25 surprising facts about Angkor Wat complex that you should know

It is not an overstatement to say that Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex is a masterpiece of humankind. It has recently been a preeminent destination on the travel bucket list of travelers who have a desire to discover Asian countries. Not only is the legendary Angkor Wat temple considered a wonder of the world, it is also recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Coming to Angkor Wat complex, you will definitely be wonderstruck in front of the massive monument and the underlying messages conveyed in each carving mural. If you are interested in a trip to the site for your upcoming vacation, here are 25 surprising facts about Angkor Wat complex that you should know.

1. Angkor Wat complex is the most iconic landmark in Cambodia

facts about Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat on Cambodian currency. Flickr: @mattchamplin

You cannot say that you have been to Cambodia without a visit to the Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap. Cambodia is so proud of the temple complex that their national flag features a representation in white of the ancient Angkor Wat temple. The same picture can also be found in some riel notes (Cambodian currency). Located in the north of Siem Riep, 230 km northwest of the capital Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat complex is Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination. The site welcomes more than 2 million visits from international tourists each year. Check out some best Angkor Wat tours in Siem Reap to fill your entire trip with in-depth knowledge

2. Angkor Wat is “The City of Temples”

The modern name Angkor Wat literally means temple city, or the city of temples in Siem Reap. Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire before being abandoned in the early 15th century. The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit nagara meaning “city” or “capital city”, while Wat in the Khmer language means temples.

angkor wat facts
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3. Angkor Wat used to be called “Pisnulok”

It was not until the 16th century that the temple came to be known by its current name. Before this, Angkor Wat was named “Pisnulok”, the official title of the Khmer King Suryavarman II, who built the temple.

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4. Angkor Wat is a mini-scale replica of the spatial universe in stone

Astronomy has a big influence on the architecture of the Angkor Wat complex, and the temple has a special observation area to watch the Sun and the Moon. The axis of the outer wall around the complex is exactly equal to the solar years in days while its circumference is equal to the lunar years in days. Indeed, watching sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat is an once-in-a-lifetime experience any travel enthusiast is dying for.

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5. Angkor Wat complex is much more than Angkor Wat

Although Angkor Wat temple is the most well-known among the tourists, Angkor Wat complex includes Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, etc, which are equally enthralling. It is advisable that you should spend one whole day to explore the beauty and complexity of the temples.

facts about Angkor Wat
Bayon is known for its huge stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with one facing outward and keeping watch at each compass point. Instagram @inspitrip

6. Angkor Wat is peculiarly oriented to the West

Unlike any contemporary temples, the main entrance of Angkor Wat is to the West with a long path leading to the entrance marking by guardian lions. The entrance to the east of the temple is narrower and more modest. Thanks to the odd location, the temple faces sunsets and, hence, is adorned by the evening sun, making Angkor Wat more attractive at twilight.

angkor wat fun facts
The entrance of Angkor Wat. Instagram @mytravelsinlofi

7. Angkor Wat was construction as a dedication to Vishnu

Along with Brahma and Shiva, Vishnu is considered a member of holy trinity of Hinduism and one of the principal deities in the Hindu pantheon. While Brahma is the creator of the universe and Shiva is the destroyer, Vishnu is responsible for the upkeep of the world.

angkor wat facts
The statue of Vishnu inside Angkor Wat. Instagram @inspitrip

Unlike the previous kings who practiced the Shiva tradition and built temples to honor their supreme god – Lord Shiva. Yet, the Khmer King Suryavarman II decided to break that tradition and construct a temple to worship the preserver Vishnu.

8. Khmer bricks, which were used to build Angkor Wat complex, were bonded together almost invisibly by a vegetable compound, instead of mortar

Looking closely at the gaps of the bricks, you will be unable to find any traces of cement or mortar. Rumor has it that they used a kind of paste made from vegetables to bind Khmer bricks together. However, the substance that was used to help the bricks bond to one another for more than a thousand of years without falling apart is still an unsolvable question to the modern scientists.

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9. Angkor Wat complex is by far the largest religious monument on Earth

The world-famous complex Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall, covering a rectangular area of 200 hectares (500 acres), and the moat sandstone causeway alone was 250 meters in length, which makes it the largest religious monument ever constructed.

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10. Angkor Wat complex is also one of the most ancient religious monuments in the world

The Khmer King Suryavarman II commissioned to construct Angkot Wat temple complex between the year 1113 and 1150, in the early 12th century during the Khmer Empire.

11. The estimated construction time of Angkor Wat complex is 30 years

It took approximate three decades to complete the entire Angkor Wat complex.

12. Angkor Wat shifted from a Hindu temple of Lord Vishnu to a Buddhist one

Originally, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu, the Supreme God of Vaishnavite Hinduism. However, towards the end of the 12th century, Buddhism gently permeated the region and Angkor gradually became a center of Buddhist worship. After 1432, when the capital city was moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared for by Buddhist monks.

angkor wat facts
Flickr @adamjones

13. It is widely accepted by the historians that Angkor Wat complex initially served as a funeral temple

In comparison with the precedent temples facing the East, the orientation of the temple is to the west, which associates with the death since the setting sun leaves an impression of the end of life cycle, giving the temple a funerary meaning.

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14. At least five million tons of sandstones were used to build the temple complex

To create the moat around the temple solely, 1.5 million cubic meters (53 million cubic feet) of sands and silted were moved. More than five million bricks, some were up to 3,300 pounds in weight, made it to the temple at the bottom of nearby mountains.

15. Angkor Wat was amazingly built without any aid of machinery

At the time Angkor Wat was erected, no machines had yet been invented. The strength of more than 1,000 elephants and the muscle of 300,000 laborers were the only factors contributing to the completion of the temple complex.

16. Angkor Wat is an exemplar of classical Khmer architecture

Classical Khmer architecture, also known as Angkor Wat Style, was applied to the construction of the greatest Angkorian temple – Angkor Wat. Banteay Samre and Thommanon in Angkor, and Phimai in Thailand also share the same building style.

angkor wat facts
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17. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat

An interesting feature of Angkor Wat is that it is encompassed by a moat which is 200 meters wide, 4 meters deep and have the perimeter of around 5 km. This moat is of great help in keeping the groundwater not rising or falling to the extreme.

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18. Carvings on the walls reveal a story of the temple origin

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A carving mural in a temple of Angkor Wat complex. Flickr @glennsundeen

The decorations on the wall are the unique way of Hindu telling stories. Scrutinizing the murals will help you understand the temple’s origin in Hindu religion.

19. The temple was designed with the view to representing Mount Meru

angkor wat facts
Five towers of Angkor Wat representing Mount Meru. Flickr: @danielaanievergelt

Mount Meru is a sacred five-peaked mountain of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology, which is deemed the center of the universe and the home of the Hindu Mythology Lord. That explains the five towers in Angkor Wat temple.

20. The hidden message of Bayon Smile

Angkor Wat facts
Bayon temple and a smiling stone face. Instagram @andshexplores

The Bayon has the reputation of a serene temple and 200 smiling stone faces are the special features of the site. The local believe that praying in front of these will bring them good luck. Bayon Smile, or the Smile of Angkor, is also the topic for a must-see play shown on weekends at Smile Angkor grand Theatre.

21. Angkor Wat piques the curiosity of thousands of tourists with the intriguing story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk

The Churning of the Ocean of Milk is a bas-relief scene which can be spotted in the southern part of the east gallery at Angkor Wat. It deprives from a myth from Hindu epic depicting the elixir of immortality, or the diverse incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

Carved scene of "churning the ocean milk" Flickr @jasoneppink

22. Ta Prohm was the main setting of the Hollywood blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie

The success of Tomb Raider in 2001 put Ta Prohm temple on the map. Unlike other temples, Ta Prohm is pristine without any human interferences and the trees growing out of the ruins are the notable feature of the area. A fun fact is that Angelina Jolie adopted her first son Maddox from an orphanage in Cambodia.

ta prohm
Ta Prohm temple. Instagram @inspitrip

23. Angkor Wat was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Due to its significant role in both Hinduism and Buddhism, UNESCO declared Angkor Wat a World Heritage Site in 1992. Since then, UNESCO has set up a far-reaching programme to preserve the site and its surroundings.

24. Angkor Wat is on the list of 21 finalists competing for seven new wonders of the world

Because of the grandeur in appearance and captivating small details inside, Angkor Wat made it to the final round in the competition of seven new wonders of the world.

25. Appropriate attire must be worn during a visit to the temples

Angkor Wat has a strict dress code. When visiting temples, long pants covering knees and shirts covering shoulders are compulsory. It is believed that wearing revealing clothes shows disrespect to the deities and sanctuary. As a result, those in skirts, shorts, and tank tops will not be allowed to go inside the temples.