Awe & Wonder: Angkor Thom

Our recent trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia brought us to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat. The best preserved and well-known is Angkor Wat, but there are many temples within the area. According to some research, I read after our return, there are hundreds of temples in Cambodia. One of the largest complexes is a short drive past Angkor Wat called Angkor Thom. Within its grounds are many structures and temples hence the Khmer meaning of its name Big City.

Angkor Thom is unique with many of the gates and some of the temple structures not only having the intricate carvings, but faces pointing to the four cardinal directions. Another of the temples have a large sleeping Buddha camouflaged in the wall. A path and signs pointed us through the grounds where things were spread out amongst trees, small ponds, long walkways and open spaces. Walls and tree roots snaked around the temples adding to the atmosphere. In other areas rubble littered the grounds where parts of buildings lay in ruins. Much of this complex has had some restoration to allow tourists a view back in time to a great empire.

We tried to avoid some of the crowds and had an early start. Our driver, Rak, dropped us at a small temple outside the main gate and told us he would meet us on the other side. John climbed the steep staircase as I took pictures. Next we made our way to the gate and happened to see a naughty monkey knocking over bikes and trying to run off with guide books. As we walked through the picturesque gate we noticed an elephant coming along down the road. We went back outside the gate and snapped a few photos.

an unexpected surprise

an unexpected surprise

On the other side of the gate we got back into the car and drove down a long stretch of road to the first temple complex. I was surprised that cars were allowed inside, but soon understood when we drove fairly deep inside before we saw the first structure. I started to understand the size of this complex in comparison to Angkor Wat.


We started at Bayon, the temple with the faces. We wandered around the grounds where nothing was off-limits. Little piles of stones reminding me of the Inuit inukshuks littered the piles of rubble. We made our way higher and IMG_6442got some close up views of the large stone faces standing watch. From there we went to Baphuon where Buddha lay hidden. The sun was getting hot and this was the first day where the usual high temperatures made an appearance, so we stuck to the shade and didn’t climb the upper levels of the next few temples we saw. My shoulders were not covered enough, so a guard showing me a sign with the universal no symbol, had me sweating under my long sleeves and now double layers. Without a map and a loss of direction we continued to follow the path and people who lead us to a long stone walkway. It was surprisingly massive. I realised we had made our way through the complex, but we had missed the one thing I had hoped to see, the elephant terrace. From what I understood it was a small rectangular structure. After a few more steps I saw the elephant carvings and realised we were in fact on the terrace. People crowded and snapped photos of the elephants. We found a hidden staircase that led below the terrace to a narrow passage. I am not sure the purpose other than the many carvings that graced the walls. We led our way down the staircase to see more carvings. Our driver was waiting for us and as we drove along the road I could see just how immense the terrace was with carvings from top to bottom and along the entire length; it certainly wasn’t what I had imagined. Again Angkor left me in awe and wonder.

This is my fourth post about our recent trip to Cambodia. Two posts are about the site itself and the third is a response to a photo challenge. Want to read more check these out:

Stay tuned for more…

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23 thoughts on “Awe & Wonder: Angkor Thom

  1. MaldivesDreamer

    Amazing! 🙂

    • It was incredible and all this built before there were cranes and modern equipment. Europe also has its marvels, but these temples in Cambodia are also covered with carvings and bas releifs of gods, images of daily life and design. It boggles my mind.
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  2. Great series! The first one is an awesome shot. It does not look crowded that good for photographying, unlike the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Li River…

    • Thanks Amy. Certain places and times of the day could be crowded, but if you waited a minute the crowd would pass. We also tried to stay away from the tour groups and if they went right we went left 😉 This temple complex was so large (3Km 2) it was easy to find a few places to have to yourself. Aftter the pushing at Ta Prohm we avoided the crowds whenever we could. Surprisingly there were a lot of Chinese tourists in Cambodia too!

  3. I’ve really enjoyed your visit, I’ll probably never get there sadly as it’s such an incredible place.

    • Never say never Gilly. It may be a long expensive flight, but the hotels and food are cheap once you get there. You can have simple rooms for $10-15 US a night! We paid $30 for 2 people (10% tax I think) and that included breakfast! If you watch your spending dinners run not more than $5 and happy hour drinks are cheap withdraft beer as cheap as .25c My husband couldn’t fathom that! Most places it was .75c -$1. The most expensive was the entrance to the park at $20 for 1 day and $40 for 3 days.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  4. I’ve never even heard of Angkor Thom before! More reason to travel to Cambodia one day 🙂

    • Yes I hadn’t either until a year or two ago… everyone knows Angkor Wat. Maybe also since the whole complex is the Angkor Wat Archelogical Park. Until you go there or research going there you realise all the names and places. I would love to go back one day and see more.

  5. Freda Goulet

    Incredible pictures and your descrition makes it all so real. Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks… it is so big and the detail. Wow! It is a shame to see how some of it is piles of rubble. It is amazing how things were reconstucted. The Buddha wall was a pile of rocks and they have fixed most of it. I didn’t post a photo since the sun high in the sky made it hard to make out in the photo. I should post some photos of the rubble too and give you an idea of what it looks like.

  6. Freda Goulet


  7. Outstanding pix! To see that in person must be incredible. Thanks for sharing, CTB.

    • Yes it was pretty amazing. I was in awe of the carvings and details on the walls and ceilings. In a way it reminded me of some ancient Roman ruins with the cobbled floors and ‘sewer’ systems in the floor. It I was amazed also at how BIG the trees were. No wonder so much lay in ruins as the big roots just snake under the foundations and through walls. It is also cool to know the restoration that is going on has skilled masons recarving some of the ancient motifs! I really want to go back and see more and take my time to explore.

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  11. Sigh. Your photos are amazing, so beautiful.

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