Angkor Wat is the world’s largest Temple and the best preserved specimen of Khmer Architecture. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Angkor Wat is more than a Temple and a World Heritage Site. Angkor Wat today stands for Cambodia and is in fact featured in its national flag. It is popularly believed that Angkor Wat is a miniature replica of the Universe in Stone. One of the true wonders of this World, Angkor Wat is a must visit during one’s lifetime.
Phnom Penh the capital of Cambodia and is connected by direct flights from Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kualalumpur, Ho Chi Ming City, Vientiane and Guangzhou. Direct flight to Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located, is available from Bangkok and Singapore. Visitors coming from Thailand and Vietnam can also reach by Road. From Phnom Penh, Siem Reap can also be reached over River in 6 hours.
Getting Around Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat lays 5.5 Kms north of the modern city of Siem Reap. The Siem Reap area is not very large and you can easily cover it in a bicycle. There are several rental shops for Bicycles available. White Bicycles is a charitable organization in Siem Reap which rents out Bicycles and gives the proceeds to projects related to water and education in the rural areas.
Motorcycles are another option if you are alone. However as a tourist you cannot ride one! So you need to hop on behind the driver of the bike. If you are in a group, Tuk tuk is the best option. It is a motorcycle with a hooded carriage and an efficient mode of transport. Remember to carry water, sunglasses and a bandana if you are taking the Tuk Tuk.
Cars and Vans can also be hired although they are less exciting and more expensive!
Angkor Wat complex can be quite overwhelming for the first time visitor. The following route plan is an efficient way of seeing all the important aspects of Angkor Wat in a reasonable amount of time.
Start from the west gate of Angkor Wat. After reaching the entry tower move to the right to catch a glimpse of the five towers. Continue on the walkway and take the steps on the left to the water basin. Have a glimpse of the reflection of the temple in the water and then move to the left side of the Temple itself. The bas-relief features will welcome you on the side walls. Move up the stairs to the second level and then the third level.
Visiting Angkor Wat during monsoons is a double edged sword. While the crowds are less, the climb becomes difficult due to the slippery surface. It is advisable to have a good pair of walking shoes while visiting Angkor Wat. In particular, the climb to the central tower (Mt. Meru) in Angkor Wat is very steep and might be strenuous for the elderly, those with health issues and young children.
Lunch can be packed from your hotel. Alternately you can head to Psaar Chaa which is the old market area for restaurants catering to Mexican, Indian and Khmer cuisine. I would also suggest that there is no need to get Riel, the local currency. US dollars and Thai Baht are accepted everywhere.
Angkor Wat is a Vishnu Temple and was built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II the legendary Khmer Emperor from 1113 AD to 1145-1150 AD. Khmer emperors always had a state temple and till the time of Suryavarman II, the Shiva temple in Baphuon served that purpose. Suryavarman was influenced by the advent of Vaishnavism (believers of Lord Vishnu) in South India and dedicated his new state temple to Lord Vishnu. Construction of Angkor Wat took thirty years. Around the 14th Century, there was a wave of Theravada Buddhism and the King and many subjects converted their faith. Angkor Wat also changed into a Buddhist temple.
Angkor Wat is the largest Temple in the World and measures over 500 acres. A causeway carries visitors across a moat that surrounds the complex. The moat symbolized the primordial cosmic ocean supposed to have existed before creation of our world. There is a grand entrance pavilion which is wide enough for elephants to pass through during the royal processions. The gateways are decorated with more than 500 sculptures of Apasaras or divine dancers.
The temple is one meter above the ground built on a sandstone plinth and is made up of three levels.
The exterior walls of the first level of Angkor Wat feature magnificent stone murals in bas-relief style. The subject of these murals is from Hindu Mythology like the “Ramayana” , "Mahabharata" and “Churning of the Ocean".
(Lord Rama and Lakshmana from Ramayana)
Bheeshma on bed of arrows (Mahabharata)
(Scenes from a War)
The second level of Angkor Wat is full of sculptures of smiling Apsaras or Divine Dancers. As many as 1500 Apsaras will enchant you in this part of Angkor Wat.
The third level of Angkor Wat has five magnificent towers. While four of them are in the shape of Lotus Buds, the central tower rises 65 meters into the skies.
The central sanctuary used to house a golden statue of Lord Vishnu riding the Garuda. After the 1600s when Angkor Wat became a Buddhist Temple, it houses statues of the Buddha.
The architecture of Angkor Wat was influenced by Astronomy, The Calendar and Hindu religion. The Sun was very important for the builders and its movements have dictated the position of the bas-reliefs. The alignment is such that the sun illuminates certain specific elements of the bas-relief. Angkor Wat Temple has special observation areas to watch the Moon and the Sun. The axis of the outer wall around the Angkor Wat complex is equal exactly to the solar year in days. The circumference of the wall is equal exactly to the lunar year in days! It is also equal to the 12 waxing and 12 waning halves of the lunar month each year.
Angkor Wat is the only Temple in Cambodia to face west. Typically Khmer Temples face the East where the Sun Rises. However, it is learnt that West is the direction of Lord Vishnu and hence this exception was made by Suryavarman II. In fact originally Angkor Wat was known as Vrah Vishnulok, which means abode of Lord Vishnu in Sanskrit.
Angkor Wat is a replica of the Universe in stone. The tower that rises from the center of Angkor Wat stands for Mount Meru, the mythical mountain supposed to rise from the center of the universe. The five peaks of Meru are represented by the towers of Angkor Wat. The mountains at the edge of the world are shown as the outer walls of the Angkor Wat complex. As per Hindu Mythology an ocean fills up the outer universe and that is represented by the moat around the Angkor Wat complex.
For a travelogue on the last city built by Khmers, visit Angkor Thom.