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Things Nobody Tells You About Angkor Wat


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Amelina Coakley



Welcome to the enchanting world of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most impressive archaeological wonders in Southeast Asia. Nestled amidst the lush jungles of Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a testament to the ingenuity, artistry, and spiritual devotion of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from the 9th to the 15th centuries.


With its awe-inspiring temples, intricate stone carvings, and mystical atmosphere, Angkor Wat draws millions of visitors from across the globe each year. But there are aspects of this ancient complex that often go untold, secrets and hidden stories waiting to be discovered.


In this article, we will delve into the lesser-known aspects of Angkor Wat, exploring its fascinating history, architectural marvels, symbolism, conservation efforts, and the challenges faced in preserving this cultural gem. Additionally, we will venture beyond the beaten path to unveil the lesser-known temples surrounding Angkor Wat and delve into the intriguing mysteries and legends that surround this mystical site.


Whether you are planning a trip to Cambodia or simply interested in learning more about this remarkable place, join us on a journey to uncover the things that nobody tells you about Angkor Wat.


History of Angkor Wat

The history of Angkor Wat is intricately entwined with the rise and fall of the mighty Khmer Empire. Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat served as the centerpiece and spiritual heart of the empire for centuries.


During its heyday, the Khmer Empire spanned much of Southeast Asia, reaching its peak of power and influence in the 12th century. To showcase their grandeur and divine authority, the Khmer kings embarked on a massive building campaign, constructing awe-inspiring temples and monuments throughout their domain.


Angkor Wat, originally known as “Vrah Vishnu-lok” meaning “The Sacred Residence of Vishnu,” was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple was not only a place of worship but also a political and cultural center.


Interestingly, Angkor Wat was not only a temple but also a symbolic representation of the universe. The outer moat surrounding the temple symbolized the cosmic ocean, while the central sanctuaries were believed to be Mount Meru, the mythical home of the gods in Hindu mythology.


After the decline of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Angkor Wat fell into obscurity, hidden beneath layers of jungle vegetation. It was not until the 19th century, when French explorer Henri Mouhot stumbled upon the hidden complex, that Angkor Wat was brought back into the world’s attention.


Since then, Angkor Wat has undergone numerous restoration and conservation efforts to preserve its historical and cultural significance. Today, it stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Khmer Empire and attracts visitors from around the world who come to marvel at its architectural brilliance and immerse themselves in its rich history.


Architecture of Angkor Wat

The architecture of Angkor Wat is a magnificent fusion of religious symbolism, intricate design, and technical brilliance. Designed in the Khmer architectural style, this sprawling temple complex exhibits a level of sophistication and grandeur that is truly awe-inspiring.


One of the most distinctive features of Angkor Wat is its massive scale. Covering an area of over 400 acres, it is the largest religious monument in the world. Its main structure is built on multiple levels, leading to a central tower that soars over 200 feet into the sky.


The temple is constructed primarily using sandstone, which was sourced from quarries located about 40 kilometers away. The blocks of stone were meticulously cut and transported to the site, where they were assembled with incredible precision.


As you explore Angkor Wat, you will notice the intricate carvings that adorn its walls. These carvings depict scenes from Hindu mythology, historical events, and daily life in ancient Cambodia. The level of detail in these carvings is astounding, showcasing the skill and artistry of the Khmer craftsmen who created them.


The architectural layout of Angkor Wat is also deeply symbolic. The temple is designed as a representation of Mount Meru, the mythical home of the gods in Hindu cosmology. The five towers that dominate the central complex are believed to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru.


The layout of the temple follows a strict alignment with the cardinal directions, emphasizing the harmony between the earthly and divine realms. The main entrance faces west, symbolizing the direction of death in Hindu belief, while the central sanctuary faces east, signifying the direction of rebirth.


Another notable architectural feature of Angkor Wat is the intricate system of bas-reliefs. These detailed stone carvings adorn the walls of the galleries surrounding the central complex, depicting various religious and historical narratives. The bas-reliefs provide a valuable insight into the culture and beliefs of the Khmer Empire.


Overall, the architecture of Angkor Wat is a testament to the skill, creativity, and spiritual devotion of the Khmer people. It stands as a lasting legacy of a civilization that once ruled over a vast empire, leaving behind a masterpiece that continues to inspire and captivate visitors from around the world.


Symbolism in Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is not just a stunning architectural masterpiece; it is also steeped in layers of symbolism that reflect the religious beliefs and cosmological concepts of the ancient Khmer civilization.


One of the key symbols found throughout Angkor Wat is the lotus flower. The lotus is a sacred symbol in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, representing purity, enlightenment, and spiritual awakening. Its presence in Angkor Wat signifies the pursuit of spiritual transcendence.


Another important symbol in Angkor Wat is the depiction of celestial beings, known as devatas, which adorn the walls of the temple. These intricate carvings represent divine feminine energy and are believed to channel spiritual blessings to those who visit and worship at the temple.


The elaborate bas-reliefs on the walls of the galleries are also rich in symbolism. They depict scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the Churning of the Ocean of Milk and the Battle of Kurukshetra. These narratives convey moral lessons and philosophical concepts, reminding visitors of the importance of righteous actions and spiritual devotion.


The layout and orientation of Angkor Wat itself hold symbolic significance. The temple is aligned with the cardinal directions, with the main entrance facing west and the central sanctuary facing east. This arrangement symbolizes the cyclical nature of life, with west representing death, and east representing rebirth and enlightenment.


The lofty towers and soaring central sanctuary of Angkor Wat also have symbolic meaning. They represent the mythical Mount Meru, the abode of the gods in Hindu cosmology. The ascent to the central tower is seen as a spiritual journey, with each level representing a step closer to divine enlightenment.


Water, in the form of moats and reservoirs surrounding Angkor Wat, is yet another significant symbol. Water is associated with purity and renewal, and the presence of water around the temple complex is believed to purify and sanctify the space, creating a sacred environment for worship.


Overall, the symbolism found in Angkor Wat adds depth and meaning to the temple complex. It invites visitors to contemplate the profound spiritual and philosophical concepts that were central to the beliefs of the Khmer Empire, making a visit to Angkor Wat not just a visual feast, but also a spiritual and intellectual journey.


Conservation Efforts at Angkor Wat

A jewel of Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat requires careful preservation and conservation to protect its invaluable cultural and historical significance. Over the years, various organizations and government bodies have dedicated significant efforts to ensure the long-term survival of this ancient temple complex.


The primary organization responsible for the conservation of Angkor Wat is the APSARA National Authority (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap). Established in 1995, APSARA works tirelessly to oversee the management, restoration, and protection of the Angkor Archaeological Park, which includes the Angkor Wat complex.


One of the main challenges faced in the conservation efforts is the impact of climate and environmental factors. The tropical climate of Cambodia, including high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and humidity, can contribute to the deterioration of the temple structures. Additionally, the growth of vegetation and tree roots can pose a threat to the stability of the ancient stones.


To combat these issues, ongoing maintenance and restoration work is carried out. This includes carefully removing vegetation and tree roots, stabilizing and reinforcing structures, and implementing drainage systems to reduce water damage. The restoration work is carried out using traditional techniques and materials to ensure authenticity and adherence to the original design.


Another crucial conservation element focuses on raising awareness and educating the public about the importance of preserving Angkor Wat. APSARA collaborates with local communities, tourism stakeholders, and educational institutions to promote sustainable tourism practices and encourage responsible behavior among visitors.


The revenue generated from entrance fees to the Angkor Archaeological Park is reinvested in conservation efforts. These funds are used for the ongoing research, maintenance, restoration, and protection of the temple complex. They also support the local community through infrastructure development, education, and healthcare initiatives.


Furthermore, international partnerships play a vital role in supporting the conservation of Angkor Wat. Collaborations with UNESCO, international heritage organizations, and cultural foundations provide expertise, funding, and technical assistance to ensure the preservation of this unique site.


The conservation efforts at Angkor Wat are a testament to the commitment and dedication of all those involved in safeguarding this world treasure. By preserving this invaluable heritage, future generations will continue to marvel at the beauty and significance of Angkor Wat, ensuring its legacy lives on for centuries to come.


Visiting Angkor Wat: Tips and Recommendations

Visiting Angkor Wat can be an overwhelming yet rewarding experience. To make the most of your trip and ensure a smooth visit, here are some helpful tips and recommendations:

  1. Plan your visit: Angkor Wat is vast, so it’s important to plan your itinerary in advance. Decide which temples you want to visit, and consider the weather conditions and the time of day for each site. Allocate enough time to explore and appreciate each temple.
  2. Obtain an entrance pass: To enter the Angkor Archaeological Park, you will need an entrance pass. These can be purchased at the ticket office located near the main entrance. Be prepared with your passport-sized photo and cash (preferably in US dollars) to purchase your pass.
  3. Start early: Angkor Wat is best experienced during the early morning hours to witness the stunning sunrise. Arriving before sunrise allows you to avoid the crowds and capture breathtaking photos. Remember to check the sunrise time and plan accordingly.
  4. Dress appropriately: Angkor Wat is a religious site, so respectful attire is required. Ensure your shoulders and knees are covered. Loose-fitting and breathable clothing is recommended to cope with the tropical climate. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking and climbing.
  5. Stay hydrated: The Cambodian climate can be hot and humid, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Bring a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of water throughout your visit. There are water stations available within the temple complex where you can refill your bottle.
  6. Engage a local guide: Consider hiring a knowledgeable local guide who can provide valuable insights into the history, architecture, and symbolism of Angkor Wat. They can enhance your understanding and appreciation of the temples and share fascinating stories and legends.
  7. Respect the rules: Angkor Wat is a sacred site, so it’s important to respect the rules and regulations. Avoid touching any carved surfaces, refrain from climbing on fragile structures, and be mindful of your behavior. Remember that Angkor Wat is a place of worship for some, so maintain a respectful and quiet demeanor.
  8. Explore beyond Angkor Wat: While Angkor Wat is the most famous temple, do not limit your visit to just this site. Explore the surrounding temples, such as Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Srei. These lesser-known temples offer unique architectural features and a more serene atmosphere.
  9. Capture the memories: Don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the mesmerizing beauty of Angkor Wat. From the intricate carvings to the panoramic views, there are countless photo opportunities awaiting you. Be sure to charge your devices and bring extra batteries or power banks.
  10. Experience the local culture: Take the time to immerse yourself in the local culture and interact with the Cambodian people. Sample the delicious Khmer cuisine, visit the local markets, and maybe even participate in a traditional Khmer dance or music performance.

By following these tips and recommendations, you can make the most of your visit to Angkor Wat and create lasting memories of this extraordinary cultural treasure.


Lesser-known Temples of Angkor Wat

While Angkor Wat receives the majority of attention, the Angkor Archaeological Park is also home to many lesser-known temples that are equally fascinating and worth exploring. These hidden gems offer unique architectural styles, serene atmospheres, and intriguing historical narratives.


One such temple is Banteay Srei, located about 25 kilometers northeast of the main Angkor Wat complex. Often referred to as the “Citadel of Women,” this 10th-century temple is renowned for its ornate pink sandstone carvings. The intricate details and delicate designs on the walls and lintels are breathtaking, showcasing the impressive craftsmanship of the Khmer artisans.


Another hidden marvel is Beng Mealea, situated about 60 kilometers east of Siem Reap. This temple has a mysterious and overgrown atmosphere, with crumbling ruins and encroaching trees creating a captivating and photogenic sight. Exploring the labyrinthine corridors and moss-covered structures of Beng Mealea feels like stepping into an Indiana Jones adventure.


Preah Khan, located northeast of Angkor Thom, is another temple worth visiting. Built in the late 12th century, it was originally a Buddhist monastery and university complex. Preah Khan features intricate carvings, expansive galleries, and tranquil courtyards, offering a unique sense of discovery and tranquility away from the crowds.


For those seeking a more remote and off-the-beaten-path experience, Phnom Kulen is an ideal destination. Located approximately 50 kilometers north of Angkor Wat, it is a sacred mountain and a significant pilgrimage site for Cambodians. Besides its religious significance, Phnom Kulen is known for its beautiful waterfalls, ancient sculptures, and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.


Kbal Spean, also known as the “River of a Thousand Lingas,” is located about 50 kilometers northeast of the main temple complex. This site features stone carvings of Hindu gods and sacred symbols on the riverbed, which were believed to purify the water flowing downstream. A short hike through the dense forest leads to these captivating carvings and a series of cascading waterfalls.


Furthermore, Ta Som is a small temple that offers a serene and tranquil atmosphere. It is relatively untouched, with tree roots intertwined with the stone structures, creating a mystical and ethereal setting. Ta Som provides a unique opportunity for a peaceful and contemplative experience away from the crowds.


These are just a few examples of the lesser-known temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park, each with its own distinct charm and historical significance. Exploring these hidden gems allows you to not only appreciate the architectural splendor but also delve into the rich and diverse history of the Khmer Empire.


Challenges in Preserving Angkor Wat

Preserving a monumental and centuries-old complex like Angkor Wat comes with its fair share of challenges. Despite the ongoing conservation efforts, several factors pose significant challenges in maintaining the structural integrity and historical authenticity of this iconic site.


One of the main challenges is the impact of climate and weather. The tropical climate of Cambodia, characterized by high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and humidity, can accelerate the deterioration of the temple structures. The constant exposure to harsh weather conditions can erode the stone surfaces and weaken the structural stability of the temples.


Vegetation growth, particularly tree roots, is another challenge faced in preserving Angkor Wat. While the intertwining roots create a captivating sight, they can also pose a threat to the stability of the ancient structures. The roots can infiltrate the stone surfaces, causing cracks and damage over time. Careful and continuous maintenance is required to safely remove the vegetation without causing harm to the temple complex.


Tourism and visitor impact also present significant challenges. Angkor Wat attracts millions of visitors each year, and the sheer volume of foot traffic and human presence can contribute to the wear and tear of the complex. Increased visitor numbers can strain the infrastructure, compromise the delicate carvings and structures, and lead to the erosion of paths and walkways.


Another challenge lies in the conservation methods and materials used. The delicate balance between restoring and preserving the temples while maintaining historical authenticity is a constant dilemma. Using modern restoration techniques and materials may compromise the integrity and authenticity of the ancient structures. Striking the right balance between preservation and restoration is a constant challenge for conservation experts.


Funding is also a critical aspect of preserving Angkor Wat. The significant costs associated with ongoing maintenance, restoration efforts, research, and training require continuous financial support. While entrance fees and tourism revenue contribute to the preservation efforts, additional funding from international organizations, cultural foundations, and collaborations play a vital role in ensuring the long-term survival of this ancient monument.


Despite these challenges, dedicated organizations, including the APSARA National Authority, continue to address these issues with determination. Through collaborations, research, and innovative conservation practices, efforts are being made to safeguard the architectural wonders and historical significance of Angkor Wat for future generations.


Preserving a site as magnificent and historically significant as Angkor Wat requires constant vigilance, ongoing research, and collaborative efforts. By addressing the challenges and implementing sustainable preservation strategies, we can ensure that Angkor Wat remains a symbol of Cambodia’s past and a source of inspiration for generations to come.


Mysteries and Legends of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, with its ancient structures and rich historical significance, is not without its fair share of mysteries and legends. Over the centuries, numerous tales and enigmas have surrounded this iconic temple complex, adding to its allure and mystique.


One of the enduring mysteries of Angkor Wat is the construction technique used to create the temple. The massive sandstone blocks that make up the complex were quarried and transported from a distance of over 40 kilometers. The fascinating question remains: how did the Khmer architects and engineers achieve such an impressive feat without the use of modern technology? The exact method of quarrying, cutting, and transporting these enormous stones continues to be a subject of investigation and speculation.


The intricate carvings found throughout Angkor Wat have also given rise to legends and stories. One such legend is about the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” a prominent bas-relief that illustrates a Hindu myth. The legend suggests that the gods and demons joined forces to churn the cosmic ocean in search of the elixir of immortality. The carving is said to possess mystical powers, and locals believe that touching it can bring good luck and blessings.


Another enigma surrounds the presence of hidden chambers and secret passageways within Angkor Wat. Local folklore and legends speak of hidden treasure troves, underground tunnels, and concealed rooms that supposedly hold ancient relics and riches. While some of these claims may be steeped in myth, several explorations have indeed uncovered hidden chambers and tunnels, adding an air of mystery to the temple complex.


There are also tales of a hidden city beneath Angkor Wat. According to local legends, a vast underground network of tunnels and chambers lies beneath the temple. Some believe that this underground city served as the refuge for the ancient Khmer kings during times of war and political unrest. While explorations have revealed a complex hydraulic system beneath the temple, the existence of an extensive underground city remains a subject of intrigue and speculation.


Additionally, stories of curses surrounding Angkor Wat have captured the imaginations of many. Legend has it that disturbing or removing sacred objects from the temple complex can lead to misfortune and tragedy. There are tales of stolen artifacts and the subsequent misfortunes that befell those who took them. These stories add an aura of mystery and caution to the experience of visiting Angkor Wat.


While it may be difficult to separate fact from fiction, the mysteries and legends surrounding Angkor Wat contribute to its ethereal appeal. They evoke a sense of wonder and intrigue, inviting visitors to delve deeper into the history and mysticism of this awe-inspiring temple complex.



Angkor Wat, with its grandeur, intricate carvings, and rich historical significance, stands as a testament to the remarkable achievements of the Khmer Empire. This magnificent temple complex, hidden within the jungles of Cambodia, holds a deep sense of spirituality, cultural heritage, and architectural brilliance.


From the history and symbolism engraved in its stone walls to the lesser-known temples and enchanting legends, Angkor Wat offers a truly immersive experience that captivates the imagination and leaves a lasting impression.


However, the preservation and conservation of Angkor Wat present ongoing challenges. The impact of weather and climate, vegetation growth, visitor impact, and the need for sustainable preservation practices require constant effort and collaboration.


Despite the challenges, the dedicated organizations and passionate individuals involved in the conservation efforts strive to protect Angkor Wat for future generations. Through ongoing research, responsible tourism practices, and the support of international partnerships, the cultural and historical significance of this UNESCO World Heritage site can be upheld.


Visiting Angkor Wat is a journey into a fascinating world, where ancient history intertwines with captivating legends and timeless architecture. It invites us to reflect on the remarkable creativity and devotion of the Khmer civilization and serves as a reminder of the enduring legacy they left behind.


As you explore Angkor Wat’s temples and immerse yourself in its mystical ambiance, take the time to appreciate the intricate carvings, ponder the symbolism, and uncover the hidden stories that bring this sacred place to life.


With each step you take, you become part of this living heritage, connecting with the spirituality and cultural significance that resonates throughout Angkor Wat.


So, whether you are planning a trip to Cambodia or simply indulging in the wonders of ancient history, allow yourself to be captivated by the things nobody tells you about Angkor Wat and embark on a journey of discovery that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.