Five monuments to see in Angkor Thom Cambodia
There is a certain allure about Angkor Thom that cannot be explained in words. The tall trees gracing the sky, the ponds reflecting the dense canopy, the leaves littered on the ground and the monuments peeping from behind the rugged branches, little children doing their homework on ancient stone benches, colourful tuk tuks bringing in tourists ..Angkor Thom is an experience that has to felt. I for one spent more time in Angkor Thom than in Angkor Wat and I made it a point to visit it again on the last day before I left Cambodia.
Angkor Thom is not a temple. It is actually a capital city of the Khmers that was built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman V11 and it remained so for another 400 years. It was the largest city built then, covering about nine sq kms. And even today, one needs to spend at least a day here to explore all the monuments. And if you are wondering where to begin, here is a readyreckoner for some of the monuments here.
The South Gate
The South Gate is the main gateway for all tourists coming into Angkor Thom. Do not be surprised as there might even be a traffic jam of tuktuks right at the entrance. I was lucky as I came here rather early in the day and I had the road to myself. A row of devas and asuras stand at the entrance , some of them dragging a seven hooded snake . It is probably a reference to the legend of Churning of the Milk and these statues line the bridge while water still flows at the moat below.
I saw kids jumping in to play while a lone boat stood somewhere between the trees. The gate is massive with four faces standing atop the tower, each of them representing a cardinal direction. There are five gates to the old city – North, South, East, West and the Victory Gate. The other gates seem virtually deserted and even the heads of the statues seem to have disappeared in some of them.
If you have time for just one temple in Angkor Thom, then it has to be the 800 year old Bayon. As soon as you enter this monument, more than 200 faces look at you in every direction from atop 40 odd towers of this state temple built by King Jayavarman V11.
But before that, do not miss the bass reliefs here depicting the war between the Khmers and the Chams or the social life of the local people during that period. Bayon was initially built as a Buddhist temple but the kings later embraced Hinduism and one can see carvings of deities and stories from Hindu mythology here.
Bapuon is probably older than both Bayon and the city of Angkor Thom as it was built in the 11th century by King Udayadityavarman 11 in his capital Yashodarapura , a town which has merged with Angkor Thom today. It is referred to as the mountain temple for its sheer size. It was being restored when I visited it and hence we could not see most of it. The temple is shaped like a five tiered pyramid and although we were not able to enter some parts of it, we could see the bass reliefs which depict stories from the epics – Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
The Elephant Terrace and the Leper King Terrace
Although these are two different monuments, both these terraces are almost adjacent to each other near the Royal Square and were probably built during King Jayavarman V11 ‘s reign. They were used by the royalty as pavilions and are rich in carvings.
The staircase of Elephant Terrace is flanked by pillars carved with elephants while one can see images of mythical lions and serpents. The Leper king Terrace is filled with bass reliefs and it is so named after a legend that one of the kings used to be referred to as Leper king.
Phimeanakas and the Royal palace
It was like a walk through a dense forest as we walked around the trees looking for the old palaces and temples. And I found this old sanctuary surrounded by trees and ponds referred to as the Temple of Phimeanakas or the celestial temple. Nothing else remains there today of the palace that was built even older than Angkor Thom. The site of the royal palace was probably dated to the 11th century and several excavations have been carried out here.
I visited the Phimeanakas, almost hesitated to climb the laterite pyramid lest the steps would give way. Legends say that one of the kings used to live with a woman here, who was believed to have been a snake and had wielded power over him. As I walked around, there was a not a soul here, only monuments in various stages of ruins and restoration buried by the branches of the trees.
Although these are the key monuments in Angkor Thom, you can explore the site if you have time and energy on your hands. There are four sandstone temples called Prasat Chrung, Tep Pranam where a large Buddha is seated, Preah Pallilay, another small shrine which was being restored when I visited, Preah Pithu , a group of five temples, the twelve Suor Prat Towers and the incomplete Khleangs. Or you can just walk around the forest, lose yourself in the woods as the tall trees embrace you and meet locals who will sell you anything and everything for just one US dollar.
Which is your favourite monument ?