Monks in Angkor Wat, CambodiaWhen we returned home from our recent trip in Cambodia, a lot of people we know were so eager to hear about our visit to Angkor Wat. We realized that so many of them are also fascinated with Angkor Wat and have it on top of their bucket list. However, we also realized that what they know about Angkor Wat is partly a misconception.

They thought Angkor Wat…is a grand ancient ruin somewhere in Cambodia (correct)…. that used to be a grand royal palace (wrong)…. and is now a grand monastery where monks live (so wrong!).

(We don’t blame them for associating Angkor Wat with monks as lots of photos taken of Angkor Wat depict presence of monks. We have tons of them ourselves.)

So we would like to share the basic facts we know about Angkor Wat and to show them how grand it really is.

Sunrise in Angkor Wat, CambodiaAngkor Wat is one of the many temples built by the once powerful Khmer Empire (9th-15th century)  in their capital Angkor.  The pious Khmer Kings built  their temples not as a congregation for the faithfuls but as a palatial dwellings for gods (who actually lived there in form of their statues.)


Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe Khmer kings believed that the gods would bestow great blessings on them and their kingdom if they build temples in their honor.  The bigger and finer the temple the bigger the blessings.


Angkor Wat CambodiaEach generation of king outdid his predecessor by building a bigger temple culminating in the construction of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world.


Angkor Wat CambodiaKing Suryavarmam II built Angkor Wat in the beginning of 12th century and dedicated it to Hindu god Vishnu.


Angkor Wat, CambodiaMeant to be a heaven on earth, this temple for Vishnu was designed in three-tier pyramid structure symbolizing Mt. Meru, the navel of the world in Hindu mythology.


Angkor Wat, CambodiaSome scholars believe that Angkor Wat was also built as a mausoleum for the King because it is facing west. (East facing is the tradtion for temples and west facing is for funerary structures.)  But some scholars disagree saying that west is also a symbol for Vishnu.


Angkor Wat, CambodiaThe king that reigned in late 13th century decided that Hinduism was not working for him, so he switched to Buddhism and Angkor Wat was converted into Buddhist shrine.


Buddha statues in Angkor Wat , CambodiaMost Hindu symbols were replaced by Buddhist representations.


Inside Angkor Wat, CambodiaAngkor Wat was abandoned in 15th century when the Khmer empire moved its center to what is now Phnom Penh.


Inside Angkor Wat, CambodiaIn 1860, a French explorer found the ancient ruins surrounded by thick jungles and brought it to the attention of the outside world.


Inside Angkor Wat, CambodiaAngkor Wat became a battleground during the rule of Khmer Rouge, who looted the temple of its precious statues and arts.


Angkor Wat bas relief, CambodiaHowever, a lot of beautiful bas reliefs that adorn the walls of Angkor Wat are still intact.


The Terrace, Angkor Wat, CambodiaToday, Angkor Wat is a national pride and symbol of Cambodia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. And no, no one lives there.

So what are the monks doing in Angkor Wat?

Monks in Angkor Wat,  CambodiaSince Angkor Wat was once an important Buddhist shrine, a visit to the temple is a pilgrimage for them. They come from within Cambodia and from all over the world. Their presence adds a mystical atmosphere to the temple.


Monks in Angkor Wat,  CambodiaWhile in Angkor Wat, they do exactly what any of us would do — admire the ruins of the temple and take and pose for photos, lots of photos. They take photo of each other….


Monks in Angkor Wat,  Cambodia..and then a group photo, of course.


Monks in Angkor Wat,  CambodiaProbably due to kinship in hairstyle, one of the monks motioned for Keith to join them in the photo shoot. The monk on the right seemed to be saying, “That guy forgot to wear his robe.” :)

Monks in Angkor Wat,  Cambodia

Monks in Angkor Wat,  Cambodia

Monks in Angkor Wat,  Cambodia

    Check out our other Angkor Highlights:
1.  Bayon                       2.  Ta Prohm
    3.  Banteay Srei            4.  Kbal Spean
      5.  Koh Ker                    6. Beng Mealea


Travel Notes:
  • One of the best time to visit Angkor Wat is during sunrise. It can be crowded but the sunrise view is sublime. Position yourself by the pond on the left side as you face the temple for best view and photo perspective. To explore with less crowd go back during sunset when the crowds head to other ruins that are more popular for sunset viewing,
  • Angkor Wat  is located 5.5 kms (3.4 miles) north of Siem Reap and is easily reachable by tuk-tuk, motorbikes or car from Siem Reap. Transporation can be arranged through your hotel.
  • Passes are required for entry to Angkor area. You can buy a 1-day pass for $20, 3-day pass for $40 and 7-day pass for $60. The 3-day pass is good for any 3 days within a week while the 7-day pass is good for any 7 days within a month.
  • Suggested reading: Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques.
  • Suggested accommodation: We stayed at Shinta Mani, a beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel and we highly recommend. We call it a hotel with a heart as it donates part of your nightly rate to help local communities. It has a non-profit component that trains locals in hospitality business as well as contributes in health programs.


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About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

53 responses to “Monks Don’t Live in Angkor Wat

  1. Kira S.

    Ha! Ha! Ha! As soon as read your title, I knew you were talking to me! Were there really many people you knew who were ignorant of Angkor Wat facts or you were just trying to be kind to me?:) Anyway, thanks for the clarification and for giving me the facts I’m Angkor Wat ignorant no more! Love all the photos of the temple, truly grand. Also love the photos of all those monks who don’t live in Angkor Wat:)

    • Hi Kirs,
      No, I was not being kind to you. You were the first one to mention about the monks but not the only one. Thanks for giving me the inspiration for the post:)

  2. Love how Keith was accepted into the group shot, minus his robe, and I did not know that the Wats, were built as dwellings for the gods (who actually lived there in form of their statues.) :)

    • Hi Jan, I know those Buddhist monks were very accepting. I think they’ll accept anyone with a shaved head:)

  3. Leigh

    Also love the shot with Keith in it. I didn’t know much about the history before so you’ve taught me something today, Your first shot is terrific – and it’s an uncommon one. I think that’s why it stands out. I see loads of temple shots but very few as well composed at this one.
    Leigh recently posted..How Nature and Wildlife Sightings Enhance my TravelsMy Profile

  4. Angkor Wat has been on my travel list for awhile. Thank you for all the interesting information and clearing the misconceptions. I love all the photos and your use of colors. Gotta love Keith’s picture with the monks! Those bas reliefs are extraordinary!
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..The Marvels of the Getty Center Los AngelesMy Profile

    • Hi Mary, our pleasure. I’m sure you’ll love Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples. They’re truly very fascinating. The bas relief in every temples are something to see. There are a lot of other temples that will be more interesting for the kids. We’ll post each of them the next few weeks.
      Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Monks Don’t Live in Angkor WatMy Profile

  5. We’re thinking about heading to Angkor Wat in the next year. We can do it as a long weekend from here. Did you have a chance to visit the other Siem Reap temples as well? I did not know that this started out as a Hindu temple. As with others, I really like the photo of Keith with the monks.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..The Ruins of Chiang Mai’s Chedi Luang TempleMy Profile

    • HI Michelle, that’s great! You’re so close to it so why not? Yes, we did visit other temples. We’ll post the our temple highlights the next few weeks. There are some temples that I highly recommend that you go where the boys won’t say it’s boring:)
      Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Monks Don’t Live in Angkor WatMy Profile

  6. I love how Keith is always in a funny photo or funny situation :) Beautiful photos and great information about Angkor Wat!
    Salika Jay recently posted..Universal Studios SingaporeMy Profile

  7. Lisa

    Marisol, I loved this post so much – I knew nothing about Angkor Wat and you did an excellent job of explaining the facts about this beautiful site. I haven’t been to Asia (apart from a couple of stops in Turkey on a cruise) and the list of places that I would like to visit there just keeps getting longer. I love the photo of Keith leaning on the pillar and the following one of you looking out from the temple – they look like black and white photos with just the blue and green shirts colourized – beautiful!! And Keith does look a bit like the monk who forgot to pack his robe! 😉
    Lisa recently posted..A Walk in Central ParkMy Profile

    • Hi Lisa, I’m so glad we were able to impart a bit our knowledge about Angkor Wat. It truly is a fascinating destination together with the other Angkor temples in the area. Thanks for your lovely comments about the photo. I know, Keith can easily pass for a monk!:)

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Debbie, glad you enjoyed the history lesson and architecture.

  8. This is one of the places I haven’t been that I really have to see soon. I love your shots of the monks as tourists. They’re very photogenic!
    Arianwen recently posted..Botanical Gardens in RioMy Profile

  9. Agness

    I lived 5 km from Angkor Wat for 2 months when staying in Siem Reap and I would never ever thought that monks lived there. It’s been always such a touristy spot, definitely not a good environment for them. Angkor Wat is by far my favourite Asian heritage, loved to go there in the morning and do some yoga. You can bump into some monks though who are always willing to chat with you. Best time is to do it at 5ish in the morning. They often pray there or go for a morning walk:). P.S. Stunning photos!
    Agness recently posted..11 Budget Belgian Street Foods (for Less than $10)My Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Agness, I was really surprised how many people among our friends and colleagues who haven’t visited Angkor Wat thought it was a place where monk lives. I can imagine how very peaceful it is to be there very early in the morning for yoga. We loved our encounters with the monks, too. They were friendly and the young ones loved to practice their English.

    • Cez

      The best is to see them listening to their iPods, some have them in the colour of their robes.

      It’s not unusual to see many monks in Angkor Wat, because they go there to pray and take care of things, and it’s free for them.

      To be honest, it can be free for anyone who wants to go through one of many back streets. It was a monk who has shown me a way in for free. Will write about it soon.
      Cez recently posted..How to Prepare for Long-Distance Cycling in South-East AsiaMy Profile

      • Traveling Solemates

        Hi Cez, oh my I would have love to see them with their matching iPods!
        I’ll be interested to read your post about the free way to Angkor Wat! Monks give good tips after all:)

    • Traveling Solemates

      Thanks Alex. I know, funny how monks are into modern gadgets.

  10. You know, I’ve never thought of the monks or where they lived. Anyway, thanks for the preview. Angkor Wat is on my list, I can’t wait to visit!
    InsideJourneys recently posted..The Jamaican CherryMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Marcia, our pleasure. We’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy Angkor Wat. Hope you get there soon.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Jess, thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post, photos and the monks!

  11. Love your photos! You take them so beautifully. I’ve been to Angkor Wat already but mine don’t do justice to the place haha How did you get the monks to pose for you? Did you just ask them? I’m very shy at that sort of thing haha
    Aleah | recently posted..Of Eve Teasing and Solo Travel in IndiaMy Profile

    • Traveling Solemates

      Thanks Aleah! The monks were very friendly. It was easy to talk to them. The first group of monks actually were the ones to ask us to pose with them. With the other monks, we had conversation with them and we asked them if we could take photos with them. They were always happy to oblige.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Thanks a lot, Dick!

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi, thanks for visiting. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • Hi Jill, thanks! The monks always visit and they seem to arrive very early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They know how to dodge the crowd:)

  12. Nice article and stunning pictures!!


  13. Marie

    Did you get a tour guide while in Siem Reap? I was told that there are a lot of touts and some scamming policement who ask for money. Is it safe to wander by ourselves or would you suggest that we get a guide?

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