Angkor Thom was initiated by Jayavarman VII, known to be Angkor’s most famous and greatest king who reigned from 1181 to 1219. He came to power after the fall of the prior Khmer capital by the Chams. During the height of his reign as King, the city had about a million people residing in the metropolis and its surrounding areas. Angkor Thom translated from Khmer to English basically means “great city”. The city of Angkor Thom is a Royal Buddhist city from the 12th century and is mainly famous for the Bayon Temple. Aside from the Bayon Temple, it has several other temples of interest as well.
The city was built in a nearly perfect and neat square. All of its sides were protected by a square wall called jayagiri that stood at 8 metres high and stretched to 12 kilometres in length. It was also further protected by a 100-metre moat said to contain huge crocodiles. Today, the moat remains mainly dry apart from in the rainy season when parts of it fill up with water. A gate was built exactly in the middle of each wall wherein a bridge extended over the moat to reach outside the Royal city. The Royal Palace of the city was originally built during the 10th and 11th centuries and was made up of wood, which unfortunately is no longer seen today.
Today, the area of the Angkor Thom stretches over a mile with many stone temples that can be explored. The city has 5 monumental gates that are adorned with stone elephant trunks and the then-king’s favorite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara. Each of its gates is flanked with 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right, which was brought upon from the Hindu myth of Churning of the Milk-Ocean. The South Gate remains the most popular gate and is the one that is considered best-restored. It is also the busiest one as it directly leads to the famous Angkor Wat. The most popular destination in Angkor Thom is certainly the Bayon Temple. Although a largely popular Buddhist temple, it retains elements of Hindu imagery and cosmology. It stands exactly at the centre of the walled city and presents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is best known for its enigmatic happy and smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and many of its extraordinary bas-reliefs.
Baphuon Temple is another prominent inside Angkor Thom, which was built in 1066. Today, it is in the process of being restored, which gives visitors a good idea of how these grand temples were constructed centuries ago. Another pyramidal representation of Mt. Meru is the Phimeanakas Temple, which stands at the now non-existent Royal Palace. Many of the decorative features of Baphuon have broken or have disappeared but climbing the structure and seeing the views of other temples around is well worth doing.
The Angkor Temples found at Angkor Thom have some of the most fascinating sights. Most of them are located near the centre and are built relatively close to one another. It is an amazing sight to see such magnificent temples within a small area, making this a must-see destination when in Siem Reap. To get the most out of your visit to the Angkor Temples then we suggest you take one of Angkor Tours or if you prefer we can customise an itinerary to suit your requirements.
“Angkor Tours by a Local” is part of Siemreaprooms Tours & Guesthouse. A British/Khmer managed tour operator based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. All of our tours are led by a local Angkor Tour Guide. Copyright 2013