The Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia

A Tour in Pictures

Most people go to Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat temple, and rightly so.

There are many beautiful pictures of Angkor out there, and for most of us it was one of those pictures that inspired us to visit Angkor Wat.

Pictures like this one.

Angkor Wat temple in the evening
The Stone Causeway Leading to the Angkor Wat Temple
in Evening Light.

Or this one.

Angkor Wat temple sunrise
The Temple of Angkor Wat at Sunrise.

Or this one

Angkor Wat temple elevated view.
Elevated View of Angkor Wat.

But those pictures only show you how Angkor looks from the outside.

Have you seen the inside of the Angkor Wat temple?  Have you seen the detailed bas-relief and decorations that adorn almost every wall? Or the steep staircase that has been made even more precarious by age? Have you seen how the world looks from Angkor Wat after you climb those deadly stairs?

If you haven't, I'd like to take you on a little visual 'tour.'


The Entrance to Angkor Wat

First, you'll cross the moat to get into the temple complex. The moat will hold more water in the wet season than in the dry one. The excitement starts here, and you'll no doubt start taking pictures if you have your camera on at this point.

Angkor Wat temple moat
Moat from outside the Angkor Wat temple.  Photo by Joel

As you enter the main causeway and start the long walk to the main temple, feast your eyes on the sight of the imposing structure. Historians have decided that Angkor Wat is both a temple and a mausoleum. Most visitors will not debate that much, because just enjoying the sight is enough.

Symmetry has been long prized as one of Angkor's great features. Walking the causeway is one of the best times to appreciate it.

Angkor Wat causeway to temple
The long causeway to the center of Angkor Wat.

The Famous Angkor Wat Reflecting Pools

You'll shortly see the reflecting pools where some of the most beautiful Angkor Wat pictures were taken. The pools make Angkor Wat even more interesting to photograph, because you then have the addition of natural symmetry.

Angkor Wat temple mirror image
Angkor Wat Temple reflected in the pools. Photo by K. Simourd

The pool is usually completely filled with water during the wet season, and you can take some great pictures. It is only partially filled during the dry season, so mirror images are harder to come by. For example:

Angkor Wat temple partial mirror image
Angkor pool in dry season: not full.

Passing the pools, you'll then step onto the Cruciform terrace. The crucifix shape isn't that obvious unless viewed from above. Below, on your left and right sides, you'll also see two 'smaller' buildings. These are the two libraries (symmetry again, you see?).

Angkor Wat temple cruciform terrace
Angkor Wat cruciform terrace. Photo by S. Cornish

Inside the Gallery of 1,000 Buddhas (Preah Pean)

When you first enter the temple, you'll immediately see the Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas (Preah Pean).

Angkor Wat temple gallery 1000 buddhas
One of the corner pools inside the Gallery of 1,000 Buddhas. Photo by A. Dinh

As the name suggests, this area used to have hundreds of Buddha images. Now only remnants remain as some were removed and others stolen. There are 4 'pools' within the cloister, but none of them are filled with water any longer.

Angkor Wat temple gallery beams
Pillars in the gallery, full of inscriptions.

On the pillars, you'll see inscriptions of people's good deeds. Most of them are written in Khmer, but some are also written in Japanese or Burmese.
Angkor Wat temple writings

Standing within the cloister is a great experience. Your eyes will be busy taking in every detail - the size of the enclosure, the many Apsara dancer figures, the airiness and ancient feeling. Being under the roof where it's shady and cool, you can see how bright the Cambodian sun is shining.

The contrast made by the bright stones and sculptures under the direct sun, and the calm, still ones inside is indescribable.

Angkor Wat temple apsaras
Apsara dancers at the Angkor Wat temple. Photo by electrostatico

Shady on the inside, bright on the outside.

Angkor Wat temple cloister
Another one of the corner pools in the gallery. Photo by K. L. Yeo

There's a large 'Buddha' statue opposite the gallery entrance, towards the end. The statue is actually Vishnu, the Hindu God, dressed as Buddha. Many people come to pray and give their offerings while visiting the Angkor Wat temple.

It reminds you once again what the temple is about. It was a religious structure then, and it is still one now, though maybe not on the scale it used to be.

Angkor Wat temple Buddha statue in the gallery
People praying and placing offerings inside the Angkor Wat temple.

When you are done taking in the sights, it's time to move into the central courtyard where the main towers are.

Angkor Wat Central Towers

As you emerge from the hallway, you'll be greeted with the grand sight of the towers.

Angkor Wat temple 2nd level
Standing on the 1st level, looking up at the towers on the 2nd level.

You are now standing on the second level of the temple (the Thousand Buddha Gallery is on the first). The third and final level is located in the middle of these second-level towers.

It is a great idea to spend some time on this level. Some people just sit at the ledge and take in the sights of the main towers. It is also a good place to rest after the long walk, especially if the sun is particularly hot that day.

When you are 'done' with the courtyard and ready to go up, be careful climbing the steep stairs to the third level. It was deliberately designed to be steep to illustrate how reaching the heavens is not an easy task. 

Angkor Wat temple steep stairs
Unbelievably steep stairs going down. Photo by C.Hong

There have been casualties before on these steps, so the Apsara authority placed some metal stairs with railings on the other side of the courtyard. Don't think less of yourself if you use these stairs, because safety really comes first.

Angkor Wat temple stairs railing
Stairs with railings.

Top Level of Angkor Wat

After your climb up the stairs, you'll finally arrive at the top level. Here you'll be able to enjoy some really great views, because you're now 50 meters from the ground.

There are many spots to just sit and take in the moment of being at the top of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat temple view from the top
View from the top of the Angkor Wat temple - photo by electrostatico

Imagine that at one time people actually lived and worked here.

Angkor Wat temple view from the top
Views from the top of Angkor Wat. Photo by T. Hill.

With a view like this, you won't want to come down.

Angkor Wat temple view of trees
View of the trees from the top of the Angkor Wat Temple - Photo by E. Molina

But sooner or later you must. Later is better.

Going Down the Stairs

Another reason to linger longer at the top is that it's better to limit your exposure to these deadly steps. Going down is even scarier than going up.

Angkor Wat temple more steep stairs
Angkor Wat Temple's steep stairs - photo by N. Rickards

But if you think it's a cakewalk after your first try, then of course no one is going to stop you. Except maybe this sign that's posted several places throughout the temple.

Angkor Wat temple stairs warning
Warning signs placed in several places.
Photo by Mike

Where to Go Next?

After coming down from the top (hopefully safely), you are by no means finished with the temple. Be prepared to be awed by the bas-relief on the outer walls. The details and the magnitude of it will overwhelm you to the point that you will remember very little of what you saw after the whole affair is complete.

Once you've marveled at the detailed carvings, you can take a walk on the grounds and venture into lesser known areas, areas such as the monastery, the south causeways, and the libraries.

Angkor Wat temple map
Angkor Wat temple map

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Return to The Angkor Temples for a brief overview of all the temples within the park.

Angkor Wat History - An Overview
Want to know a little bit of Angkor Wat history? Here is a condensed version, including the most important facts about the Kings and the temples.

Apsara - The Nymphs and Goddesses of Angkor Wat
An Apsara is a beautiful and seductive girl of Hindu mythology who were charged with the job of using their charms to seduce mortals. The Apsaras can be found depicted on many of the Angkor Wat temples and especially at Angkor Wat temple itself.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia- A Quick Review
Angkor Wat, Cambodia is located near the town of Siem Reap. It's been listed under UNESCO's World Heritage site since 1992. Preservation has been done constantly in order to keep it in great condition.

Angkor Wat Temple Bas-Relief? Astonishing!
When I first saw the Angkor bas-relief, I was astounded. Having seen and read only a little about it, I wasn't prepared for the great sight. And they're everwhere, not just in one little section!

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