90 Alluring Facts About Angkor Wat

Interesting facts about Angkor Wat

The vast Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia is one of Southeast Asia’s ancient architectural and cultural wonders.  Below you’ll learn more about the “Temple City” with these fun and interesting facts about Angkor Wat.

General Angkor Wat Facts 

  • At 162.6 hectares, Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious structure or monument.  
  • Angkor Wat is located in northwestern Cambodia, 230 km (143 mi) northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.  
A map of Southeast Asia with a magnifying glass over Cambodia
Angkor Wat is in the northwest of Cambodia in Southeast Asia.
  • Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Mainland Southeast Asia (also known as Indochina) from 802 to 1431 CE. 
  • At its height, the Khmer Empire covered an area of 1 million km2 (390,000 mi2), roughly the size of modern Egypt.
  • Angkor City was larger than modern-day Los Angeles, making it the world’s largest pre-industrial city.  
  • Angkor Wat means “City of Temples” or “Temple Capital” in the local Khmer language.  
  • King Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – 1150) built Angkor Wat for the Hindu god Vishnu. 
Angkor Wat shot from far away and surrounded by jungle.
  • Originally a Hindu temple, it was later converted to a Buddhist temple and remains the latter today. It has been in near continuous use since it was first built. 
  • Angkor Wat took 37 years to complete and involved 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants, yet it was never fully completed. 
  • Angkor Wat is surrounded by over 1,000 other ancient structures, covering an area of over 400 km2 (154 mi2). 
  • Angkor Wat and all the other ancient structures around it comprise the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor (Yasodharapura in the Khmer language). However, the term “Angkor Wat” is often used to collectively refer to all the ruins in the area. 
Houses and river of Siem Reap viewed from above.
Siem Reap is the main access point to Angkor Wat.
  • Angkor Wat is 5.5 kilometers (3.5 mi) north of Siem Reap, the second largest city in Cambodia and capital of Siem Reap province.  
  • “Siem Reap” means “defeated Thailand” (Siem or Siam is another name for Thailand), referring to the period when the Khmer Empire, centered at Angkor, controlled much of Thailand.   
  • Angkor Wat is 20 km north of Tonle Sap, a huge lake connected to the Mekong River that grows in size by over six times in the wet season, becoming the largest lake in Southeast Asia.  
  • Some Angkor temples in present-day Thailand, such as Phimai Historical Park, are One temple, Preah Vihear Temple, which sits right on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Both countries claimed it, and after a long dispute, the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia.  
Khmer ruins found in Thailand
Khmer ruins at Phimai Historical Park in Thailand
  • Angkor Wat is a symbol of Cambodia. It appears in Cambodia’s water bottles, cigarette packs, and beer cans.  
  • Angkor Wat also appears on the Cambodian flag. Cambodia is one of only two countries in the world with a building on its flag (the other is Afghanistan).  
  • Since there are few written or oral records of the Khmer civilization, many facts about Angkor Wat are based on archaeological analysis and speculation or remain unknown.  
The flag of Cambodia with Angkor Wat on it.
Angkor Wat is featured on the Cambodian flag.

The History of Angkor Wat 

  • Going back to 100 BCE, Cambodia was made up of small local kingdoms that practiced Hinduism and worshipped either Shiva or Vishnu.  
  • King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire in 802 CE. He declared the independence of Kambujadesa (Cambodia) from the Sailendra Dynasty, which was based in Java, and named himself a devaraja (“god-king” in Sanskrit). 
Lion statues in the jungle at Mahendraparvata
Ruins at Mahendraparvata, where the Khmer Empire was founded
  • Jayavarman’s original capital was at Hariharalaya, but he founded the empire at Mahendraparvata, 40 kilometers (25 mi) north of Angkor Wat. The ruins of Mahendraparvata are mostly underground but currently being excavated. They are in Phnom Kulen National Park
  • Yasovarman I, who ruled from 889 to 915, established the capital at Yasodharapura (Angkor). The city’s first temple, Phnom Bakheng, was built on a hill 60 meters above where Angkor Wat was later built. He also built the East Baray, a massive water reservoir. 
Phnom Bakheng temple ruins on a hill looking down on the jungle canopy
Phnom Bakheng, the first state temple at Angkor Wat
  • The capital briefly moved to Koh Ker (928 to 944), then returned to Yasodharapura again under Rajendravarman II (ruled 944–968). 
  • Under Jayavarman V (ruled 968 to 1001), the temples of Ta Keo and Banteay Srei were built. It was a peaceful and prosperous period.  
  • Power struggles and conflicts with neighboring kingdoms dominated the 11th and 12th centuries.  
  • Suryavarman II (ruled 1113–1150) oversaw the construction of Angkor Wat. He conducted major military campaigns in the east (notably against Champa in modern-day Vietnam) and established relations with China. 
  • Although temples at Angkor were typically devoted to the Hindu god Shiva, Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat in honor of Vishnu.  
Relief of Suryavarman II on Angkor Wat
Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat, as depicted on a bas-relief on the temple
  • Suryavarman II was the first king to be depicted in art. There’s a bas relief of him in the South Gallery of Angkor Wat sitting on a platform holding a snake (image above). 
  • After a period of instability, King Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181–1219) took control. He is considered the greatest of the Khmer kings.  
  • Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism and moved the capital north of Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom, with the state temple called the Bayon at its center.  
  • Jayavarman VII also built 102 hospitals, roads connecting every town in the empire, reservoirs, and the temples Ta Prohm and Preah Khan for his mother and father, respectively. 
Statue of Jayavarman VII at Phimai Historical Park
Statue of Jayavarman VII, the greatest leader of the Khmer Empire
  • In 1238, the Thais built their first kingdom at Sukhothai, becoming a competing force in the west. 
  • Jayavarman VIII (ruled 1243–1295) converted to Hinduism and destroyed many Buddhist statues. His son converted back to Buddhism, but the Therevada form of it.  
  • In 1296, Chinese explorer Zhou Daguan visited Angkor and made one of the most detailed records of the city. He also noted that the Thais had recently destroyed it.  
  • Angkor continued to decline, with the final blow being the Siege of Angkor by the Thai Ayutthaya kingdom in 1431.  
  • Angkor was abandoned, and the Khmer king moved to Krong Chaktomuk (modern-day Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia).  

Angkor Wat Architectural Facts  

  • Angkor Wat represents the mythical Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hindu-Buddhism.  
  • The “temple mountain” faces to the west, unlike most other temples at Angkor. This has led some to believe that Suryavarman II built it as a funerary temple for himself. A container, which may have been a funerary jar, was found in the central tower. 
Sunrise at Angor Wat
Angkor Wat faces west, so the sun rises from behind it.
  • Certain towers of Angkor Wat are built to be at precise locations relative to the rising sun on the solstice. The main tower aligns with the sun on the spring equinox.  
  • The temple is built of 5 – 10 million sandstone blocks, which came from over 40 km (25 mi) away and were possibly transported in canals. Each block weighed up to 1.5 tons. Experts aren’t sure what the binding agent was. 
A wall of stone blocks at Angkor Wat
Sandstone blocks used to build Angkor Wat
  • More stone was used to build Angkor Wat than all the Egyptian pyramids combined. 
  • Virtually every surface of Angkor Wat is carved, including over a kilometer of reliefs.  
  • Angkor Wat has a quincunx shape (four towers surrounding a central one, like the symbol for the five sides on a dice). The central tower is the tallest, rising to 65 m (213 ft) above the ground. The five towers represent the five peaks of Mt. Meru and are shaped like lotus buds. 
  • A 3.25-meter statue of Vishnu with eight arms was originally housed in the central tower but is now in the southern tower. 
Vishnu statue at Angkor Wat
This Vishnu statue was once in the central tower.
  • The temple is surrounded by a massive rectangular moat measuring 1.5 by 1.3 km (0.93 X 0.81 mi) and 190 meters (620 feet) wide.
  • Just inside the moat is a wall enclosing the temple area. The wall is 4.5 meters (15 ft) tall and has four gopuras (monumental entrance towers) at each of the cardinal points. Together, the wall and moat represent the surrounding mountains and ocean.   
  • The outer wall encloses an area of 820,000 square meters (203 acres), which contains the main temple at its center. The area also once contained the royal palace, numerous residences, and other structures of the city of Angkor.
  • A sandstone causeway crosses the western side of the moat and becomes a 475-meter avenue leading to the main temple at the center, passing two libraries and pools on either side and lined with naga balustrades.
  • There’s also an eastern entrance with a causeway made of earth. 
Causeway to Angkor Wat with tourists standing on it.
A causeway crosses the moat around Angkor Wat, leading to the entrance gate.
  • There’s a large cruciform terrace at the western (main entrance) side and outer galleries around the periphery of the temple. 
  • The temple has three stories of interlinking galleries, with towers at the corners of the second and third stories. A very steep staircase leads to the 3rd story.  
  • Thousands of apsara (dancing figures) and devata (deities) are carved into the walls of Angkor Wat, most of them unique. 
Inner courtyard of Angkor Wat
The temple’s internal courtyard
  • The temple’s base level covers intricate bas-reliefs, some of which were added in the 16th century. They mostly depict scenes from the Hindu epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The most famous is the Churning of the Sea of Milk.  
  • Overall, Angkor Wat is considered the best and definitive example of Khmer architecture and remains the best preserved today. It is known for its harmony of design and proportions. 

Other Temples Around Angkor Wat 

  • The Bayon is Angkor’s second most famous temple. It is known for its 216 carved stone faces.
  • The faces look serene and are possibly intended to be the Hindu god Brahma or Avalokitesvara (the bodhisttva of compassion). Some believe they were modeled on King Jayavarman VII himself.
  • The Bayon is 3 km (1.86 mi) north of Angkor Wat and at the center of Angkor Thom, Jayavarman VII’s capital.  
Towers with carved stone faces at the Bayon temple in Angkor
Calm, Buddha-like faces of the Bayon
  • Angkor Thom is a walled, gated city several times larger than Angkor Wat, at 9km2 (3.5mi2).
  • Angkor Thom encloses several other structures, such as the older Baphuon temple and the Terrace of Elephants, Phimeanakas Temple, Tep Pranam, and Preah Pithu.  
  • Ta Prohm is another of the most famous temples in Angkor. It is known as the “Tomb Raider temple”, as some scenes from the 2001 film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were shot there.
  • Ta Prohm stands out for being left in its original state, crumbling and taken over by the jungle. It has trees splitting through and growing atop its walls. It is about 1 km east of Angkor Wat.
Temple ruins of Ta Prohm with jungle on top of them
The jungle has overtaken the ruins at Ta Prohm.
  • Preah Khan, like Ta Prohm, was built by King Jayavarman VII and has mostly been left in its original state. It is just north of Angkor Thom.  
  • Other famous spots around Angkor include the ablution pools at Sra Srang, the tower set in a lake at Preah Neak Poan, and Banteay Srei, 25 km northeast of Angkor Wat.   

Angkor Wat in Ruin 

  • After its decline in the 15th century, monks continued to occupy Angkor Wat until around the 16th century. 
  • As time passed, the jungle reclaimed most of the structures at Angkor.
An ancient temple wall at Ta Prohm with a tree growing on top of it and roots spilling down the wall.
A tree growing right on top of a temple wall at Ta Prohm
  • Only a sprinkling of visitors made it to Angkor in the subsequent centuries. 
  • In 1860, French naturalist Henri Mouhot spent three weeks surveying Angkor Wat. His notes were published in 1864, a year after Cambodia became a part of French Indochina.  
  • Restoration of Angkor began in 1908 with the establishment of Conservation d’Angkor, led by École Française d’Extrême-Orient, which was based in Vietnam at the time. It is still in charge of conserving Angkor.  
Moss-covered stone blocks in the jungle at Angkor Wat
Moss-covered stone blocks waiting to be reassembled
  • Following the Cambodian Civil War (1967 – 1975), Pol Pot’s Marxist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and committed genocide from 1975 to 1979. A quarter of the country’s population was killed. The Khmer Rouge looted Angkor Wat and prevented restoration efforts. 
  • During this time, the country’s name was changed to Kampuchea/Democratic Kampuchea, based on an ancient name for the Khmer empire, and the Khmer Rouge aimed to establish a Khmer-like empire. 
A figure of a woman in stone relief with the head removed.
The faces or heads have been removed from countless statues and reliefs at Angkor.
  • There was further damage to Angkor during the subsequent Vietnamese Invasion, with invaders making off with truckloads of artifacts. 
  • Over the 30-some years of war in Cambodia, thousands of statues and artifacts were looted from Angkor and sold on the international market.  
  • A huge number of statue faces or heads have been broken off and replaced, but in some cases, even the replacement parts were stolen again.
A row of statues at Angkor Wat with heads that have been stolen and replaced.
Rows of statues with replacement heads
  • In 1992, Angkor Wat was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the same time, it was listed as a World Heritage in Danger, appealing to the world for help. The latter status was removed in 2004. 
  • The country opened to tourists in 1992, but much of the country’s infrastructure was in complete ruin. The Khmer Rouge remained active, and true peace (and tourism) didn’t take off until after Pol Pot died in 1998 and the Khmer Rouge surrendered a year later. 

Angkor Wat Today 

  • The number of tourists to Angkor Wat jumped from 7650 in 1993 to over 500,000 in 2004.  
  • Most tourists stay in Siem Reap as a base for visiting Angkor Wat. Once a tiny village, Siem Reap got its first traffic light in 2002 and its first ATM in 2005, and after that, it grew exponentially to meet tourist demand.  
Crowds of people exploring the ruins at Angkor Wat
Typical tourist crowds at Angkor Wat
  • Before COVID, over 2.5 million tourists visited Angkor Wat annually. In 2022, only 300,000 Angkor tickets were sold, so the sight is still recovering.
  • 35% of people who enter Cambodia visit Angkor Wat.
  • A statue of Suryavarman II, who built Angkor Wat, greets arriving passengers at the Siem Reap airport
A street across a road saying "Pub Street" and rows of bars in the background
Street of bars catering to tourists in Siem Reap
  • Overtourism has led to poor water distribution and drainage in the Angkor Wat area, causing some of the temples to sink into the ground. 
  • Tourists are expected to dress and behave respectfully when visiting the ruins, which are active places of worship. Monks, nuns, and Buddhist lay people can often be seen meditating or saying prayers among the ruins.  
  • There was an increase in ticket prices and the adoption of a stricter dress code in 2017 after photos appeared on social media of people going nude in Angkor Wat. 
  • Tourists can now visit Angkor Wat on a one-day ($37), three-day ($62), or seven-day ($72) pass. They explore the ruins by bicycle, tuk-tuk, moto, elephant, or tourist shuttle. Helicopter, zipline, and hot air balloon rides are also available. 
Crowds of people sitting on temple ruins at Phnom Bakheng waiting for sunset
Masses of tourists waiting for sunset at Phnom Bakheng
  • The ponds in front of the main temple of Angkor Wat are considered the best spot to watch the sunrise, while Phnom Bakheng is known as the “sunset temple.”  
  • There is a butterfly center and landmine museum 23 kilometers north of Siem Reap, near Banteay Srei temple. Up to 4–6 million land mines are still in the ground in Cambodia, including in the area around Angkor Wat.  
  • There have been governmental discussions of making Angkor Wat a “sister city” with Borobudur in Indonesia and Bagan in Myanmar.  
Exterior of National Museum of Cambodia
Artifacts from Angkor Wat can be seen at the National Museum of Cambodia
  • Besides Tomb Raider, other popular films partially shot at Angkor Wat include In the Mood for Love, Baraka, and Lord Jim
  • Angkor Wat was one of the finalists for the New7Wonders chosen in 2007 but didn’t make the final cut. 
A young male monk meditating in an orange robe while sitting amongst the ruins at Angkor Wat
Angkor is still used as a Buddhist temple and visitors should be respectful.
  • Angkor Wat remains an active Buddhist temple and an important pilgrimage destination in Southeast Asia.  
  • Many of Angkor’s ruins are still underground, as efforts are mostly focused on restoration rather than excavation. There is still much to be learned about Angkor.  
  • In 2022, the government began a policy of evicting local families from the area in an attempt to maintain Angkor Wat’s UNESCO status.

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