Angkor Wat is an intricate temple complex that’s architecture has only been recently discovered in the modern age. The structures and art in Angkor Wat Cambodia and the surrounding temples tell the story with great history, religion, and culture of the Khmer Empire. There’s still so much we don’t know about this ancient wonder of the world, but what’s been uncovered thus far is sure to blow your mind. Here’s 18 facts about the incredible Angkor Wat!
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→ If you are looking for a tour of Angkor Wat make sure to check GetYourGuide! You can find everything from sunrise to private guides and exploring the temples by bicycle.
18 Angkor Wat Facts You Won’t Believe
1. Largest Religious Monument in the World
The sheer size of the temple complex is mind boggling, as its set on over 500 acres deep in the Cambodian jungle. The area is filled with over 1,000 separate temples that make up what was once the Angkor Empire. To put it in perspective, it’s bigger than both modern day Paris and the five boroughs of New York City.
2. Ancient Riches
At its peak, the Khmer Empire covered Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and the southern half of Vietnam. It was one of the most powerful of its time, and that was shown through the gold, pearls, gems, and immaculate Angkor Wat architecture.
The Bayon Temple is still to this day one of the most impressive temples in Angkor, and had towers covered completely in gold. Preah Khan Temple alone was said to have been filled with 60 tonnes of gold which would be worth billions in todays money!
3. How was Angkor Wat Cambodia Built?
Five to ten million bricks of sandstone were transported from the jungle to build the Angkor temples. As you can imagine, getting these materials there was no easy feat!
The Khmer used a series of canals and waterways, over 3,000 Ox, 6,000 elephants, and countless slaves for manpower. The ancient city took over 35 years to build in total.
4. Capital City
In 802 CE King Jayavarman II proclaimed himself the divine ruler and started to build his empire. The walled city of Angkor Thom became the biggest major city within Angkor. During the growth of the city, they took on an immense building project.
This Angkor Wat architecture included everything from hospitals and reservoirs, to public bathrooms and bridges. The greatest of the Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII, also spread religion which was responsible for bringing people in large numbers to the Angkor Wat empire.
5. Angkor Wat Religion
Angkor Wat was originally built to honor the Hindu god Vishnu, but was eventually converted to Buddhism in the years that followed. The Angkor Wat religion shifted sometime in 13th century, and Buddhism is still practiced there today.
6. Massive Population
The actual number is disputed, but historians estimate up to one million people lived in the Angkor empire at its height. That number is mind boggling when you consider how many people lived in other developed parts of the world during this same time period in Angkor Wat history.
For instance, London still only had a population of under 100,000 at the peak of the Khmer Empire! Numbers indicate it was the largest city in the world up until the Industrial Revolution.
7. Flourishing Community
Celebrating, singing, and dancing were a huge part of life in Angkor. The city of Angkor Thom alone had a thriving population of up to 150,000 people. This included 650 dancers, 18 high priests, and over 80,000 citizens in the surrounding villages.
8. Intricate Waterways of Angkor Wat Cambodia
The water technology that the Khmer Empire implemented was way before its time. Honestly, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of the water management system they built within the Angkor Wat architecture.
It stretched all the way from Lake Tonle Sap through manmade reservoirs called Barays. The string of connecting canals changed the way of life in the empire.
They also used the waterways to transport the large sandstone bricks which helped speed up the building of the Angkor temples.
9. Zhou Daguan’s Account
You may be surprised that many of the Angkor Wat facts we know are still based on the 13th century account of a Chinese explorer!
Zhou Daguan was originally sent as a diplomat in 1296 to deliver an edict to the King Indravarman III. He ended up writing his account of the year he spent there.
These words are one of the only links we have about daily life in the Angkor Wat empire from its peak years. It was a less than favorable account in someways as he described the people as savages. Yet, he could not deny the grand scale of the kingdom and what they had created.
More Angkor Wat Facts
10. Thriving Economy of Angkor Wat
Trade with neighboring states like China was the main source of the Khmer economy. While they produced crafts and other goods, life in Angkor truly revolved around growing rice.
Instead of gold, the surplus of rice and fish were used as currency and exported outside the Angkor Wat empire. Women ran most of the daily commerce inside the city, and this can still be seen today in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian cultures.
11. God Kings
Like in many great empires throughout history, the Khmer worshipped their kings as real life gods. “Deveraja” was essentially a cult that grew out the Hindu and indigenous Angkor Wat religion.
It claimed that Kings such as Jayavarman II were direct descendants of the Hindu god Siva. As you explore the Angkor Wat history, you’ll see images displaying the kings as divine through inscriptions and sculptures in the temples.
12. Insanely Detailed
The level of the detail in the walls of Angkor Wat is astounding, and can only be understood by witnessing it yourself. Many of the images depict epic battle scenes from years ago, while other parts are of a spiritual nature tied in with Angkor Wat religion.
The millions of sandstone bricks lay beautifully, complete with reflective pools and sanctuaries all surrounded by moats and bridges. The skill and craftsmanship of Khmer builders is years ahead of it’s time, and more in depth than we will probably ever know!
13. European Discovery of Angkor Wat
Although Portuguese and Spanish Monks discovered the Angkor Wat architecture in the 16th century, it was French Naturalist Henri Mouhot that popularized it in the mid 1800’s.
Mouhot’s travel notes were publicized in 1863 where he famously exclaimed Angkor Wat “is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
In fact, Europeans were so blown away that they didn’t initially believe the ancient people had the skills to build such a marvelous place.
14. Fall of the Angkor Wat Empire
Trading elsewhere, a deadly disease outbreak, or contaminated water…? What was the reason for the fall of the Angkor Wat empire?
The most likely scenario was the constant battles between the Cham and Siam Kingdoms (modern day Vietnam and Thailand).
It must of been exhausting for the Khmer as they were constantly fending off attacks from all sides, which eventually ended in their demise.
Before reading our Angkor Wat facts article you may have thought the structures were abandoned abruptly. Now you know “the lost city” was a little more complex than that!
15. Cambodian Civil War
During the 1970’s, Cambodia went through one of the worst genocides the world has ever seen at the hands of Pol Pot.
When the dust settled 2 Million Cambodians were murdered by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime. During their reign of terror, the Khmer Rouge were out to destroy any and all markings of an individual.
This included banning all religion, money, and any aspect of someones personal life. Miraculously, little damage was actually done to the Angkor Wat history during the war aside from various bullet holes.
However, it did interrupt important archeology work that has since resumed over the last 20 years.
16. The Kennedy Connection
First Lady Jackie Kennedy fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Angkor Wat when she visited in 1967.
This was especially newsworthy as the Vietnam conflict was in full swing on the border, and the United States had some very shaky relations with Cambodia.
Four years after Jackie’s husband JFK had been assassinated she was invited by the King of Cambodia to see the ruins at Angkor.
17. Modern Excavation of Angkor Wat Architecture
One of the most interesting characteristics of the temples today is how the first excavators chose to deal with them. Archeologists left parts of the temples untouched, leaving the massive trees to drip over the sides of the 800 year old buildings.
Ever since work resumed after the civil war, there are numerous countries now working to uncover the lost Angkor Wat history.
18. Tomb Raider at Angkor Wat Cambodia
So after all those Angkor Wat facts, what really put it on the map? How about being featured in a Hollywood blockbuster! The camera crews and studio execs finally came calling in 2000, and created the smash hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Paramount Pictures reportedly paid $10,000 per day to film inside Ta Prohm temple. Angelina Jolie even adopted a Cambodian baby after visiting a local orphanage.
Where To Stay in Siem Reap Cambodia
Luxury – Park Hyatt Siem Reap – Ultra luxury in the heart of Siem Reap. We’ve recommended a lot of Park Hyatt’s over the years as they’re one of the nicest hotel chains in Asia.
Fun – Chateau d’Angkor La Residence – Stay near all the action, but still have the ability to escape the craziness of Siem Reap and Pub street. Upscale hotel with traditional amenities and a beautiful pool to cool down.
Budget – Chamraoen’s Home – Quick walk to the Siem Reap Night Market, and amazing local food in the area. Great wifi, clean rooms, and owned by a very helpful family. They can easily set up a tuk tuk driver for Angkor Wat!
Hostel – Mad Monkey Hostel Siem Reap – There’s plenty of hostels in Siem Reap as it’s a huge backpacker haven. Mad Monkey is a popular chain in SEA with travelers who like to socialize. You can pick form dorm as well as twin beds and there is a large pool.
Angkor Wat Cambodia Travel Planning
Now you have some interesting Angkor Wat facts before your visit! Make sure to check out our other articles to help plan your trip!
- Angkor Wat Sunrise: How to See the Famous Temples by Tuk Tuk
- How to Visit Angkor Wat: Dress Code, Top Tips, & Information
- 12 Top Tips & Things to Do in Siem Reap Before the Temples
If you are planning to explore Cambodia check out our 2 to 3 Week Cambodia Itinerary! We visit some amazing places like Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem islands as well as Kep and Kampot!
Have any questions for us on Angkor Wat history or your own wild facts about Angkor Wat? Let us know in the comments.
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Cambodia Travel Planning
Flights: We always find deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia for under $50 USD!
Transportation: 12Go is what we use to book ferries, trains, buses, and private transfers while traveling through Southeast Asia.
Accommodation: Compare competitive sites for hotels such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for activities all over Cambodia. You can book everything from an Angkor Wat small group sunrise tour to visiting the Kompong Phluk floating village, and even take a Cambodian pottery class!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Here’s all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists! Including electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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I seriously miss traveling. We visited Cambodia in 2019 and would easily move and live there tomorrow. Loved Siem reap and Kampot, unfortunately it was flooded between Kampot and kep when we visited but will go back there one day. For a country that has been through such atrocities by their own people, you really couldn’t meet much nicer people anywhere.
We LOVE Cambodia, too! Kampot and Kep are definitely worth visiting again. Agree on everything you said especially the people. We have never met nicer people anywhere in the world!
What did they actually DO at Angkor Wat? What was there daily life like?
I think that’s too much to describe in the comment section but we hope you still enjoyed these facts about Angkor Wat! We can tell you that their life centered around rice production and fishing. The Khmer Empire was also known for its festivals, games, and music for entertainment! We hope someday to visit again so we can learn more about this amazing history.