The sandstone blocks from which Angkor Wat was built were quarried from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, more than 50km away, and floated down the Siem Reap River on rafts. The logistics of such an operation are mind blowing, consuming the labour of thousands. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat involved 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants, yet it was still not fully completed.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 190m-wide moat, which forms a giant rectangle measuring 1.5km by 1.3km. From the west, a sandstone causeway crosses the moat.
The rectangular outer wall, which measures 1025m by 800m, has a gate on each side, but the main entrance, a 235m-wide porch richly decorated with carvings and sculptures, is on the western side. There is a statue of Vishnu, 3.25m in height and hewn from a single block of sandstone, located in the right-hand tower. Vishnu’s eight arms hold a mace, a spear, a disc, a conch and other items. You may also see locks of hair lying about. These are offerings both from young people preparing to get married and from pilgrims giving thanks for their good fortune.
The avenue is 475m long and 9.5m wide and lined with naga balustrades, leading from the main entrance to the central temple, passing between two graceful libraries and then two pools, the northern one a popular spot from which to watch the sun rise.
The central temple complex consists of three storeys, each made of laterite, which enclose a square surrounded by intricately interlinked galleries. The Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas (Preah Poan) used to house hundreds of Buddha images before the war, but many of these were removed or stolen, leaving just the handful we see today.
The corners of the second and third storeys are marked by towers, each topped with symbolic lotus-bud towers. Rising 31m above the third level and 55m above the ground is the central tower, which gives the whole grand ensemble its sublime unity.
The stairs to the upper level are immensely steep, because reaching the kingdom of the gods was no easy task. Also known as Bakan Sanctuary, the upper level of Angkor Wat is open to a limited number per day with a queuing system.
As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly. It is not possible to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees. Local authorities have recently released visitor ‘code of conduct’ guidelines and a video (youtube.com) to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch or sit on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.