After watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, we took a short tuk-tuk ride to the walled city of Angkor Thom. It was the capital city of Khmer empire established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarrman VII (endearingly nicknamed “King J” by our tuk-tuk driver). This vast city is a home to cluster of splendid temple ruins, but there were two ruins that we could not get out of our heads – the South Gate and Bayon Temple.
Upon approaching the South Gate of Angkor Thom, we were greeted by fascinating giant faces wearing slew of expressions – smiling, serene, serious, angry, scary, etc.
And the right side is lined up with the 54 figures of asuras (demons). Both rows were holding a naga (serpent) as if they were engaged in a tug of war. Although Angkor Thom is a Buddhist city, it is said that this scene depicts the Hindu mythology of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
Visitors on elephants passing through the South Gate tower, which is sculpted with four giant faces gazing into four cardinal directions. These faces are similar to the ones found at one of the most iconic temples of Angkor – the Bayon.
Bayon Temple, also called the Face Towers, was built by King J VII as his state temple right in the very center of Angkor Thom. If Angkor Wat is elegant and proper, we found Bayon eclectic and wild.
It is said that Bayon is a testament to King J VII’s deep spirituality as well as his inflated ego. Although the faces with enigmatic smiles were supposed to represent Avelokitesvara, the faces were said to be modeled after the king’s own.
Someone was smiling behind our back.
We found Bayon one of the very distinct among the many Angkor temples and was one of the Angkor highlights for us. Some call it bizarre for a temple, but that’s what makes it memorable.
- To dodge the crowd, the best time to visit Angkor Thom is during sunrise or right after sunrise when most of the crowds are still in Angkor Wat.
- The South Gate of Angkor Thom is located 7.2 kms (4.5 miles) north of Siem Reap and 1.7 kms (1.1 miles) north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. It is easily reachable by tuk-tuk, motorbikes or car from Siem Reap. Transporation can be arranged through your hotel.
- Passes are required for entry to Angkor area. You can buy a 1-day pass for $20, 3-day pass for $40 and 7-day pass for $60. The 3-day pass is good for any 3 days within a week while the 7-day pass is good for any 7 days within a month.
- Suggested reading: Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques.
- Suggested accommodation: We stayed at Shinta Mani, a beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel and we highly recommend. We call it a hotel with a heart as it donates part of your nightly rate to help local communities. It has a non-profit component that trains locals in hospitality business as well as contributes in health programs.
This link is part of Travel Photo Thursday. Check it out for more interesting travel links.