Angkor Thom is a large city of 9 km² within the enormous Angkor Archaeological Park which stretches over some 400 square kilometers. These numbers alone should give you an insight into the “temple burnout” of which many tourists complain after two or three days of trying to cram it all in (an impossible task).
After a day of visiting our cherry-picked outlying temples, a day of rest and another long and emotionally mixed day of visiting Preach Vinear, we were ready to now focus closer to home. I decided it was time for a new tuk tuk driver. The driver our guesthouse provided spoke no English and was not very flexible. Asking him to stop for an occasional photograph went unanswered and like so many drivers in Siem Reap, he had his own ideas of what we should see, i.e., too much too quickly. Erin at Never Ending Voyage had recommended Long Kim Seng.
I called him and we were not disappointed. First of all, he and his brother speak good English. They are punctual and flexible. They carry ice-cold water and always have a fresh bottle waiting for you when you emerge from a hot Wat. He even suggested some great photo-op quick stops. I told him my list, he said no problem, and he picked us up promptly at 6:00 am the following morning.
Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII and was the center for his massive building program. It remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609. The city is surrounded by a massive wall, crumbling in places, and a moat.
Angkor Thom South Gate
Our first stop where ‘Kimseng’ let us out just outside the moat was South Gate, one of five entrances to the city and the most impressive one to remain. We spent about 20 minutes walking across in awe, checking out the statues and I clambered atop the wall and gate a bit.
Next we went to Bayon (“you know, the one with all the faces”). Bayon is one of the most widely recognized temples in Siem Reap because of the giant stone faces that adorn its towers. There are 54 towers of four faces each, totaling 216 faces. This was a huge “do not miss” on my wish list. We entered the east gate which brought us into the first of three levels.
In addition to the faces and multiple tiers to explore, this temple complex has its share of intricate and detailed stone carvings.
Anna checking out an Apsara
Exiting the west entrance, we strolled through beautiful green forest paths a few minutes to Baphuon.
Baphuon is supposed to represent Mount Meru (sacred to Hinduism), and was one of the largest and grandest structures in Angkor. Built into the western face of the Baphuon is a giant reclining Buddha, added in the 16th century after the region converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.
Archaeologists had dismantled the Baphuon to perform renovation when they were interrupted by the civil war; the records for piecing the temple back together were subsequently lost or destroyed. Today the reconstruction work is done, so visitors can now walk up to the top-tier. (Wikipedia)
From here we walked casually through more fairly manicured and quite beautiful forest trails. We passed some minor edifices and observed a few pigs. We passed a few vendors selling snacks and drinks. Then we arrived at our final goal, the Leper King and Elephant Terraces.
We left the Elephant Terrace and there was Kimseng magically waiting for us with his tuk tuk and ice-cold water. We arrived back at our guesthouse at 10:30 am. A perfect morning and the temperature was only in the low 90s by the time we ended. The rest of the day was for swimming, dining, napping and a bit of photo editing.