Saturday, September 06, 2014

Siem Reap : The Microcosm Angkor Thom

One of Angkor Thom's Many Faces

I was just intent on seeing how the trees recaptured a place that was once occupied by mankind but hardcore traveler Ron of Flip N' Travels gave me a list of things to see in Angkor. Among these are the Stegosaurus Relief dated hundred of years before mankind discovered dinosaurs, the first ever engraved record of obstetrics in Asian civilization, Angelina Jolie's Tree, Mahab Rahata, engraved story of Rama and Sita and the Oldest Sanskrit text outside of India.

I stored those places in my phone and off I go to Angkor Thom. But lo and behold, after passing one of its monumental gates, I heard that all too familiar warning tone of my phone and a minute later, my battery is dead. So there goes the list... but I do remember Angelina Jolie is on it. But list or no list, Angkor Thom will just plainly keep your eyes and your senses occupied. It means "Great City" in Khmer and that is an understatement.

Khmer Artistry

The city of Angkor Thom was founded by Angkor's greatest king, Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219), who came to power following the defeat of the former Khmer capital by the Chams. At its height, Angkor Thom may have governed a population of one million people in the surrounding area.

Faces Everywhere

Angkor Thom was built in a nearly perfect square, the sides of which run north to south and east to west. It was surrounded by a square wall (jayagiri) 8m high and 12km in length and further protected by a 100m-wide moat (now dry), said to have contained ferocious crocodiles.

History Carved in Stone

A gate opens exactly in the middle of each wall, from which a bridge extends over the moat to the area outside the royal city. The original royal palace at Angkor Thom, built in the 10th and 11th centuries, was probably built of wood and no longer stands.

Humungous Tree

The vast area of the Angkor Thom ruins, over a mile on one side, contains many stone temples and other features to explore. The city has five monumental gates (one in each wall plus an extra in the eastern wall), 20m high and decorated with stone elephant trunks and the king's favorite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.

Emerging Bas Relief

Each gate, which leads onto a causeway across the moat, is flanked with statues of 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right. This is a theme from the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Milk-Ocean.

The Angkor Thom

The south gate is the best restored and most popular, but also the most busy since it leads directly to Angkor Wat. The east and west gates, found at the end of uneven trails, are more peaceful. The east gate was used for a scene in the Tomb Raider movie, in which the bad guys broke into the "tomb" by pulling down a giant apsara (actually made of polystyrene).

A Face In The Wall

The Terrace of the Elephants served as a viewing platform for royal parties and depicts elephants and garuda (a mythical bird-like creature).

Trunk Shows Who's The Boss

The Terrace of the Leper King is a decorative platform topped by a statue surrounded by four lesser statues, each facing away from the central statue. The central figure is probably a Khmer ruler who allegedly died of leprosy, either Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII.

Red Curve

Bayon Temple (circa 1190) is a Buddhist temple but retains elements of Hindu cosmology and imagery. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, it represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is known for its enigmatic smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and its extraordinary bas-reliefs.

Tree Regaining

Just north of the Bayon is the stalwart Baphuon, a temple built in 1066 that is in the process of being put back together in a way that gives visitors an idea of what original temple construction might have been like.

Pinoy in Cambodia

Phimeanakas Temple, located on the site of the now-disappeared royal palace, is another pyramidal representation of Mt. Meru. Most of the decorative features are broken or have disappeared, but it is an interesting structure and can be climbed for good views of Baphuon Temple. 

Lonely Planet Cambodia 
Frommer's Southeast Asia 
Angkor Thom, the Great Walled City - The Cultured Traveler
The Splendors of Angkor Thom - by Michael Buckley 
The Temple of Angkor Thom - Cambodian Online


  1. So, where is Angelina Jolie's tree?

    1. @vanessa - too bad I don't have a pic of it without tourists on it so I decided not to post them here :)

    2. @vinzent - it's not the fifth photo but I like that tree 'coz its so huge.

  2. Beautiful place. I believe this is where Tomb Raider was shot right?

    1. that is right, they even renamed a tree after Angelina Jolie.

  3. Another amazing trip you've taken us on, Oman! Thanks as always for sharing your wonderful travels with us!! Have a great new week!!

    1. Thanks Sylvia, the past week has been tedious work-wise but I am planning another relaxing trip soon. :)

  4. These are some architectural wonders that we need to see in this lifetime. Thanks for the virtual tour Oman.

    1. You are welcome Mhela. Grab your backpack and just go :)

  5. A smorgasbord of photos and information. Great job.

  6. this is really a must see destination. the tree is very impressive.

    1. Thanks Photo Cache, even my wide angle lens cannot capture the tree in its entirety.

  7. do you want to build a snowman?