Travel Log: Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today I'd like to continue my travel log series by sharing part two of our Cambodia visit.  We spent a full day visiting the major temples in Siem Reap, with the first stop being Angkor Wat (read part one, my travel log on Angkor Wat, here).  Hinduism was one of the Cambodia's official religions and influenced the architecture of Angkor Wat, but our second stop, Angkor Thom, was built by one of the Buddhist kings: Jayavarman VII.  Angkor Thom means "great city," and was constructed as King Jayavarman VII's capital city.  It covers 3 square kilometers (~1.2 square miles), and is surrounded by a wall with four gates and a moat.  The gates contain Buddha-like faces that are thought to be modeled after the king's own.  Angkor Thom contains several temples, the most famous one being Bayon with its many towers of smiling faces.  Construction was completed in the early 1200's, and I can only imagine what it would have looked like back when it was the thriving capital city of the Khmer empire.  My outfit for our day of touring the Angkor temples included a striped maxi skirt, short-sleeved tee, comfy flats, crossbody bag, aviators, and a lightweight hat to shade my face from the sun.  Please read on for photos and details of our walk through Angkor Thom.

 Skirt: Caslon "Convertible Maxi Skirt" in black/white stripe (available in petite! I'm wearing a petite XS), $48 at Nordstrom here
Tee: "Favorite Short Sleeve V-Neck Tee" in black (available in ten other colors), $8.50 (on sale!) at Target here
Shoes: Kendall & Kylie for Madden Girl "Poppyy Espadrille Flat" in gold/black (available in five other colors), $49.95 at Nordstrom here
Crossbody Bag:Vince Camuto (no longer available), similar Vince Camuto "Julia Crossbody" in black/nude snake (available in two other colors), $178 at Macys here
Sunglasses: Michael Michael Kors "Sicily" aviator in gold/dune, $69.99 at Bluefly here
Hat: c/o Conversation Pieces Boutique (no longer available), check out the Hinge "Raffia Crochet Fedora" in natural, $45 at Nordstrom here

Angkor Thom has five gates: one at the north, south, east, and west points as well as the "victory gate" leading to the Royal Palace area.  The south gate is the most photogenic entry point, and most common one for tourists.  The long causeway is lined with 54 stone figures, devas (gods) on the left and asuras (demons) on the right, holding a naga (serpent) and said to be acting out the Hindu myth "Churning of the Ocean of Milk."  Now I know I just said earlier that Angkor Thom was built by a Buddhist king, but this is an example of the blended religious history of Cambodia.

Once we entered the South Gate, we approaced the most famous temple in Angkor Thom: Bayon originally had somewhere between 49 and 54 towers, and there are several interpretations of their meaning.  Our driver told us that there were 54 towers representing the former 54 provinces of the Khmer Empire, and I also read that the towers represented days of the lunar calendar.  Today, I believe there are 37 towers remaining.

Bayon temple was built in the center of Angkor Thom, and represents the intersection of heaven and earth.  Bayon's layout includes an inner gallery, an upper terrace, and a central tower.  It makes an impressive statement--there is a lot going on in a compact space.

Here you can start to see the faces on the towers.  Each tower contains four smiling faces thought to be modeled after King Jayavarman VII's own.  The faces are all smiling serenely, like a Buddha or Bodhisattva. 

I love this shot of light streaming into one of the narrow corridors.  You can also see the stones neatly stacked on top of each other to form the towers.  So impressive!

Walking through Bayon's passageways feels like walking through a stone maze.  The ceilings are low, columns are placed close together, and light is dim in some areas.  From what I have read, this is due to later construction/additions to the temple.

Looking up at the archways within Bayon.  It's amazing to think how long ago these temples were built and how the stones were placed together one at a time.

One last view of the smiling faces and detail in this amazing temple.

After touring Bayon, we walked a short distance northwest to Baphuon Temple.  Baphuon was built in the middle of the 11th century, before Bayon, and is entered via a long elevated walkway.

The front of Baphuon from the elevated walkway.  Baphuon was closed to the public for about 50 years of on-again, off-again restoration from 1960 to 2011 due to the fact that it was built on unstable sand.  This temple was built in a pyramid shape with three tiers.

The impressive view from the second tier of Baphuon, looking back at the entry gate and walkway.

After Baphuon, we walked further north to see The Terrace of the Elephants, where King Jayavarman VII would stand to view public ceremonies, military parades, and address the people.  I was amazed at the detail along this terrace, down to the elephant trunks that look like they are picking up some type of plant.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the monkeys that roam Angkor Thom.  These monkeys look cute, but I have heard they are devious.  Our driver told us that they will steal your hats, bags, anything that you don't hold onto, and then you have to buy a banana from one of the local vendors in order to get your stuff back.  It's a pretty genius business plan, really, so watch out for these guys.  

I hope you enjoyed my descriptive tour of Angkor Thom.  If you are thinking of visiting Cambodia and the Angkor temples, I highly recommend it.  Please stay tuned for one more Cambodia post, and then the final leg of our Southeast Asia tour: Hong Kong & Macau!  I hope you have a great week.


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