Faces of Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants, Baphuon, Gate of the Dead, Terrace of the Leper King…..after reading these names on the map we were so ready to visit Angkor Thom!
The beauty of the former city of Angkor Thom is stunning (just like the names of the various temples, gates and terraces by the way). It is indeed part of Angkor, but with a huge surrounding wall and its 5 main entrance gates a real separate city. Angkor Thom actually was the last capital of the Khmer Empire, established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km2 so take you time to explore its beauty!
I would like to show you a couple of places within Angkor Thom and to let you know that you can easily spend half a day visiting this area! First up: Phnom Bakheng.
1. Phnom Bakheng
I am cheating a bit. This temple is actually not part of Angkor Thom, but it is situated very close to the South Gate. Phnom Bakheng might be less about the temple itself but more about the beautiful views.
It’s high up the hill and therefore also famous for watching the sunset. Someone told us it could get extremely busy right before sunset… We went there in the morning and had the place almost for ourselves, just being accompanied by some local school kids.
Being high up the hill, they have elephants carry tourists to the temple… We did not ride the elephant (not feeling very comfortable about that) but we loved the sign warning us for crossing elephants! Imagine our TukTuk would hit an elephant suddenly jumping out of the bushes!!
2. Entrance gates
After Phnom Bakheng you are ready to enter Angkor Thom through one of the 5 main gates. The gates feature the same huge faces as you will see at the famous Bayon temple (see below). The South Gate is fascinating as the causeway is flanked by 54 gods and 54 demons depicting the Hindy legend “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk” – the same one found as bas relief in the Angkor Wat temple.
Continous restoration is being done on temples and statues everywhere, also here at the South Gate. And it is quite a precise piece of work!
Don’t let your TukTuk driver quickly pass the entrance gates on his route to one of the temples. Have him stop so you can fully enjoy the traffic and take great pictures!
There it was, the most popular temple at Angkor: Bayon. Famous for massive stone faces on many of the towers and overall richly decorated. Each tower is crowned with four heads and no one face is the same. The temple is situated at the exact center of Angkor Thom, so you cannot (and will not) miss it!
Bayon was built around 100 years after the Angkor Wat temple. The faces give Bayon a majestic character and the architectural scale expresses grandness. It’s a powerful place.
When you leave Bayon, don’t hop on your bike or TukTuk but make sure to walk to the close-by Baphuon temple first. You will pass a big Buddha statue where female monks will say prayers for you and tie a bracelet on your wrist for good luck. After that spiritual moment you are ready to climb Baphuon.
It’s steep and kids below 12 are not allowed to climb! Our kids waited downstairs while we climbed and enjoyed another surprising and marvelous view.
5. More surprises
There are more surprises at Angkor Thom. Walking from one temple to another you will bump into remains of smaller temples or just find yet another stunning piece of architecture. Yes, I keep on writing words like stunning and marvelous, because that’s just how it all feels at Angkor!
With all these discoveries we were ready to visit some more temples! No temple fatigue for our family yet. After Angkor Thom we headed to what turned out to become our most favorite place: the famous Ta Prohm temple.