Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive sites in the world, and was immediately a highlight of my southeast Asia trip. The temples are breathtaking! While you need to visit them in Cambodia to appreciate it, below is a photo tour of the experience.
I’ll start with some sunrise photos, because that’s what it’s famous for and I love them! I’ll show you the geography, then sprinkle in a little history, with photos throughout the post.
Where is Angkor Wat?
Angkor Wat is located in Siem Reap, in Cambodia. Along with Angkor Thom, the Bayon temples, and Ta Prohm, Angkor might be the best two-day trip you can take in all of Asia.
Angkor Wat was built by the vanished Khmer empire. It was constructed during the reign of King Suryavarman II, who ruled from 1113 to at least 1145.
Did you know?
Angkor is located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap literally translates to ‘defeat of Siam,’ which is today’s Thailand. It’s a conflict that goes back centuries, between the Siamese and Khmer people.
The real “tomb raider” ?
This is Angkor’s only temple with tombs, despite the “Tomb Raider” movie being shot at nearby Ta Prohm, where there’s no tombs.
“Angkor Wat” translates to “The city that is a temple.”
Aspara dancers everywhere!
There are more than 1,860 carved Apsara dancers in Angkor Wat.
Did you know?
I found this interesting – “Angkor Wat” translates to “The city that is a temple.” It’s true, it’s both a city and temple at the same time.
Stories in the Walls – a closer look
How long did it take to build?
They say Angkor Wat took 30 years to build, which seems like a long time, until you see all the rich detail on nearly every wall. Nearly every wall has details you can miss!
Why was Angkor Wat built?
Scholars say the temples were built for funerary purposes, since its bas-reliefs are meant to be viewed anti-clockwise, a direction that was associated with death in the Khmer empire.
From Hindu to Buddhist?
This stone sculpture depicts the 8 arms of Vishnu, the powerful Hindu god, but with the head of Buddha. When Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple, the head of Vishnu was replaced with the head of Buddha.
Many devatas grace the walls. Devata is another word for deva, the Hindu term for deity
My favorite in the Angkor Wat complex?
Finally, if you’re going to Siem Reap, you’ll definitely also want to check out both the Bayon temples / Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (post coming soon). Those are my favorites!
Initially the faces were believed to represent Brahma, the Hindu God of creation depicted with four heads. When it was later established that the Bayon was not a Hindu temple but a Buddhist one, archeologists believed the faces to be of Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The similarity of statues of Jayavarman VII and the face towers had led some to believe that it is the King himself whose face is depicted on the towers.
Bayon temples History:
But who’s Jayavarman?
Bayon was the state temple of Jayavarman VII, a powerful ruler in the late 13th century (Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII). The temple sat at the center of Angkor Thom, a walled city that served as the capital of the Khmer Empire.
Next, we’ll explain the cosmic angle.
The Bayon temple was “intended to evoke the form of Mt. Meru—the cosmic mountain at the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In keeping with this cosmic symbolism, the plan of the temple is based on a ‘yantra’, a symbol used by Tantric Buddhists as the basis of mandala diagrams that represent the layout of the universe. The temple honored not just one deity, but a host of gods found throughout the Khmer empire. Its central shrine held an image of Jayavarman VII, who perhaps imagined himself as a god-King ruling in the name of the Buddha” [source]
Our guide explained how the bas-relief is showing Khmer soldiers going to war
Bayon faces are facing in all four directions on each tower. The faces are thought to represent Lokeshvara, a Buddhist deity that projected benevolence outward to the four directions
Details on every Bayon wall!
Next, I’d like you to focus in closer up on the actual walls. Every wall has detail that’s interesting in Bayon!
Finally, let’s finish the tour with some more photos of these structures. You can’t tell from my expression here but I loved it!
Angkor Wat Itinerary
If you have just a day or two, make sure you get to these three areas of temples.