All you need to know about Angkor Wat – A thorough guide

Angkor Wat - a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cambodia, has been one of my favorite places till now. Be its stunning architecture, incredible details of art or the grandeur, this place has left me hooked.

A representation of the Khmer Empire’s ingenious talent, Angkor Wat is a must-visit atleast once in your lifetime. In this article, I’ll be taking you through all you need to know about Angkor Wat, before you plan your trip.

History of Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat - the iconic shrine of Cambodia, was built by Suryavarman II from the Khmer empire in the 12th century.

Kings build temple structures of large scales with the finest works of art, for many reasons. Firstly, it establishes the king to be powerful. Secondly, you are leaving behind a masterpiece.. a palace for the Gods, who will nurture your people and flourish your empire.

With the same intent and determination to create a majestic structure, Suryavarman set out to build it for the Hindu deity, Vishnu. ( opposed to his predecessors who majorly built temples for Shiva). But 2 centuries later, i.e) in the 14th century, the Hindu temple was converted into a Buddhist shrine, and has been so ever since.

Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat temple

The Angkor Wat temple complex stretches over 400 square kilometres and stands tall at 4.5 metres. The temple is the most important attraction in Cambodia, and no wonder it holds a place in Cambodia’s national flag. 

Construction

Angkor Wat was built with sandstone blocks that were taken from the quarries of the nearby mountain, Phnom Kulen. But how the massive sand blocks were transported to the temple site, remained a mystery. 

While initially it was thought that the blocks were brought through rafts in the rivers, Archaeologists have found that from Phnom Kulen, the sand blocks were transported through a network of hundreds of canals. The builders have found the shortest way to be through the canals(37 kms) !

King Suryavarman II started the construction of the temple 3 years after he came to the throne.  It is said that the construction took around 30 years, and involved 3 lakh labourers, 6000 elephants with 5 million tons of sandstone. The construction stopped after his death, which left the temple incomplete. 

Key Features of Angkor Wat

Apsara carvings

Asparas (celestial dancers) carvings

Asparas (celestial dancers) carvings

There are more than 3000 Apsara ( celestial dancers ) carvings in Angkor Wat. According to Hindy mythology, Apsaras were created from the churning of the seas and dance to please the Gods. Some say that the Apsara carvings were a tribute to the court dancers of that time. 

All around the walls of the temple, you can find them adorned in gorgeous jewellery and various hairstyles. As a part of the restoration processes, some of the sculptures got spoilt by chemicals but measures are being taken to revive them back to glory.

Attention to detail

Angkor Wat is not just a temple, but an exemplary work of architecture. Visitors are often left stunned by this piece of art by the brilliance of human minds and hands. You can also find carvings of the Mahabharata, one of the two major mythological scripts of India. The image shown is in the battlefield of Kurushetra. 

Mahabharat at Angkor Wat

Mahabharat at Angkor Wat

Faces the West

Most of the Hindu temples are built facing the east, however the Angkor Wat faces west. History says that west is the direction that the sculptures of Lord Vishnu must face. While others also believe that the west is the symbolism of death, and that Angkor Wat was designated to be the tomb of King Suryavarman II. 

Whichever ways, only because the temple faces west, we get to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets at Angkor Wat. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Temple etiquette

Here are some of the etiquettes of the Angkor Wat temple. 

  1. Dress appropriately, meaning any dress that covers your shoulders and knees. Without this, you might face issues while getting the tickets & while getting to the top most section of the temple. 
  2. You’ll find many monks at the temple who are going about their spiritual processes. Be respectful to them. Before taking a picture, ask for their consent. Also, both men and women should remember to maintain a safe distance from them as signs of respect.
  3. If you find signs saying restricted area, it’s most probably for your safety. 
  4. Don’t touch the ancient structures/sculptures. The future generations too, will want to see the temple at its best.
  5. Don’t encourage begging. You are most likely to find lots of kids in the temple, but tipping them would be against eradicating poverty. 
  6. Maintain the sanctity of the place by keeping your voices low, clicking pictures without disturbing other tourists, not littering, and not smoking in the temple premises.
Monks at Angkor Wat

Monks at Angkor Wat

Things you should know before your trip

Best time to visit 

November to March is when Angkor Wat is relatively cooler, though visitors flock to the temple all year round. The best time of the day to visit Angkor Wat would be for sunrise, and the temple shortly after it’s opened ( 7:30 pm). It is when it is less crowded & less sunny. 

Getting Around

Tuk-Tuks, also known as remork motos, are the best and most popular option for transport in Angkor Wat. You could also choose a motorbike taxi if you are travelling solo. Private cars and vans are other options for families or groups. However, tuk-tuks are the most economical option among all others.

Line of tuk tuks

Line of tuk tuks

Tickets

Tickets for the Angkor Wat temple can be found only in the Angkor Ticket Centre, and not online or anywhere else. You can get the tickets on day basis - 1, 3 or 7 day Pass. 1 day passes that you get in the evening are valid for the next day as well. 

If you are booking a guided tour, they usually get the ticket themselves, as a part of the package. Just make sure to reaffirm this with your guides. 

Is a guide necessary

Guides are the best way to know about the history tales and interesting stuff which you wouldn’t find otherwise. You get guides on the Angkor Wat site easily, and they charge around $20. Though before hiring one, make sure they have a license from the Ministry of Tourism.

If you don’t prefer to hire a guide, you could get a handbook, or research about it on the internet before visiting it. 

Where to stay

Siem Reap province, is around 7 kms from Angkor Wat, and is the base for exploring the temples in Cambodia. The Hotel Guru has listed hotels in Siem Reap ranging from categories of budget to luxury and many more. You can also find excellent restaurants in Siem Reap. 

Opening hours

If you are someone who enjoys sunrise, the temple opens early at around 5 am. The temple however, opens only at 7:30 pm and closed at 5:30 pm.

Costs

For a basic budget backpacking trip, it costs you somewhere around $50. If you are a luxury backpacker, it can cost you from $150-$200 including your accommodation, commuting, food and travel. 

Check out our exhaustive backpacking checklist for your Cambodia trip.

How long you’ll need

To explore Angkor Wat in all its entirety, you would need around half a day. But if you want to explore only the temple complex, it can take around three to four hours.

Documentary on Angkor Wat Temple

That’s it guys! Hope this guide helps you with planning your next trip to Cambodia. Let us know in the comments of your experiences / feedback 🙂 

Mark Bennett
 

I have a serious thing for travel, outdoors and wilderness. I grew up in Oregon and camping outdoors with my father was one of the fondest memories of childhood. I enjoy camping and hiking and love to share what I've learnt over these years.