While the beauty of Angkor at sunrise captivated me throughout the morning, the vastness of the temple definitely exhausted me. And, my poor, hungry stomach definitely wanted some attention. Advantage of staying in a good hotel is that, my ever-complaining stomach will never have to wonder where the next morsel of food is going to come from. Once I depleted some of the stock from the well-laid out buffet, I decided to consult my faithful and well-organised companion, My Travel Diary, to evaluate the best way to optimize my travel itinerary in Angkor Archaeological Park. Next on the list – Angkor Thom.
Being the largest of all Khmer cities, Angkor Thom was considered as the capital during the reign of Jayavarman VII until the 17th century. Tourists are often confounded, well at least I was, when you approach the Southern entry gate due to its sheer magnificent architecture in the form of four faces pointing in each cardinal directions and asuras lining the bridge across the moat.
As I was busy snapping away pictures, the driver explained to me how there are four gates that has been built at each cardinal direction, all with similar architecture style and yet differing in their names. The road, benefit of the Cambodian government, has been built through these gates and converge at the central main temple of the founding King, known as The Bayon.
How to get there
Since I booked my ride for the entire day for an amount of $40, there was literally no need to ask people around for directions. After crossing the Angkor Vat, the usual approach is to enter from the South Gate, also known as the Death Gate, which will lead you directly to the Bayon which is located in the exact centre of the city.
Once you cross the Southern gate, you directly end up at the footstep of the beautiful temple of Bayon. The first that will definitely hit me is millions of carved in stone faces towering over me, welcoming to step inside with a ageless grace and simplicity.
I thing I should mention right now is that every temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park comes with its own set of official tourist guide, who is going to charge you an exorbitant amount of $15 and more. I decided to not to opt for these group of gentlemen. However, I noticed a group of locals sitting on the stair case , looking at the group of tourists with a look of expectation. With a mere price of $5, I was able to get a detailed tour of the whole complex.
After entering the outer enclosure, I noted two large, elevated structures located at the north and south corners of the enclosure. Turns out the old libraries are currently under Japanese government for restoration. At the North and South corner The whole temple is composed of galleries, with the face towers dominating over them along with over terraces. Due to the difference in height of each tower, I had these weird impression of a forest of smiling-face towers overlooking me.
The best part of the experience of visiting this temple was the fact that not only can you enter the temple from any point, but amidst the confusion of narrow corridors and stairways and low ceilings, the glimpses of the enigmatic, perfectly carved faces made it a unique experience. My guide was gleefully guiding me to right windows and vantage points to get that perfect frame of picture, as you can see from the pictures.
Once I stopped the mad clicking, I noticed the unique bas-reliefs that were present inside the temple, that were at par with the ones in Angkor Vat. It was quite difficult to take pictures with the hoard of mad crowd indulging in the same activity, but the sense of wonder prevailing among all of us could be seen and felt on each of our expressions.
However, the most significant and unique feature that I found intriguing was the presence of deities from two entirely different religious philosophies. The spiritual history of the place and its distinct cultural impact could be felt and heard in every brick and mortar of the temple.
Like all the temples of the Archaeological Park, the archaeological complexity of the temple is a gift to photographer; the play of light on the face tower changes throughout the day. However, to get the best out of the view and the experience, as foretold by my driver, early morning and late afternoons are the ideal time to visit this monument.
As I have mentioned in my earlier post, once you have booked your ticket at for a visit to Angkor Vat temples, the pass is valid for all the temples that comes under the Archaeological Park; so the hassle of standing in a long queue, under a hot sun is so not required for every visit.
Wear appropriate clothes at all times; better to keep your shoulder and knees covered.
Use sun screen. It may have been the month of December, but bloody hell the sun was freakishly strong.
Carry at least 2-3 bottles of water with you. The narrow and steep staircases, along with the sun, do not make it any easy for you. The terrain around Angkor Thom and other temples is quite rough and will definitely test your stamina.