approach spouses of second rank. are torn to pieces by birds of prey and thrown into a lake of liquid sticky pus.

The women who indulge in licentiousness are dragged by the hair and hurried down a lake of marrow (meaning): the inscription explicitly indicates that this concerns women with flaccid hanging breasts implying  thus that the punishment will reduce their seductive power. State servants who abuse their position to steal the goods of others, are thrown, headfirst, into cauldrons.

Those who cut down trees where they should not, or those who defile sacred places are sent into the forest of spik palm trees’ (cactuses) where they have their neck held tight in a vice: others are bound up upside down in ropes. Those who steal flowers or disrespectfully pick flowers from sacred gardens, are tied to a tree, and demons hammer nails into their heads with great blows, or they are devoured by dogs or by birds of prey - a torture  quite similar to that reserved for the great criminals.

Finally, the special torture reserved for thieves, that of the cold hell where the damned are plunged into cold water and, shivering, keep their arms tight around the chest. All these descriptions certainly provide a colorful picture of life at the time of Suryavarman II.

Eastern gallery, South wing: The churning of the Ocean of Milk (c.50 m).

The depiction of the creation myth is rendered in great detail and with great precision. The gods (devas), including Shiva, help Vishnu to confront Evil, represented by the asuras, in the effort to churn the ocean of milk, to produce the elixir of immortality (amrita), and create order out of chaos.

Vasuki, at the centre of the panel (his figure unfinished) (64, page 55), stands on Mount Mandara that serves as the central pivot, supported by the turtle (Vishnu's second avatar 4, page 17). He controls the churning operation by the devas and asuras,who are pulling the great five-headed naga vasuki (165, page 110), who acts as the rope around the churn.

The small figure flying above Vishnu represents (according to the Bhagavad Purana) another of Vishnu’s manifestations. However, the possibility that it might be the god Indra cannot be ruled out, particularly if one considers that the two unfinished figurines ober Vishnu’s discuses may represent the elephant Airavata and the horse Uccaishvara, both symbol of Indra.

The top (third) register contains a myriad of graciously flying apsaras, while the bottom register is full of creatures of the ocean: those closest to the churning vortex, are cut to pieces. To the right and the left of the lively scene of the churning there are the reserve armies, respectively of the devas and of the asuras.

They stand, fixed in contemplation of the churning, ready to participate when required.One asura turns his head towards a neighbour to converse, while another, with his leader, closer to the churning scene, points towards the gigantic head of the naga. The dena reservists are more disciplined, and nobody breaks rand. Behind them are horses pulling chariots, and elephants with war howdahs, and behind all these, a forest of banners and parasols.

Le Bonheur (1989) has noted certain incongruities in this representation: as Vishnu’s lower left leg is bent over Mount Mandara, he should also be spinning with the churning motion, unless he is fling. Moreover, how could the land-based armies of the devas and asuras possibly reach Mount Mandara, planted in the middle of the Ocean of Milk? Moreover, the vase containing the amrita, the sole object of all this supernatural effort, is missing from the relief.

The influence of the Ramayana in the iconography of this primordial myth is indicated by the presence, on the side of the devas, of the monkey holding the tail of the naga snake, identified as Sugriva (rather than Hanuman), and, of a general with the headdress of an asura, identifiable perhaps as Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, and an ally of Rama, It may be that this character is in fact Rahu, who joined the action in stealth, hoping to drink the amrita. He was discovered. however, and his head was chopped from his body by Vishnu. In revenge, he regularly swallows the sun and the moon in eclipses.

Thus, the Vishnuite myth of the Churning, here presents a novel influence from the Ramayana, also a Vishnuite text, glorifying the human and royal avatar of the god.

Eastern gallery, North wing: Victory of Vishnu over Asuras the Demons

The bas-reliefs in this section of the East Gallery and the south part of the North Gallery were probably completed at a later date, perhaps the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The stiffness of the figures and the cursory workmanship reveal this change. An army of demons marches towards the center of the panel. Center: Vishnu (four arms) sits on the shoulders of a Garuda.

A scene of carnage follows. Vishnu slaughters the enemies on both sides and disperses the bodies. The leaders of the demons (mounted on animals or riding or riding in chariots drawn by monsters) are surrounded by marching soldiers. Another group of warriors (bows and arrows) with their chiefs (in chariest of mounted on huge peacocks) follows.

Northern gallery, East wing: Victory of Krishna over the asura Bana (c.60 m).

This story is taken from the Harivamsha text. It concerns the adventures of Aniruddha when he was captured and made prisoner by the asura Bana, after the latter heard that he wanted to marry his daughter. On learning this, Krishna together with Balarama and Pradyumna, hastened immediately to the city of Shonitapura to rescue Aniruddha. Before entering the city, with the help of Garuda he extinguished the legendary ‘five fires’, and then annihilated the army of the asuras, in a battle culminating with the beheading of Bana.

In the relief, the scene starts with Garuda, carrying Vishnu on his shoulders (54, page 47), appearing in the middle of a great army of devas recognisable by their conical mukuta, marching in battle order, led by musicians. Vishnu is represented here with eight arms, brandishing the traditional attributes: arrow, javelin, discus, conch, club, thunderbolt, bow and shield. It is impossible to count his faces; the texts say they number 1,000. He is accompanied by two heroes on the wings of Garuda, one being his brother Balarama and the other possibly his son Pradyumna.

When they arrive in front of the city where the enemy is ready to do battle, the three heroes are stopped by a wall of fire. However, according to the text, Garuda extinguishes it (49, page 45) with water taken from the Ganges that he transforms into rain. In fact, the relief only shows Garuda clearing the wall of flames. Once on the other side of the blaze, besides Garuda, is Agni, represented as a giant with six heads and four arms mounted on a rhinoceros (52, page 46), and preparing to fight.

Krishna’s army, advancing swiftly, enters the city and attacks Bana’s soldiers, to annihilate them. A furious melee follows, with the combatants inextricably locked together. Krishna appears again on Garuda; this time the god only has four arms and fight with the bow, disc, and club. Then gi reappears with a thousand faces and eight arms, accompanied by his acolytes. As he progresses, he finds himself face-to-face with Bana, his chariot pulled by two mythical lions (looking rather grotesque).    

The asura Bana whirls his thousand arms, buy Krishna reduces them to two. When he is dealing Bana the final blow, Shiva intervenes to ask for mercy, having previously promised immortality to Bana. Eventually, after much fighting, Krishna, by the power of his sacred and magic weapons, manages to win the battle.

The conclusion of the story is represented at the right extremity of the panel. Shiva can be seen, depicted in Chinese aspect, on a high pedestal (probably symbolic of a mountain) receiving the respects of Krishna, with a thousand heads (167). He had won the battle against Bana, and kneels before Shiva, on a lower pedestal, his hands joined on his chest. In between the two, on the lowest pedestal, are Ganesha and parvati, Krishna’s wife (or maybe) fill the lands of the mountain.

Shiva (168), as mentioned above, is not depicted in a Khmer manner but in a Chinese style, with an oval face with long thin beard, covered scarves and jewelry, and with several ribbons around his hairdo (bizarre for an ascetic). He does not hose the typical discus (cakra) but a sword and is sitting on a throne decorated with hatched interlocking triangles, rare in Cambodia but common in China. The clouds floating over the battlefield are also treated in a Chinese manner (169), as are the flames of the fire (170). It is known that Chinese artisans completed this relief the 16th century.

Northern gallery, West wing: The battle between the Devas and the Asuras (over 100 m long).

This is a representation of the cosmic battle between the gods and the demons, the asuras, which gak to occur in order to restore righteousness and order in the universe. All the great gods of the Hindu pantheon are in procession, with their classic attributes, and riding their traditional mounts. There are 21 gods including Shiva, Brahma, Skanda, Surya, and the ashtadikpalas, (sentinels of the eight directions) with Indra, Varuna, Vayu, Yama and Kubera.

Each god is fighting an asura from whom he differs only by the shape of his helmet; this series of epic duels takes place in the middle of a confused melee involving all the personages. Note the realistic portrayal of some of the animals, as well as the emphatic pose of the generals.

Towards the centre of the panel, one can identify: Kubera, the god of wealth, on the shoulders of an asura with outstretched legs; Agni, the god of fire, on his chariot pulled-by rhinoceroses; Skanda (25, page 35), the god of war, with six faces, on the shoulders of his peacock, whose legs keep the monsters harnessed to chariots at bay; Indra (24, page 35) on Airavata, his elephant, who holds an enemy in his four tusks.

This sight and the noise of the bells make the lions rear up as a chariot is overturned. Vishnu occupies a prominent central position, opposing the terrible asura Kalanemi (26, page 37) with many heads (of which seven are visible), holding a bow while brandishing clubs and swords with his many arms.

Yama (27, page 37), the god of justice, follows on a chariot harnessed to buffaloes; Shiva (28, page 37)on a chariot pulled by bulls with two humps; Brahma (23,page 35) on his usual mount, the hamsa, holding the magic weapon brahmastra; Surya (23, page 35), the Sun god . on a chariot drawn by four horses: Varuna (22. Page 35). The god of water appear on a naga bridled like a horse. Finally, 10 not clearly identifiable gods follow.

The crises of the battle continue: one can see bodies distorted in agony. A five-headed naga entwined with the combatants spreads terror Vishnu, on his intrepid Garuda, himself balanced on the bodies of two horses, dominated the scene and gives order to his soldiers.

The melee continues (171) with warriors fighting in all manner of acrobatic positions, with individual combats multiplying in intensity, and the topmost register of the relief is furrowed by clouds of arrows. But at the end the devas, representing goodness and harmony, defeat the asuras. Representing evil and disorder.

Western Gallery, North wing: Battle of Lanka

This somewhat confusing hand-to-hand battle scene, covering every inch of available space, is represented in great detail, with an animated multitude of beings fighting with incomparable rage and appropriate attitudes and expressions.

 According to Delaporte (1880), the poem of Valmiki, so often represented in India, has never been illustrated in a more powerful way. The monkeys do not ever suffer heavy casualties; they look overcome by fatigue, but, as the battle turns to their advantage, they resume their marvelous feats with renewed energy. Some are wounded by magic arrows; others, who have used the right spell to deprive the magic arrow of their power, stand up again and resume their fighting position.

But a few, struck by feathered arrows, are lying dead on the ground. Warriors pause to recite the incantations which will render their weapons more lethal. The foot soldiers of the giant’s army carry Sabre with chiseled hilts, spears, javelins, and clubs, and some are protected by shields.

The monkeys carry only stones or branches, or more often no weapons at all; they bite their enemies wherever they can and arm themselves with the weapons they remove from the wounded or the dead. With their paws and teeth, they tear apart the fabric of the flags and parasols which decorate the chariots of the enemy kings and generals, pulled by fantastic animals.

The way the sculptors render the bodies of the monkeys in the only attempt to define muscles in Angkorean sculpture; Showing the monkey’s muscles in circles to emphasize their strength, they also portray the swelling of biceps, forearms, thighs and calves in a way which is closer to that of humans than of monkeys covered in fur.

A general view of the relief is impossible. One can only marvel at the virtuosity and imagination of the sculptors who managed to vary the details of the episodes, and the postures of the fighters so as to avoid any monotony or repetition, The melee is so dense that the combatants are completely entangled with each other.

The swarming animation and intense frenzy of this scene gives great vitality to the relief. The comical and the ferocious mingle to such a point that the viewer can no longer tell if he, or she, is seeing downs or incensed warriors. They face each other; kill each other; dismember each other, poke out eyes, all with comical contortions and with a look of alarm on their faces.

At the centre of the panel, are the protagonists of the drama: Rama balancing on Hanuman’s shoulders, in the middle of a shower of arrows (173, page 116). Behind him is his brother Lakshmana, while the reneged prince Vibhishana is recognisable by his plumed helmet. They stand in simple noble poses, in contrast to the surrounding excitement.

Not far from them is Ravana (172, page 116) with his ten heads and twenty arms, standing firmly on his beautifully decorated chariot, pulled by monsters with unusual profiles. Between the two adversaries there is an admirably composed scene: the monkey Nila, standing on two monsters seen frontally, grabs and puts on his shoulder the body of the giant rakshasa Prahasta (182, page 119), at the same time as another monkey attacks the giant from below,

Next to this, an elephant arrying the rakshasa Mohodara is toppled  by a monkey, and his head – surmounted by a three pointed mukuta – expresses intense terror (175, page 117). Similarly, Narantaka, one of Ravana’s sons, is assaulted by the ferocious monkey Sangada who first slashes his horse (176, page 117). Next comes the turn of the sons of Kumbhakarna, firstly Nikhumha being attacked by Hanuman (174, page 116), and then Kumba by Sugriva (178, page 117).

Elsewhere, a monkey, having grabbed a rakshasha by the arm. is about to inflict a lethal blow with a stone (177, page 117); others are striking the enemy with thick branches (179, page 117).

The battle becomes ever more frenzied, with the combatants assuming extreme acrobatic, interlocking, postures, and strange magic events take place before Ravana’s finally defeated.
Sita is returned to Rama, but there is a complication: Rama refuses to take her back because she has been too long in the palace of Ravana and he suspects infidelity: “I have freed you”. During the long time of her imprisonment, Ravana had never touched her. Sita protests her innocence, but Rama forces her to undergo the ordeal of fire at the stake.

In all these episodes the sculptors have followed the Ramayana story literally. Each scene can be identified and each personage designated by name. The action continues all along the panel’s 50 m length, with a vigor and animation which never relent for a moment.

Southwest corner pavilion

The four arms of the pavilion’s cruciform plan are carved with reliefs, in places poorly preserved because of water infiltration.

1. Over the Northern door 

A Ramayana scene is represented: Rama killing Marica, the golden gazelle, which, by distracting Rama, world facilitate Sita’s abduction by Ravana (19, page 31).

2. Northern arm, East wall 

A scene from the Harivamsa is sculpted here: Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana. Krishna, in the company of Balarama, is shown pushing up the mountain with his arm to protect the shepherds and their flocks from the torrential rain released by Indra’s fury. Notice how groups of small lozenges are used to represent the rocks.

3. Northern arm, West wall 

A scene from the Bhagavad Purana showing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. In the upper part. two discs representing the sun and the moon can be observed.

4. Western arm, North wall 

The story narrated on this wall was originally unidentified. Then Glaize in 1944 suggested it was a scene showing Ravana in the shape of a chameleon. sneaking into the apartments of Indra’s women. Later it was considered to represent the story of Shiva Bhikshatanamurti (from the Brahmanda Purana). when the god appeared naked in the pine forest to test the self-control of the ascetics. stirred by jealousy of their wives (181).

A further. entirely different interpretation could be that the scene refers to the argument between Shivar and Brahma about who was the real creator of the Universe, which induced Shiva to murder a Brahmin. To expiate this sin, he had to become a beggar for 12 years. naked, as in all other interpretations, without even a loincloth (bhikshatanamurti).

5. Over the Western door 

Representation of a scene probably from the Harivamsa when Krishna as a young boy drag a heavy stone mortar to which his stepmother Yashoda has attacked him, uprooting two arjuna trees (46, page 45).

6. Western arm, South wall (over the window)

The panel shows Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa where Shiva and Uma were enthroned. Ravana is represented here with many arms and heads.

Shiva is not shown making any move with his foot to make the mountain squash Ravana, as narrated in the Valmiki text, but is just sitting quietly in the Indian posture. The artists have represented the moment (Przyluski, 1921) when Yaksa, Vidyadhara and Siddha exhort Ravana to propitiate Shiva by prostrating himself and singing. Therefore, Shiva is relaxed as he receives Ravana’s homage, while the latter’s hands are still fixed (motionless) to the mountain.

7. Southern arm, West wall (above the window). 

Here, the episode of Shiva reducing kama to ashes is depicted. Shiva is shown in meditation at the top of a mountain, with Uma at his side, when he is the disturbance, strikes the unfortunate kama with a thunderbolt, whereupon he dies in the arms of his sopouse Reti.

8. Over the Southern door 

The murder of Pralamba and the dousing of a fire by Krishna are illustrated (180).

9. Southern arm, East wall (over the window) 

Depiction of the Ramayana scene of Rama killing Valin. In the upper part, the duel between the two enemy brothers, Valin and Sugriva, the monkey king. To assure the victory to his ally Sugriva, Rama intervenes by shooting a lethal arrow, treacherously hiking behind a bush, at Valin (184, page 120).

Below, Valin lying dead in the arms of his spouse Tara (183, page 119-20). who has her hair arranged in a three-pointed mukuta. Below yet again, his monkeys are grieving (185, page 120).

The panel close to the door. in several registers, shows the monkeys in a variety of attitudes and expressions. Przyluski (1921) has pointed out that while Valin is represented with an arrow in his back, Rama is holding his bow (without an arrow) in one hand and a bundle of arrows in the other, possibly in the act of loading his bow.

Thus, Rama may not have been the one who killed Valin. Perhaps the sculptors departed from the original text in order to attenuate the impact of Rama’s treachery.

10. Eastern arm, South wall

A poorly preserved and unidentified panel: at the centre a seated figure, perhaps Shiva meditating or teaching a group of ascetics.

11 Over the Eastern door

This panel is also not clearly identifiable, probably it represents Krishna (or Vishnu) receiving the offerings destined for Indra.

12. Eastern arm, North wall 

Depiction of the Dvaravati water festival, where two boats with oarsmen (represented as superimposed) appear, with apsaras flying above them. In the upper boat are chess players, while the lower shows people playing with children; to modern Loy Kratong water festival of Thailand, has been suggested.

Northwest corner pavilion

This cruciform pavilion is fully decorated like its counterpart at the SW corner. It includes some scenes that are particularly well preserved and of high quality.

13. Over the Southern door

The Ramayana scene represented here is RAma killing Kabandha. a rakshasa with an immense body, whose head is not on his broad shoulders but on his stomach.

14. Southern arm, West wall (over the window) 

The scene sculpted is still unidentified. illustrating, in the upper part. a four-armed sitting Vishnu receiving homage from beautiful a psaras flocking towards him. 

15. Southern arm, East wall

Again, we have, from the Ramayana, the Suayamuara of Sita episode narrating the archery contest in which Rama had to compete in order to win Sita. At the court King Janaka, flanked by an elegantly dressed Sita, RAma, with a mighty effort, is seen shooting the arrow at the target while below are aligned the ousted candidates (29, page 37).

Przyluski suggested (1921) that this relief may be related, instead, to Draupadi in which case the archer would be Arijuna. In the Ramayana, Rama lifts and bends the bow in a demonstration of strength, whilst in the mahabharata, Arjuna aims it accurately at a target, in a trial of skill. In the relief one can see a target consisting of a bird transfixed on a wheel, perhaps identifiable with the ‘aerial machine’ of the Mahabharata (Adip. 185, 10), like a turning yantra. This would mean that the sculptors, rather than literally following the Ramayana of Valmiki, used some other text, or local tradition. Alternatively, they may even have confused the Ramayana sequence with that of the mahabharata.

16. Western arm, South wall (over the window) 

Illustrations of the Ramayana scene of Sita meeting Hanuman. Sita, while kept in captivity by Ravana, managed to arrange a secret meeting with Hanuman, in a small acacia bush. Next, the princess, attended by the kind rakshini Trijata, is seen presenting Hanuman with a ring as proof to Rama of the success of the mission. Below, there are several rakshasas in superimposed registers. 

17. Over the Western door  

Relief showing the Ramayana scene of Rama’s alliance with Vibhishana. In the middle of a group of monkey, Rama and Lakshmana are making an alliance with the rakshasa Vibhishana, who has been exiled by his brother Ravana.

18. Western arm, North wall (over the window). 

Again, a scene depicting RAma on the Pushpaka chariot. He is seen returning for his coronation to Ayodhya after his victory, os this magnificently decorated chariot, pulled by hamas,that had been previously stolen by Ravana, from Kubera. A vertical panel shows some damaged figures of jubilant monkey, some dancing, others blowing trumpets. According to the legend, Rama was accompanied by Vibhishana, Lakshmana, Sugriva, sita.

19. Northern arm, West wall (above the window)

The famous episode of the ordeal of Sita is represented here. The surface of the relief has been degraded by water infiltration to the point that the figure of Sita has completely disappeared. Sita was subjected to ordeal by fire soon after she was freed, in order to prove her purity. All that can now be seen, over several registers, is a group of moneys humorously represented, the pyre, and traces of the figures of Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva, and Hanuman. 

20. Over the Northern door

A Ramayana scene in which the giant Viradha attempts to abduct Sita in the forest. carrying her on his shoulders. Rama and\ Lakshmana attack him with flights of arrows (186).

21. Northern arm, East wall (over the window). 

Possibly Krishna is seated in a palace receiving homage and allegiance from a few scented min. in particular from a royal figure. The scene cannot be identified and it is all the more curious for stretched out under Krishna and his visitors (dead or drowned). probably referring to a local Khmer legend.

More stories of Rama are sculpted in this arm. starting with the Introduction to the descent of Rama.

This episode was probably taken from the Bhagavata Purana “Introduction to\ the descent of krishna” (Przyluski. 1921). but here relating to Rama, due to the great popularity of the Ramayana at that time. In the 12 reliefs in this pavilion. eight are scenes from the Ramayana. The event represented here has taken place before the birth of Rama, who also appears elsewhere in the same pavilion.

Vishnu is represented sleeping beneath a flight of apsaras, and lying on the naga Ananta, with his feet held by his spouse Lakshmi. In the register below, there is the parade of the nine living gods who wanted to beg him to become incarnate on earth (as Krishna). they are, from right to left: Ketu (‘comer’) on a lion, agni on his rhinoceros, Yama, riding on his buffalo, Indra on his three-headed elephant, Kubera mounted on a horse.

Skanda on a peacock, Varuna, riding on his hamsa and Nirrti on the shoulders of a vaksha. Below. on the wall flanking the window, are the moon (top) and the sun(bottom), represented as unusually represented frontally. The story should be read starting with the sun and the moon. and proceeding through the eight divinities, ending with Ketu, before reaching Vishnu, the destination of the caravan procession.

23. Over the Eastern door 

The Ramayana scene of RAma’s alliance with Sugriva, describing the meeting of Rama and his brother Lakshmana on Mount Malaya, with Sugriva, the monkeys’ king, in order to plan an alliance.

24. Eastern arm, South wall

Krishna bringing back mount Mahaparva.

Krishna, mounted on Garuda (187), is carrying home the peak of Mount Meru (Mount Mahabharata) recently captured from the demon Naraka. In this story, Indra pleads for help in subduing naraka who has not only kidnapped almost all the beautiful II spouses of the gods and the kings, but threatens to steal Indra’s three-headed elephant, Airavata. Garuda is depicted together with his army of servants carrying the remains of the defeated asura Naraka. 

Le Bonheur (1989), has traced some representational sequences in the Krishna stores numbered here 5 and 11, the alliances concluded by Rama in the panels numbered 17 and 23, and in the panels relating the beginning and the end of the Ramayana, numbered 22 and 18. 

According to Przylusky (1921) the episode of the death of Kabandha (number 13 and of Viradha (number 20), differ from the Rama and Lakshmana) dilled the Viradha monster by bows and arrows as in the reliefs. Kabandha death. on the other lintel, is shown to result from the two brothers hitting the monster with clubs, while at Prambanan (Indonesia) it is brought about with bows and arrows.

Preau cruciform and Courtyards

1. Preau Cruciform

This hall (preau) on the west connects the gallery of the first enclosure with that of the second, providing a link between the first and second level of the pyramidal structure of the temple. Designed to gain more covered space, it is created by two galleries in a cruciform plan, raised over the surrounding courtyard, with four ‘basins’ between the arms of the galleries (due to the type of construction, when in use, the basins must have had a lot of seepage).

The roof is supported by square pillars which are decorated, at the base, by reliefs of ascetics, now almost all badly corroded. Traces of the wooden ceilings have been found, sculpted with lotus motifs, with traces to painting and gilding. At the extreme ends of the galleries there are four small oblong pediments with the following subjects: to the West, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk; to the North, Vishnu sleeping on Ananta; to the East, the battle between Vishnu and asuras (including Ravana); and, to the South, the first three steps of Vishnu.

2. Courtyards

The doors of shrines, libraries, and galleries facing the courtyards of the first and second level, all have pediments richly decorated with mythological motifs. Most of them are eroded by weathering, and difficult to interpret. Amongst the most interesting are:

+ First level courtyard, South central pediment 

Lakshmana goes into a coma after Indrajit, Ravana’s son, has used his magic arrows against him (188). Lakshmana was able to survive, but would have died if the monkey general Sushena (father of Tara, Valin’s wife) had not administered a “sovereign remedy to Lakshmana’s nostrils” and restored him to consciousness. (Yuddha Kanda, chapter 92). On the pediments, the monkey are seen carrying pieces of rock from the mountain where the herbs of the remedy were growing.

+ Second level courtyard pediments 

One of these pediments may recount the story of the arrival of Kaundinya(Bhandari, 1995), the first Indian prince, and the naga princess fighting him with an army of women, unique in Khmer art (189).

In another, a personage who is possibly the king, with his feet supported by the paws of a lion with a makara head, and surrounded by parasol carriers, stands over three registers of worshippers.

Vishnu (or Shiva), with his consort, also appears in this courtyard, shown in a small temple, over three registers of worshippers (190). 

Planning your Angkor Wat Tours

How to get to Angkor Wat

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

Angkor Wat Tickets and Entrance Fee

In order to visit Angkor Wat, you need to buy a ticket for the entire Angkor Archaeological Park. Within the 400 square kilometer park, there are more than 1000 temples including the famous Angkor Wat, as well as other big names such as the Bayon and Ta Prohm. It is not possible to buy entry tickets to only individual temples; you must buy the park pass. The cost depends on how many days you want to enter the park. The tickets available and their fees are: 

  • One day pass ($37 USD) – Valid only for the day that you buy it. 
  • Three-day pass ($62 USD) – Valid to be used for three days within ten days of purchase. The days you visit do not need to be consecutive, i.e. you can choose any three days within the ten days from the date of purchase. 
  • One-week pass ($72 USD) – Valid for one month from purchase, for a maximum of seven days. As above, these do not need to be consecutive days. 

To buy the ticket, you need to go to the office in downtown Siem Reap (Ticket Center Location Google Maps). They accept cash (USD preferred, although riels are also accepted) and card. You do not need any ID to buy a ticket. 

Pass/Ticket Tips: 

  • The ticket/pass is given to you as a hard-copy ticket. If you lose it, you will need to buy another one – they will not replace it. For this reason, be super careful with your ticket (a waterproof pouch is a good idea). 
  • The admission passes (tickets) are non-transferrable. Your name and photo are printed on it. 
  • Children under 12 years don't need a ticket, they can enter for free. ID is required to proof their age. 
  • Even when you take a tour (recommended for 1 day, see below), the ticket/pass is not included. That means you always need a ticket.

Angkor Wat Map

Check the below map plan of Angkor Wat for your reference. You can either download the high-resolution map of Angkor Wat to have the better vision of what you will visit here.

DOWNLOAD ANGKOR WAT MAP PAGE 1 PAGE 2

How Long to Spend at Angkor Wat

To visit Angkor Wat, you’ll have to purchase either a one-day, three-day or week-long pass.

Although travelers with tight itineraries in Southeast Asia try to squeeze in as many sights as they can in a day, remember that the Angkor complex is actually the largest religious monument in the world! It's spread over 250 square miles of jungle. You’re going to need more time than you think to not end up rushing around.

The temples are scattered all over Cambodia. If you're serious about exploring ancient Khmer ruins, plan on purchasing at least the three-day pass. Doing so is less expensive and troublesome than buying two one-day passes; you will end up wanting more than one day there.

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 Dress Code

As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly.

Appropriate attire when visiting temples in Angkor Wat is long pants (covering the knee) and shirts that cover shoulders. Skirts, small shorts, tank tops, and other items of revealing clothing are not allowed within temple grounds. Visitors can and are frequently turned away from temples when wearing revealing clothing.

It is not possible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees. Local authorities have visitor 'code of conduct' guidelines and a video to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch, sit or climb on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.

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

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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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