In 2015 Angkor Wat, Cambodia, was named the world’s undisputed number one landmark.
However, before you pack your bags and head off to explore this ancient temple site, it is worth keeping in mind a number of factors. 😉
In this detailed guide we take an in-depth look at the ten most important things to keep in mind before you visit Angkor Wat as a tourist.
1. Angkor Wat is the Largest Religious Monument in the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world.
It covers an area of 1,626,000 square meters or 162.6 hectares.
UNESCO and the Cambodia government have spent considerable resources in ensuring the restoration and preservation of the vast complex.
It is enough testament to the wonderful work being carried out that the entire complex can continue attracting so many visitors on a daily basis and yet retains its pristine nature and mystical aura.
2. Angkor Wat Literally Means Capital Temple or City Temple
The general area in which Angkor Wat is located was the seat of the ancient Khmer empire as outlined above. Actually, the word Angkor is the Khmer version of the Sanskrit term “Agara” meaning city or capital. In Khmer “Wat” is the common name for a Buddhist temple. As such, Angkor Wat is literally the capital or city temple.
3. Angkor Wat is a Legacy of the Thriving Ancient Khmer Empire
The Angkor Wat complex lies at the heart of what was the ancient Khmer Empire. The Khmer dynasty lasted from the 9th to the 15th century. At its height, the empire stretched from what is today modern Myanmar (Burma) to Cambodia. 😀
4. Be Prepared to Walk and Walk
As intimated above, the Angkor Wat site is considerably vast. Moreover, due to its importance, motorized traffic is very restricted within the confines of the temple complex.
As such, you need to be prepared to walk quite a distance if you want to enjoy all the site has to offer.
5. You Will Need to do a Fair Amount of Climbing too
While the temple complex itself is set in pretty evenly flat grounds, getting round and about the sites is not on an even plane. The temple complex has a lower and an upper level separated by a very steep system of stairs.
In ancient times, access to the upper levels was heavily restricted and the laity were not allowed anywhere beyond the first level. 😀
The higher level is accessed by a system of very highly inclined stairs (reaching God wasn’t supposed to be easy!). If you want to enter this rarefied level over the course of your visit, you should be prepared to do a fair amount of climbing.
And other than the stairways, you should also prepare for plenty of loose stones and some gargantuan exposed roots which you will have to step over every now and then.
Bring along your best sneakers and ensure your garb is not too restrictive if you are to enjoy all the climbing.
6. The Site is Very Crowded
Angkor Wat is a fascinating place. Its architecture as well as the local flora and fauna give a sense of unity with nature and the mystical. It is, to all intents and purposes, a very serene place to visit.
However, it is also teeming with crowds. Over the years, hundreds of tourists visit the site every day and all the pathways, temple hallways and monuments are filled with spellbound, if always reverent, crowds.
This needs not be a turn off. The throngs of tourists traipsing up and down the site add to the overall allure and the sense of mystery of the area.
Would you like to take a photo with no one else in it? It is a tough call but it can be done. Everyone loves to witness the sunset at Phnom Bakheng or sunrise at Angkor Wat. 😉
Ensure you take a three day pass and enjoy the spectacle on the morning or evening of the first day.
On the second or third day, go explore the inside of the temple while everyone else is spellbound with the sunset or sunrise.
7. There is More to Angkor Wat than just Angkor Wat
To be precise, Angkor Wat is more than just the famous temple complex itself. It is part of the 400 square kilometer Angkor Archaeological Park (this is an area much larger than all the five boroughs of New York City combined).
The tropical forested area also includes the Bayon Temple with its myriad sculptural decorations and monuments.
There are also scores of other temples, as well as hydraulic structures such as basins, reservoirs, dykes and canals.
Since 1992, the site has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations body committed to the development and preservation of the world’s educational, scientific and cultural heritage. 😀
8. The Temple Was Built in Honor of the Hindu God Vishnu
While in its most recent history, Angkor Wat was used as a Buddhist temple, this was not its original purpose.
When it was built (historical evidence shows it was completed sometime in the twelfth century) it was a sort of pagoda dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. 😀
Actually, one of the main towers once featured a statue of Vishnu. Indeed, the physical dimensions of the temple itself represent the four ages (Yuga) as depicted in classic Hindu worldview of the cosmos.
In other words, if you take a walk from the main entrance, through the temple’s courtyards and on to the final tower; you will have taken a metaphorical journey back to the creation of the universe.
9. Angkor Wat is as Much About Water as it is About Stone
From the ancient times to the present day, Angkor was a city of vast stone structures built around a complex system of waterways. Water is very abundant in this verdant tropical jungle.
The Khmer rulers oversaw the construction of a complex system of channels, moats, and embankments as well as reservoirs known as barays to collect and store water from the summer monsoon rains.
The water in the reservoirs was then readily available for use in rice paddy fields in case of drought. 😀
To the present day, shimmering waters form part of the Angkor Wat temple complex and will provide even more fascination for the discerning visitor.
10. No One Knows Exactly Why the Khmer Rulers Abandoned Angkor Wat Temple Area
By around mid fifteenth century, the rulers of the Khmer Empire the Angkor Wat area to a site much closer to the modern day capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, no one knows for certain why this happened.
While plenty of details are available from ancient writings as well as stone carvings showing details about the period in which Angkor Wat was at its prime, not a single verifiable account of why the city was abandoned exists.
Some have speculated that perhaps a big draught caused by overexploitation of the land and its resources caused the abandonment while others surmise that a war may have led to the devastation of the thriving community. 🙂
Be sure to check these travel luggages if you are looking to grab one for your tour.