Cambodia travel · Southeast Asia travel · Travel

Cambodia travel- Angkor Thom

I’m finishing up posting about my trip to Angkor in Cambodia, and I’ve finally come to the great city of Angkor Thom.

Angkor Wat might be the most famous and impressive complex in Angkor, but Angkor Thom is just as historic and was even more important, given it was the actual capital city where the king resided and ruled from. Unlike Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (Great City in Khmer) is not a single massive complex but a city surrounded by a square wall and moat with many buildings. As with Angkor Wat, it has been uninhabited for over 400 years.

I entered the ancient city from its eastern Victory Gate and as you approach, you get a sign of its significance. The road into Victory Gate is flanked by two rows of small giants seemingly engaged in a tug-of-war with two nagas (mythical snakes) at the ends, while the gate is topped by a massive stone “dome,” flanked by two smaller ones.

The largest and most impressive structure is Bayon, which served as the state temple and is distinctive for its numerous stone 4-headed statues. It’s a massive dark gray stone temple-palace with several jagged “peaks” or towers surrounding a giant dome. Despite Bayon’s slightly menacing appearance, it’s got a “friendly” ambiance because the towers feature sculpted faces with a smiling or serene expression. Each peak is topped with 4-headed statues, which is somewhat eerie. The faces are said to be modeled on Khmer King Jayavarman VII (builder of Bayon), who probably thought of himself as a god. Bayon started off as a Buddhist structure but was altered later when the kingdom became Hindu. Bayon was so magnificent I visited it twice, on my second and third days in Angkor.

Baphuon is a massive ancient Hindu temple built in the form of a pyramid but a lot of it has been destroyed. Even so, it is one of the bigger temples in Angkor. It underwent massive renovations in recent times.

Baphuon from the back.

After exiting Baphuon at its rear, there’s a path that leads into a forested area and a wall that you can go through. I was a little apprehensive when I entered this jungle but I trusted from the map that the Royal Palace and Phimeanakas would be there and that it wasn’t that far from the main sites anyways. Unfortunately I was wrong about the Royal Palace, which doesn’t actually exist anymore (I should have realized that why it’s marked as Royal Palace Area on the map), and I kept staring at my map and looking around expecting to see a palace any second.

Phimeanakas however did exist, being a pyramid with a flat top that you can climb to the top of via a long wooden staircase. Just like Baphuon, it was a Hindu temple and was built during the 10th century, so it has a history of over 1,000 years. It’s much smaller than Baphuon but it’s a cool sight as a compact pyramid in the middle of a jungle. This was also where I got approached by a young kid who started to act like a guide, which I mentioned in a previous post. The boy was followed by several smaller kids, and we all walked a good way before eventually parting with him asking for a small tip, which I gave.

This area is forested but there are small structure and villages inside, which I found out by accident. I thought I was lost at one point until I came upon several soldiers armed with rifles sitting in a village. I was a bit startled and images of being shot or arrested suddenly came to my mind. Of course, I didn’t do anything foolish or suspicious like turn and run. I did something even more foolish which was to take out my map and ask the soldiers by pointing and speaking simple English. Eventually one of them pointed me to the right way.

The reason for the soldiers was because of a UNESCO event that night in which some local bigwigs would appear. Along several parts of the road in Angkor, there were soldiers and policemen. That’s why there was a stage set up with young dancers and performers, as well as tents along the lawn opposite the Terrace of the Elephants, so named for its elephant statues, where Khmer kings would stand and view their armies and subjects.
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Solitary building in the forested area behind Phimeanakas.
Child performers taking a break during rehearsal for the night’s big show. Notice the boy in red standing on the right staring at me. Also, notice those pale-brownish towers in the foreground- those are ancient structures as well.

Victory Gate, the eastern entrance into Angkor Thom.
Giants engage in tug of war on the two sides of the road into Victory Gate.
What would Angkor Thom have been like when it was a thriving city?
Nicely detailed deity engraved on a wall in Angkor Thom.
The jungle behind Baphuon.


2 thoughts on “Cambodia travel- Angkor Thom

  1. Love it! Just got back from Cambodia (I think we rented the same bike as you and they haven’t fixed the tire yet… I eventually gave up and flagged a tuktuk to take me – and the bike – back to Siem Reap) and missed some of these sites so fun to look through them now with some perspective.

    We spent a morning at the national museum. The tug of war with the nagas is the creation story. I don’t renember the details but there was a tug of war between 2 god-groups and they whipped the ocean of milk into a froth and somehow the earth came out of that… or something like that…


  2. Hey, thanks.
    Yeah, it’s definitely not fun riding a bike with a flat tire in Angkor.
    Interesting story, so the tug of war railings had major significance.
    I assume you’re referring to the national museum in Siem Reap – I missed that but I’m guessing it was good.


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