Angkor Thom: The Ancient Khmer Capital

Angkor Thom, on the west bank of the Siem Reap River, became the capital of the Khmer Empire when Angkor Wat was invaded by the Cham forces.

Standing atop the Terrace of the Elephants
Standing atop the Terrace of the Elephants

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I visited Angkor Thom on my last day in Siem Reap, if I remember correctly, although I had visited Bayon (which is located within the Angkor Thom complex) especially much earlier on in my time backpacking in the city. My tuktuk driver dropped me off by the Terrace of the Elephants and he then parked up underneath a tree to shelter from the unforgiving sun. I let him know that I planned to spend a couple of hours here, and he agreed to wait for me.

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Carvings on The Terrace of the Leper King
Carvings on The Terrace of the Leper King

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Angkor Thom is known for two main sites: The Terrace of the Leper King, and the Terrace of the Elephants. I stood atop the latter, and had great views down over the gravel roads that take visitors in and out of the giant Angkor Thom complex. It was a sweltering day in Siem Reap, and there is not much shade here at the main Angkor Thom temples, unlike over at its prestigious sister temple Bayon, which is very shaded under the jungle canopy indeed. There’s no shade at all here on the Terrace of the Elephants, as it was originally used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies; I guess very similar to what occurred in the games of the Coliseum during the Roman Empire.

Baphuon
Baphuon

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Built by King Jayarvarman VII late on in the 12th century, and known to be the Khmer Empire’s last and most enduring capital city, Angkor Thom (literally meaning “Great City”) covers a vast area of 9 sqkm, and when walking around this amazing temple complex, you can certainly appreciate the sheer size of the place!

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Baphuon is another temple located within Angkor Thom, just north-east of Bayon. Baphuon is three-tiered and dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Another of my favourite sites within Angkor Thom was Phimeanakas, which was built in the shape of a pyramid, originally. The reason I liked this one was the relative isolation of the temple compared the rest of the sites along the main road, and deep into the jungle terrain I became more wary of what I was treading on. On once such occasion traipsing around Phimeanakas, I had to jump over a little stream which was covered with foliage and wooden branches. I wondered what was laying in there and if it would bite me as I tried to cross this little stream. Fortunately – and unsurprisingly – I lived to tell the tale, and I was able to marvel at the structure. It is possible to walk up the narrow wooden stairway to the top level of Phimeanakas, but I passed on the opportunity, as by this time I was thinking of heading back to my tuktuk driver.

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Adjoining the main section of Angkor Thom along the main road, there is a little local market, which presumably operates on a daily basis, and is there mainly for the intense tourist trade. I enjoyed some amazing Khmer Noodles here. However, I heard a huge crash, and when I turned around there was a giant tree branch laying on the road in the middle of the market! It had just fallen from above, but luckily nobody was injured. The locals stared upwards nervously, probably hoping another branch wouldn’t fall. Yet I was more keen to finish my noodles!

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6 thoughts on “Angkor Thom: The Ancient Khmer Capital

    1. Cool! My trip was beginning of April I think. Just beginning to get hot in that part of the world at that time, but you gotta love the temples in any weather. Would be nice to experience Angkor Thom in the rain though…must be so much different.

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