While there are a large number of ancient temples to be found in the Angkor Archaeological Park, Angkor Thom is one of the most striking and popular. Angkor Thom served as the last magnificent city of Angkor and the whole complex is built on mammoth proportions and decorated with the grandeur and attention to detail that has managed to capture the attention and imagination of the world at large.
Surrounded by a mighty moat, visitors reach Angkor Thom by traversing a long causeway, which is flanked by 54 stone demons on the right hand side and faced by 54 stone gods on the left. Remarkably, each face and posture of these striking characters is distinctly different and it is worth taking the time to admire these statues on the way past. At the very end of the causeway is an enormous gate, which is guarded by four-faced gopuras that watch the directions of the compass.
Visiting Angkor Thom
Perhaps the most famous feature of Angkor Thom is the Bayon, which was built nearly 100 years after the completion of Angkor Wat. The Bayon consists of 54 towers (54 being an extremely auspicious number to the people of ancient Cambodia), which are carved with more than 200 detailed faces that once watched over the people of the city.
Angkor Thom is encircled at its base by a long gallery, which depicts scenes from everyday life from fishing in the Tonle Sap lake to market scenes and cockfights and offer a precious insight into Khmer life. Other sections of the long way that comprise the gallery are carved with extremely detailed battle scenes that show fleets of ships firing at each other, while hungry crocodiles waiting in the water below to devour those who were unlucky enough to fall overboard.
Running all the way from the Baphuon to the Leper King Terrace and measuring more than 300 metres in length, the Terrace of the Elephants is the perfect place to visit after exploring Angkor Thom.
Beautifully decorated with three-headed pachyderms that carry lotus flowers in their trunks as well as scenes showing elephants hunting while tigers claw at them, the Terrace of the Elephants is simply stunning and has been surprisingly well preserved. Consisting of three main platforms, the south stairway particularly striking, while the northern section features an unusual sculpture depicting a horse with five heads.
The Leper King Terrace has yet to receive the same care and attention from restorers as many parts of the Angkor Archaeological Park and has become rather overgrown. Created in the Javanese style, the main attribute here is a magnificent statue of a stone monarch, which features full cheeks an aquiline brow and thick lips, which are slightly open to show the king’s teeth.
After admiring this impressive statue, which is thought by many art historians to bear all the most characteristics of Khmer art, visitors wander through a large wooded area to admire the majesty of the Royal Palace.
The final masterpiece in this section of the Angkor Archaeological Park is the Phimeanakas, which can be found within the enclosure of the Royal Palace. Built at the end of the 10th century in the Kleng style, this Hindu temple has been formed from roughly hewn sandstone blocks. While not as highly decorated as many of the other structures here, the Phimeanakas is impressive for its sheer size.
Before leaving this section of the Angkor Archaeological Park behind, visitors will want to climb to the top of the Central Sanctuary, which is best done by using the west stairway. Offering a striking view of the whole of Angkor Thom and the surrounding area, this is the best place from which to appreciate the full magnificence of the area’s many temples and monuments.
After taking exploring this stunning section of the Angkor Archaeological Park, visitors will probably want to visit the majestic Angkor Wat, which is just a short drive away.