Angkor Thom photo roundup

This is a final set of photos of Angkor Thom, the ancient capital city that is the largest site in Angkor.
Bayon’s main tower.
Speeding past another tuktuk on the Angkor expressway (joking).
Closeup view of a couple of faces on Bayon.

Part of the Terrace of the Elephants.
An entranceway through a wall that surrounds Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore.
Looking down from the stairs on Phimeanakas.
And looking down from the stairs on Baphuon.
Some engravings on Baphuon.
Totem on top of Baphuon.
Stone passageway on top of Baphuon.
More engravings on Baphuon.
Baphuon from the side.
Map of Angkor Thom. I did not explore the sites on the right half as those are mainly small structures.

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.
DSC01571 DSC01565
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.

Cambodia travel- Angkor Wat again, Ta Keo and a few more

On my third day in Siem Reap, I went to Angkor Wat again. I’d almost wanted to take a break and stay in the city, but then I figured I’d be wasting my time so I went back up to Angkor. I hired a driver on the street, negotiated a price and then set off, this time a little later than the previous two days, which almost proved to be bad.

I’ve also listed a few other sites I went to that are not in the other posts. On the third day, besides going to Angkor Wat again, I went to Ta Keo and made a repeat visit to Angkor Thom.
On my first day, the first temple we went to after Angkor Wat was Prasat Kavan, followed by Banteay Kdei. On the second day, my final stop was Phnom Bakheng, a temple located on a small hill right outside of Angkor Thom to the south.

My second visit to Angkor Wat started off well. The day was sunny and there weren’t many visitors. I went back to the highest point of Angkor Wat and I took more photos of Angkor from beyond the pools. While I was there, a couple asked me to take a photo of them, then complimented me on my shirt, which was a New Zealand t-shirt that my mother had bought me when she went there for a holiday. The couple turned out to be Kiwis and they took my photo for me in return, before we parted ways; the second time on my Southeast Asia trip that New Zealanders had seen my shirt and remarked about it to me.
Somehow while I was inside, clouds appeared on the horizon, followed by a little rain. By the time, I walked towards the entrance the rain got heavier and eventually began pouring. I decided to wait but after 20 minutes or so, I took out my umbrella and walked back to the entrance where my driver was. I made sure to look back at Angkor Wat and take one last pic, the one at the top of this post.
DSC05894a DSC05915 DSC05933a DSC05954a
DSC05963-bl and wh
The very wide moat that runs along Angkor Wat’s outer walls.

Ta Keo is an imposing temple that stands several stories above a massive stone base.  You can climb to the top, where three large domes are, and enjoy the views of the surrounding forest.

DSC05797 DSC05802a DSC05774a DSC05778DSC05793a

Prasat Kavan was quite simple, basically a shell of a temple with only the pillars and center dome intact, whilst missing the roof and outer walls (if there had been). It did have some cool engravings of deities on walls inside a few rooms.

Banteay Kdei is a long, one-story, grayish temple ruin, but with a distinctive front entrance that was topped by a massive smiling four-face statue. There are at least two separate buildings, along with piles of columns that somehow reminded me of ancient Greece (not that I’ve ever been there).
DSC01140 DSC01148

Phnom Bakheng is a Hindu temple ruin located on top of a hill that is just south of Angkor Thom. The hike to the top only takes about 20 minutes but there are elephants at the bottom that can take you up for a fee. At the top, the temple has a flat top that gives you good views of the surrounding forest, baray (reservoir) and glimpses of Angkor Wat. Interestingly, Phnom Bakheng is over 1000 years old, predating Angkor Wat by more than 200 years.
DSC01610DSC01603 DSC01604DSC01591a

Cambodia travel-Angkor’s ‘Big Circuit’ sites

Angkor is full of great ancient sights besides Angkor Wat, especially Angkor Thom and the “Big Circuit,” a loop which takes in several major sites to the northeast of Angkor Wat. I went to these places on the second day but unlike my first day when I rode to Angkor with several Chinese, this time I went solo on a tuktuk I hired back in Siem Reap. The driver was a nice, middle-aged guy who I also hired to drive me to the airport on my last day. However, I had to endure an uncomfortable experience in the morning just before I met him.

As my Chinese friends had gone to see the sunrise at Angkor earlier that morning, I went out to eat “brunch” and find a driver myself. I passed some guys near the corner from my hotel and I asked them about prices. I tried to negotiate with a guy but I wasn’t satisfied so I decided to move on.

The guy wasn’t pleased and he proceeded to followed me. As I walked along the road, I hailed another driver and he stopped. I told him my itinerary which would mainly be Angkor Thom and several temples on the “Big Circuit” and he gave me a lower price than the previous guy. I agreed, but right then, the previous guy came up and started to complain. Interestingly, he didn’t challenge or try to scare away the other driver, which was good, though he stood nearby glaring at me. As soon as I continued towards a restaurant, he started following me and protesting. “Why you do this? You come to my country and you do this. Why you [take your business away]?” he kept saying. Finally I had enough and I shouted back, “I didn’t promise you anything!” I was worried he would pick a fight but luckily when I went into a restaurant, he went away. I was a bit shaken, though now I could safely say he was probably desperate rather than malicious. The other driver had parked nearby and gave me a ride (free) back to my hotel, where I got my stuff then came back out for my second trip to Angkor.

The rest of my trip went well as I was carried around in comfort on the motorized tuktuk, in contrast to the previous day when my malfunctioning bicycle wheel and hot sun combined to make me exhausted and lightheaded. As I’d already bought the entry pass the previous day, the driver took another road into Angkor that passed through some rural land.

I started at the Sras Srang reservoir, then red Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, the artificial island of Neak Poan, the ruins of Preah Khan before going into Angkor Thom.

The first temple was Pre Rup with its tall, reddish distinctive cone-topped domes. It was an impressive site and gave off a different vibe from Angkor Wat.

DSC01232a DSC01234 DSC01238a

Then it was on to East Mebon, which is similar to Pre Rup, but for its elephant statues (which I did not get good photos of).

DSC01268 DSC01270 DSC01276

Ta Som provided a change in scenery, being a one-story temple featuring a long passageway passing through multiple enclosures/gateways and a central shrine. It was a bit similar to Ta Prohm.

DSC01282a DSC01292DSC01296aDSC01301aDSC01311

After three buildings, it was time for a change- Neak Poan, a small temple on an artificial island in a swamp-like reservoir. You get there by walking on a long wooden boardwalk towards a pit.

The last temple before entering Angkor Thom was Preah Khan, which was filled with ruins, lots of open area, long passageway.

DSC01376a        DSC01341 DSC01346a DSC01348a DSC01349 DSC01360 DSC01367

It was great to go inside and explore all these temples but there was one small issue – the persistent vendors and hustlers.

Inside Angkor, there are villages and a lot of people make their livelihoods from visitors. Some set up stalls along the roads and near the sites inside Angkor, while some individuals try to sell books or even wooden instruments from bags. A few act as unofficial guides (the official ones wear badges) and try to latch on to you for $1 or more as you go inside the sites. Most of the time, it wasn’t bad, even a bit amusing.

At a souvenir stall in front of the Sras Srang reservoir, a girl came up to me. Just like that, she gave me a light bamboo woven bracelet and told me it’s a free gift but that I had to buy something. I tried to give it back but she jumped back, saying that “if you give it back, it means you don’t like me.” Since it was the start of my day, I didn’t need to buy any water or any souvenirs so I didn’t buy anything from her, but now that I think about it I should have, if only to be nice. I still have her bracelet, a reminder of her entrepreneurial flirtatiousness and my stinginess.

There were a lot of child vendors and while they can be cute, it is hard to have to keep ignoring them or telling them no since I didn’t want to buy their postcards and trinkets. However at one site, there were a few child vendors, with the youngest a toddler or 3-year-old vendor. This very little one was so young he could only say “one dollar” and not even fully, while holding a few postcards. And because he was so little, he didn’t hassle or follow you like the older kids, but just stood to one side. It’s kind of cute, but it is also worrying to think that h might grow up to be follow in the footsteps of those older child vendors.

Inside another temple ruins, I saw a heartbreaking scene with another tiny child vendor. There was a European family with two young kids and the little vendor walked up to the younger white kid (maybe around 2). It was a stark contrast – the brown Cambodian 4 or 5-year-old selling stuff standing next to a 2-year-old European boy traveling with his family. It might have made for a cute photo but what happened is the mother saw this and quickly took her son’s hand and pulled him away from the little Cambodian. You can see the mother leading her child away from the little vendor (far left) in the photo below which I took about a minute after it happened – I was actually trying to take a photo of the building and tree but by coincidence I saw the above event unfold. It seemed like the mother was apprehensive about the Cambodian kid being near her own child, and it did seem a bit haughty, but to be honest, parents have to be very careful with their kids and can’t be concerned about political correctness.

I also encountered some hustlers, both adults and kids.

One guy came up to me inside a temple and started pointing out different spots to take good photos. Then he wanted to lead me to other places inside the temple (I did feel a bit worried but he was smaller than me and didn’t seem like a thief) and describe interesting features. When I started walking off, having thanked him, he asked me for a dollar or two which I don’t think I gave him. I mean, it’s no big deal but it is annoying and it’s a bad precedent.

At another site inside Angkor Thom, a young boy started following me and telling me about the history, in decent English. He was about 10 or so, followed by a few other kids, and he was with me for about 8 minutes as we walked across forested area (again I did feel a tiny bit worried, not so much of him, but of whether other people would suddenly come out). As expected, he asked me for something and I gave him $1, since I felt a little admiration. I complimented him on his English and urged him to keep studying.

If you’ve made it all the way to here, good for you. Enjoy this bonus photo of a small standalone structure outside of Preah Khan.

Cambodia travel-Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm

I spent 3 full days in Siem Reap during which I went to Angkor each day. And even then, I still didn’t see every temple and site in the park. Angkor Wat was impressive enough that I went there twice, the first and third days, while I also visited Angkor Thom twice.

On the first day, I met up with my 3 Chinese friends and we rented bikes ($2 for a day) near our hotels to go to Angkor Wat. I don’t ride bikes much so I’d been a little worried as Angkor was half an hour’s ride from Siem Reap but once we rode past the town traffic and got to the outer roads, it was easy.

First we bought our park passes at the ticket center, which is actually outside of Angkor. I bought a 3-day pass which is cheaper and more convenient than buying a day pass 3 times. Your photo gets taken and put onto your pass, which you show whenever asked by guards around Angkor. The system is kind of casual since there are no fixed entrance posts but there are guards at every site. Cambodians get to go in completely free, which is a nice way for them to enjoy their heritage. Of course, many Cambodians go in to earn money, such as tuktuk drivers, vendors and hustlers.

Angkor Wat was our first stop and it was magnificent crowned by its distinctive three rounded towers from afar, and surrounded by a large moat that seemed like a river. We parked our bikes near a side gate of Angkor Wat, then got briefly waylaid by some grey monkeys on the path, who lazed around on the ground and posed, probably used to the many tourists who came this way.
Like me, these monkeys also found the view really nice.

Angkor Wat is impressive, which is still an understatement. The ancient temple is massive and while its outer façade is a bit worn (900-plus years would have that effect), its structures and walls are mainly intact, with a lot of empty space inside. Along the outer walls are intricate murals of battle and religious scenes, mostly inspired by Hinduism, with some Buddhist elements (different kings followed different faiths). Almost all of it is covered by reliefs of religious and mythical figures, sculpted on countless stone walls, gates and columns. It would be similar at other sites. Inside the walls, Angkor Wat comprises a main raised temple surrounded by an outer complex. You go up a 3-story high steel stair to reach the highest point.


Splendid battle scene showing giants fighting monkeys, with an elephants and even dogs involved along the outer wall.

The highest part of Angkor Wat.
I have to clarify something which also confused me before I went there.
When I say Angkor above, I don’t mean it as a shortening of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the most famous ancient structure in the area, being the world’s largest temple. But it is still just one part of Angkor Archeological Park, which includes Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer Dynasty in its heyday. Angkor Thom features several ancient structures including palaces and courts while Angkor Wat was a temple. It is somewhat sobering to see the contrast between the greatness of Angkor and the country’s current state. In reality, Cambodia has been on a steady decline since the Khmer Dynasty ended in the 14th century and Angkor was abandoned soon after.

In addition, there are various large ruins and structures including the well-known Ta Prohm where trees grow out from among its ruins, as well as small lakes that were reservoirs. There’s a small and a big circuit, which cover various sites (small one covers less) along a rectangular path that can be traversed by wheeled vehicles, not foot. Forest covers a lot of the park and it basically borders wilderness. Also, not every Angkor structure is inside the park as some are further out. In fact, not every Angkor structure is in Cambodia, with a few in neighboring Thailand.

After Angkor Wat, we headed out along the small circuit to other temples including the aforementioned Ta Prohm. As it was past noon, it was starting to get hot which made it seem like riding was not such a good idea. My bike also started to seem sluggish, and coincidentally several times Cambodians pointed to me and said something. Unfortunately it was later on that I realized that my rear wheel had gone soft and that those folks had been trying to warn me. I soldiered on, stopping to buy and drink bottles of water frequently. One of my friends even bought a small watermelon (those vendors sure know what to sell).

Of all the other temples outside of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm was my favorite. It’s a long, rectangular, one-story structure that is mostly ruins and has large trees growing from atop the ruins with thick twisted roots covering up entire facades. The site is so impressive it was used as a location for one of the Tomb Raider movies.

1179-Ta Prohm-old style-GIMP
You can almost imagine that it hasn’t changed much from 100 years ago.
Ta Prohm was interesting even without the big trees.

It’s actually one of the few temples that have been left in its natural state, hence the ruins. There were piles of large rocks strewn about and parts of the structure were already slanting, though the authorities do carry out renovations as could be seen at other places. And Ta Prohm is so well-known that it was where we encountered our first Chinese tour group, actually we saw several while we were there. It’s amusing that Chinese tourists share the same characteristics all over – you have girls dressed up nicely as if they were going to a lawn party rather than visiting thousand-year-old ruins while you got men and women yelling out to each other. Within some of the structures are small shrines, sometimes with monks sitting before it who might ask you to make a financial offering.


Another thing I hadn’t known about Angkor is that people live inside it (the park, not the ancient structures). There are several villages and many of these people sell souvenirs and goods in shacks along the road and near the sites. You’ll also encounter hawkers in and outside the structures who can be persistent. Some of these hawkers are children who often sell postcards and it’s hard to have to ignore or blank kids but that’s what I did since I didn’t want to buy anything other than water. There was one particular little girl who I found charming and cute, notably because she spoke Mandarin and had a roundish face. She went up to me and started with English, then switched to Mandarin. And she didn’t just say one or two words, she kept saying different phrases and counting them out in Mandarin – ni kan yixia (take a look), shi hen pianyi (it’s very cheap), wo haiyou zhege (I also have these), ni kan – yi, er, san .. (look – one, two, three) and so on.

It seemed like an idyllic day, biking around Angkor with my three buddies visiting all these amazing historic sites. But actually as the afternoon went on, I got exhausted both due to my bike’s wheel problem and the searing sun. I continued to ride, lagging my friends by a lot though they were also tiring too. At one point, we had a welcome break at a primary school when one of the guys wanted to use the bathroom. We walked into the compound and I asked a staff who agreed without any reservation, which I found very kind (you probably can’t just walk into a school in the West just like that and get to use the bathroom).

I stopped at a stall with bike service and asked a guy to pump my bike wheel but it didn’t help much. Finally I called a tuktuk and loaded my bike onto it for the trip back to Siem Reap along with one of the three Chinese.

Afterwards back in the city, we had dinner at this outdoor Chinese food place by the street market near where we stayed, and I had $1 fried rice. Then we went to the hostel where they stayed and there were a ton of other mainland Chinese. The 3 guys had befriended these guys and girls from all over China and it was an impressive “crew.” Truth is, they were a good bunch -a mix of hardcore travelers and young professionals, and even a med student from Xian studying in Singapore. By coincidence there were several people from Hubei including 2 of the 3 guys, and interestingly not a single Chinese I would meet during those 3 days there were from Beijing or Shanghai. I ended by hanging out with some of them on the hostel’s rooftop bar before going back to my place.
The unreliable bike that powered me, then had me struggling mightily during my first trip into Angkor. I only noticed those girls after I uploaded this photo onto my computer – they were probably thinking I was taking a photo of them or wondering why I was taking a photo of a bike.DSC01051      DSC00985 DSC00989a  DSC01001 DSC01021
In the distance, there is an air-balloon that people can ride in but only straight up and then down. Hint- it’s yellow and round.

DSC01203  DSC01217  DSC01161a
Roots that look like a bunch of monkeys; it seems natural yet I think it was carved, especially the monkey’s head on the left.

Cambodia travel- On to Siem Reap

The last day of June reminds me that it was one year ago in the same month when I quit my job in Taiwan and went to Southeast Asia for 3 weeks. Yet despite the long time that has passed, I’ve only reached halfway in writing about the trip – Cambodia.

After Phnom Penh, I was going to what everyone who visits Cambodia goes to – Angkor Wat. I would spend four days in Siem Reap, the booming town that is so precisely because of its proximity to Angkor Wat and the many other ancient temples and structures. Siem Reap is also near Tonle Sap, a large lake which features several fishing villages perched on stilts and expands during the … season.

I again took the Mekong Express bus to Siem Reap, and it was good service just like on the one I’d taken from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. I’d considered taking the boat up the Mekong to Siem Reap, but it took much longer than the four hours on the bus. I got picked up for free at my hotel by Mekong Express to get to the bus terminal, which was near the river and not Orussey Market, which I’d arrived at from HCMC. The pickup was uneventful, except that I was suddenly greeted by a “Konichiwa!” from behind. I turned around and saw several smiling young East Asians. I replied with a hello. “Konichiwa!” they repeated. Then eventually we both realized we were all Chinese. These youngsters were from Guangxi, which is next to Guangdong, and where the famous Guilin and Yangshou limestone mountains are located.

I didn’t sit by them during the ride since we all had prearranged seats, but this meant I had an English gentleman who happened to be a medical researcher working in Switzerland and who was on a sidetrip after visiting his girlfriend in Thailand. He was a decent chap who had quite a varied background – I think he was actually born in India or somewhere that was definitely not England.

Along the way, there were nice views out the window as the land became more rural and flat. We passed numerous villages with wooden houses built on stilts to avoid the periodic flooding. I also caught a glimpse of Tonle Sap, and this was unfortunately the closest I’d come to see of it. When the bus arrived in Siem Reap, it was dark and the “bus station” was in a small compound in a sparsely populated neighborhood in the outskirts. It wasn’t exactly the most comforting sight when one arrives in a new place, but I’d arranged with my hotel for a pickup and my driver was there. He took me on his tuktuk, the standard public transport here as in Phnom Penh, to my hotel. It was in a side road off a larger street, and it was nice, except that the road was an unpaved dirt lane and had pools of water large enough to swim in (I exaggerate a little).

Siem Reap was a bustling town, clearly benefiting from the Angkor tourism boom. There were large 5-star hotels, restaurants, night markets, boutiques, and even a bar street. It actually seemed better off and nicer than Phnom Penh.


I also met up with my 3 mainland China travel friends from HCMC who were also in Siem Reap. Their travel route was almost the same as mine, though they’d skipped Phnom Penh and gone directly to Siem Reap from Vietnam. By coincidence, they were staying at a hostel just minutes from my hotel. Their hostel was really cheap (US$1 a night for a dorm bed in a huge room with dozens of people) but it had a rooftop bar that sold draft beer for US$1. Needless to say, I went over to see them and hang out every night I was there.

In total, I spent the next 3 full days in Siem Reap, leaving in the early morning on the fourth day for Bangkok. I went to Angkor every day, going to Angkor Wat twice.

The first day, I met my China friends and we rode bikes from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat. It was a good plan except that somehow my bike tire went flat and I ended up cycling really doggedly in the hot afternoon sun. The second day, I declined to wake up early to go see the sunrise with those guys, so I hired a tuktuk and went by myself to other temples and complexes around Angkor Wat including Angkor Thom, the old capital city (Angkor Wat was a temple complex). The third day, I was tempted to rest for the whole day, but I hired a tuktuk again and went by myself to Angkor Wat again.