What is it Like to Visit a Lost Civilization: Angkor Wat


Silhouette of Angkor Wat Towers
Angkor Wat Towers with the Sun Above

What is it like to Explore a lost Civilization

Angkor Wat Tour

Join us for an Angkor Wat Tour, an Angkor Wat guide for the traveler or virtual traveler that wants to learn about ancient civilizations in this Angkor Wat ruin. SE Asia is still a mystery to much of the western world. By learning the history of Angkor Wat it will help you prepare for exploring this ancient temple. It’s not only about the archeology and architecture, or stone blocks used to build the angkor temples, but also about the art. The stone art helps us understand of what went on in Angkor Wat by graphically drawing relief art into a story. There are also ancient writings that tell the Angkor Wat Story.

Visit other Temples to Compare

I‘ve only visited Angkor Wat three times, but overall I’ve explored 14 Angkor Temples. By seeing the other temples, you begin to learn from the contrasting styles, differences in the color and make up of the stone, the unique architecture, and relief art. I encourage others to go see more temples and to play attention to the period of time they were built, its part of the story of the Khmer Empire.

Angkor Wat Guide

For those that are unable to come SE Asia and explore Angkor Wat, this article could be considered a mini-virtual-tour.  Included is a video interview with a Cambodian Tour Guide telling us of stories of the past. Our tour guides explains what he believes happened in the past by reading and interpreting the relief art on the stone walls.

Angkor Wat Tour Guide

During a visit to the Angkor Temples there’s an opportunity hire a tour guide that studied and knows the story of Angkor Wat, and it’s for a reasonable fee (maybe negotiable). The guides are available at the Angkor Wat entrance, and at some of the other temples as well. A tour guides will help explain the history of Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temples. Guides are also available through some of the guest homes and hotels. There are many things-to-see-at-Angkor-Wat, bas-relief art, statures, architecture, stone work, and all the different buildings. If you visit the temples, make sure you negotiate the price of the tour before you begin. 

Our Angkor Wat Guide explained some of the Angkor Wat History by interpreting the stone wall carvings. Most of these temples were lost for centuries to the jungle before they were discovered in the 1800’s. The video’s below are an example of what to expect from an Angkor Wat Tour Guide.

My upcoming book will also includes many temples and a time line of when they were built and the changes made over the time span of the Angkor period. Due out sometime late in 2018.

Bas-Relief Art and Inscriptions

What we know came from several sources. The stone inscriptions on the stone walls and columns, and from the stone drawings on the walls. Both the art and inscriptions help us understand the Story of Angkor Wat.  The information also came from other temples other than Angkor Wat, that also had inscriptions. In the videos below you will notice both the column and walls having information, which are from Angkor Wat.

The art also tells us of their past through stories from the art carvings and bas-reliefs. Exploring the temples on your own, or with a guide, will help you understand the Angkor Wat story and grander of this magnificent temple. 

The next video (below) displays not only the art on the wall, but also the length of the hallway is. Part of the Angkor Wat Tour

Tour Guide Video

In the short video below our guide explains that much of the Angkor Wat story or history. I didn’t realize  how many inscriptions he said there were, but after researching, I found there are over 1200 inscriptions in various Angkor Temples. Many are in better shape than this one at Angkor Wat.

Cambodian Tour Guide

Our Cambodian guide seems very knowledgable, but sometimes difficult to understand. Please listen closely and you will experience what it’s like to visit Angkor Wat and learn a little about what happened here between 1113-1150 A.D.  Angkor Wat is the dwelling for the gods, not for humans.  It has been inhabited since mid 1100’s, it was never abandoned. There are monks that still live here.

This is one of the Seven Wonders of the World! Angkor Wat is thought to be one of the final temples of Khmer architecture.

Short Summary of the Video

To summarize a little of what our guide told us: the long wall of art (pictured below) is a story about a dispute between two kings over one Lady.  He also says the story is a long one, and the art along the wall explains the story. The art on the wall extends a long way down the hallway. If we wanted to hear the whole story, he said it would take an hour or two to tell. Don’t worry, the video is only about 3 minutes long and is sample of what you would hear if you were visiting in person.

Bas-Relief Art Hallway

Down this long hallway are the stories of Angkor Wat (photograph below, video above). This hallway can be found just inside of the main building entrance at Angkor Wat on your right.  Notice the ceiling, this is advanced architecturally, ceilings made of stone were not common in much of the world in this time period. Since this is a long hallway, the art on the wall seems like it goes on forever. It’s like reading a story book with one very long page.

Long Angkor Wat Hallway with bas-relief Art
It’s a long story and a lot of stone art down this long hallway.

Building Angkor Wat

The technology they used building these temples is something that took the Cambodian people years to achieve. You may hear theories about UFO’s, but a spaceship from Mars did not come here and build these temples in my opinion. There’s a progression of technology here, you can see it when you visit the older temples. There are findings of pottery from a Cambodian civilization at about 500 B.C., during an era that show us that they started very simply. When Exploring-Angkor-Temples, if you play close attention to when these temples were built, you will notice the advancement in both the architecture and art.

Angkor Wat Story Art Carving on Wall.( Bas-relief)
This is a closer view from the long hallway in Angkor Wat. (Bas-relief art)

Things-to-do-in-Angkor-Wat includes looking this long hallway of wall of art (below) from the inside of Angkor Wat. These photographs are a closer view from the same hallway as in the hallway photograph just below the video. 

Angkor Wat Story Art Carving on Wall.( Bas-relief)
There is a shift in color on the walls here because of the position concerning the UV light and when people touch it, it turns a different color. It was polished in the past, but too many fingers have touched these walls and the oil from a hand soaks into the stone.

Waterways Enabled the Construction of Angkor Wat

This virtual tour of Angkor Wat questions how building something as big as Angkor Wat is and all the stone it’s made with was possible centuries ago. Like any civilization today or in ancient times, water has to be available for a civilization to survive. Egypt had the Nile, Macho Picchu had the Amazon, but Angkor Temples had to build a reservoir water system. The Ancient Native Americans are thought to have perished because they didn’t have enough water. At one time it was thought that the Angkor Temples had over 1 million people during a time when London had 7,000 people. Recently through technology, water ways have been discovered that would have enabled a way to float the stones from the quarries to the city.

Girl in Jeans walks in the Water at West-Barat Resevor.
West Baray Reservoir, one of four reservoirs for growing rice and for recreation. The little white sand bar you see in the upper middle of the photograph is where a temple is situated.

Building Angkor Wat Today

As good as our technology is today, I doubt we could build anything like this today.  This is not just my opinion, but from many people who have come here and have experienced the vastness of these Capital city where all the building are, how complex these temples are, and the size of the stone blocks and detailed stone art work. When you spend hours exploring many of the Angkor Temples you notice how heavy and how big each of the stone blocks are. I find myself saying how did they do this back then? There was also an advance irrigation system here where they grew rice, but more on that below, and more in another upcoming articles. The art itself is magnificent here! Angkor Wat was built-in a different time for a different reason, as a place of worship.

Angkor Wat Art and Building Photographs

More Angkor Wat Wall Art (below), too many to show all of them, but you can get an idea of the treasures that lay within. My first trip to Angkor Wat was spent photographing as many Aspera’s as I could in my first day. When I went back to Angkor Wat again I found there were many I had missed. Large and small, there are hundreds.

Angkor Wat Story Art Carving on Wall.( Bas-relief)
Notice the hand on the wall in the lower left corner. Also notice the discoloration of the stone where the hand is. Discoloration extends all the way across the sandstone at the same level where others have touched it.  Do not touch the art!  The oil from our hands will be absorbed by the sandstone and turn it a darker color.


Entrance to Angkor Wat with People
Groups Walking to Angkor Wat Walkway

Angkor Wat consists of many buildings; you can get lost inside Angkor Wat because it a maze, and it’s very large.It’s only tourists now, but centuries ago there were thousands of people in this grassy area

Elevated Look of a Angkor Wat Courtyard with Grass.
During the rainy season the grass inside the courtyard is very green.

Tower-Angkor-Wat Guide

Expect plenty of stairs to climb, sorry, no escalator up to the top. This is a holy building, and to go up to this particular tower, there’s an extra fee. The dress code applies, cover knees and shoulders. On a hot day, it’s a long ways up, and almost everyday is hot, yet its a popular place for people to see because the view is tremendous. Bring plenty of water!!

angkor wat tower, History Angkor-Wat, Angkor Wat story, Angkor Wat Tour,
This is the tallest building at Angkor Wat and should be on your Angkor Wat Tour

Hundreds of Aspera’s

Even today there are the Aspera dancers like years before that are dancing like the ones seen carved in stone at many of the Angkor Temples.

Angkor Wat Guide, Cambodian Aspera, Angkor Wat story, angkor was history,
Even though Aspera’s were around hundreds of years ago, doesn’t mean they are gone. Dancers still practice the ancient look and dance.

Hundreds of Divas are inside the outside the walls of Angkor Temples, this one is on the outside wall of Angkor Wat, and each and everyone is different from another. 

Angkor Wat story, Angkor Wat Tour, Angkor Wat guide,
These and many other Divatas are on the outside building walls, including the second and third stories. I went on the ledge and photographed over 100.

Aspera’s like the one below are inside Angkor Wat, and each and everyone is different. There are hundreds of the Aspera Bas Reliefs.

Angkor Wat story, angkor wat art, angkor wat tour,
This type of Angkor Wat Asperas are all over the inside walls and this is another type the artists of the past produced.

Other things you might want to do, shop for mementos or purchase water and food. The rest rooms are also in this area. Bring alcohol wipes or liquid hand cleaner with you.

Angkor Wat story, Angkor Wat Tour, Cambodian Food,
Vendors on the grounds at Angkor Wat with food, water and shopping.

The image below is what is thought Angkor Wat looked like right after it was built. Housing units surround the complex and there is some kind of spiral area that no one seems to know what it was. Below is a link to a story about this image from the Cambodian Daily.

Angkor Wat story,

How to get to Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is the closes city to Angkor Wat.  Foreigners are not allowed ride motorbikes to the temples but there are other ways to get there, only a short distance from Angkor Wat. Tourists can rent bicycles which are permitted inside the Angkor Wat area and to some of the other Angkor Temples. Whatever mode of transportation you decide, buying a ticket is is a must, and appropriate clothing to visit religious temples are the rule.

Hotels, hostels, guest houses and all around town are tuk tuks, that will take you around town or to the temples.

Tuk Tuk’s, mini buses, private cars and taxi’s are available from hotels.  There are also many Tuk Tuk on the street by the Old Market and Pub street that are eager for business. They will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the Temples and wait while you explore. Arrange this beforehand along with negotiating their fee.

References: Angkor – Marilla, Albanese – wikipedia – 

Conduct Rules & Clothing Recommendations at Angkor Wat

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© Thomas Levine Photography

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