According to legend, Angkor Wat was taken directly from the heavens and placed fully formed in the city of Angkor. When the French explorer Henri Mouhot visited Angkor in the mid 19th century and became the first Westerner to popularize the magnificent city, he described it as “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome”. The largest religious building in the world, using as much stone as the Pyramids of Egypt over a much larger area, and constructed in a mere 32 years, Angkor Wat is a true wonder of the world.
The entire complex is built out of elaborately carved black sandstone. The stones are joined together perfectly flush with each other, so closely that the ancient Khmer carved them after placing them. And then they stood in place, standing up to the ravages of time, weather, and jungle flora, all without any mortar!
They accomplished this remarkable task by means of an extremely clever crane system. Holes drilled in the side of the sandstone blocks enabled one to insert sticks and then lift the block by those sticks. Once lifted above the block it would be set upon, the lifted block was ground against the other, smoothing them booth and creating a perfect fit for them. The holes where the wooden rods were inserted are still visible on some of the blocks, next to bullet holes from fighting with the Khmer Rouge.
Angkor Wat is a more massive spectacle than anything I’ve ever seen. While Angkor Thom has a larger footprint, and of course there are modern buildings that dwarf it in height, nothing compares to seeing it all spread out in front of you the way that Angkor Wat does. Entering along the massive bridge over the enormous reservoir moat, passing through what you think is the outer wall of the temple but is actually more of a city wall, revealing massive interior landscapes that were once occupied by the wooden buildings that made up the majority of the city, then on through the next terrace, past empty pools, through intricately carved galleries, up another level, through its terraces, up again, and you can see the shrine, and then all the way up to the top, and you can see the world.
Nothing compares. Nothing can prepare you for it. You’ll have to see it for yourself.