Siem Reap & Angkor Wat Travel guide (Part 4)
In addition to being the symbol on the Cambodian flag, this is the temple that people most want to see. In fact, most people think the entire site is called Angkor Wat. Angkor means “city” or “capital,” and a “wat” is a temple, so Angkor Wat is the temple city or city temple for the royal city of the Angkorian kings.
The Angkor Wat is probably the largest religious complex ever built. Pictures don’t do it justice. The site covers about 200 acres.
As is typical with most Khmer temples, the outline of Angkor Wat, with its stylized domes, is meant to symbolize a religious story – in this case the home of gods, Mount Meru. The gods reside at the top – the main tower. The other five towers represent the five peaks of the mountain.
Angkor Wat is in surprisingly good condition for two main reasons. First, it was used as living and working quarters by Buddhist monks for much of the time since the demise of the Angkorian Empire. Second, even the Khmer Rouge stayed away in their rampages.
Around the wat is a huge moat and a high retaining wall covered in bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs are some of the greatest cultural treasures in Cambodia. They are probably in such good condition because of the former resident monks – their presence discouraged thievery.
There are 12 towers that can be reached via steep stairways.
Tip: Trekking up and down stairways in Khmer monuments and temples is not for the faint of heart. The steps are uneven and steep.
The best way to see Angkor Wat and the other complexes around the area is to buy an English-language guidebook. You’ll get all the details, maps, and suggested routes to suit your interests.
Note: Khmer culture didn’t begin with Angkor. Not too far from the Angkor complex is the seventh-century complex of Sambor Prei Kuk. It is a Chenla-era complex of over 100 temples, about 35 km/22 miles north of the town of Kompong Thom. Local travel agents or your hotel can arrange an excursion.
Around the area
To the east of Angkor Thom are several monuments and wats of interest. Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon are just outside the east gate. Chau Say Tevoda has a fair number of carvings in good condition. Most are of Vishnu, although the temple is dedicated to Shiva. The other temple is largely in ruins.
Ta Keo is a huge edifice is to the east of the complex. It is over 50 m (165 feet) high, and was never completed. It is built largely of sandstone – one of the earliest buildings made this way. Ta Prohm is south of Ta Keo. It still stands largely surrounded by jungle. The experience of the jungle makes the side-trip worthwhile. Cambodia used to be covered by jungle, but only a few sections of it remain.
Bantay Kdei is another huge temple complex, also to the east (about three km/1.8 miles) from Angkor Thom. Little is known about what appears to be a hodge-podge of buildings and towers.
One of the oldest buildings in the area is Prasat Kravan. It dates from 921 and is unusual because it is built of brick, at a time when laterite and sandstone were the materials of choice.
Pre Rup is also nearby, and its claim to fame is as the first building to use the five-tower (Mount Meru) motif as its central theme, 150 years before Angkor Wat was built. The Eastern Baray (Lake) is also in this area. It is dry now. In the middle stands the East Mebon with its five towers, dating from 952.
To the north of Angkor Thom are several buildings of interest. Preah Khan is about four km/2.4 miles from the Bayon. It is a 12th-century walled complex and was the capital immediately preceding the move to Angkor Thom.
To the west of Angkor Thom is the Western Baray (lake) with the West Mebon in the middle. The bronze statue of Vishnu (in the national museum in Phnom Penh) was found here. The lake is still in use today.
Ak Thom is also to the west and is noteworthy as the oldest surviving temple in the region.
The main group of outlying temples is the Roluos Group, about 16 km/10 miles to the southeast of the main temple groups.
The three main temples are the Preah Ko (879), Bakong (881), and Lolei (893). All three temples are Hindu sites and made of brick with stone entries.
There are additional complexes in the area – Banteay Samre, Bantey Srei, Phnom Kulen, Beng Mealea, and Preah Vihear.
All have certain appeal, and a comprehensive guidebook bought in Siem Reap is your best way to decide where else to visit.
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Travel Guide
Part 1 : Introduction & How to get there
Part 2: Angkor Temples
Part 3 : Visiting Angkor Temples
Angkor Temples map
Picture of Banteay Srei Temple
City and region guide homepage
Cambodia travel guide homepage