Angkor Thom means "the great city" in Khmer. The 12th-century royal Buddhist city is especially famed for its grand Bayon Temple, but has several other sights of interest as well.
History of Angkor Thom
The city of Angkor Thom was founded by Angkor's greatest king, Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219), who came to power following the defeat of the former Khmer capital by the Chams. At its height, Angkor Thom may have governed a population of one million people in the surrounding area.
Angkor Thom was built in a nearly perfect square, the sides of which run north to south and east to west. It was surrounded by a square wall (jayagiri) 8m high and 12km in length and further protected by a 100m-wide moat (now dry), said to have contained ferocious crocodiles.
A gate opens exactly in the middle of each wall, from which a bridge extends over the moat to the area outside the royal city. The original royal palace at Angkor Thom, built in the 10th and 11th centuries, was probably built of wood and no longer stands.
What to See at Angkor Thom
The vast area of the Angkor Thom ruins, over a mile on one side, contains many stone temples and other features to explore. The city has five monumental gates (one in each wall plus an extra in the eastern wall), 20m high and decorated with stone elephant trunks and the king's favorite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Each gate, which leads onto a causeway across the moat, is flanked with statues of 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right. This is a theme from the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Milk-Ocean (illustrated in the famous bas-relief at Angkor Wat).
The south gate is the best restored and most popular, but also the most busy since it leads directly to Angkor Wat. The east and west gates, found at the end of uneven trails, are more peaceful. The east gate was used for a scene in the Tomb Raider movie, in which the bad guys broke into the "tomb" by pulling down a giant apsara (actually made of polystyrene).
The Terrace of the Elephants served as a viewing platform for royal parties and depicts elephants and garuda (a mythical bird-like creature).
The Terrace of the Leper King is a decorative platform topped by a statue surrounded by four lesser statues, each facing away from the central statue. The central figure is probably a Khmer ruler who allegedly died of leprosy, either Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII.
Bayon Temple (circa 1190) is a Buddhist temple but retains elements of Hindu cosmology and imagery. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, it represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is known for its enigmatic smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and its extraordinary bas-reliefs.
Just north of the Bayon is the stalwart Baphuon, a temple built in 1066 that is in the process of being put back together in a way that gives visitors an idea of what original temple construction might have been like.
Phimeanakas Temple, located on the site of the now-disappeared royal palace, is another pyramidal representation of Mt. Meru. Most of the decorative features are broken or have disappeared, but it is an interesting structure and can be climbed for good views of Baphuon Temple.
Quick Facts on Angkor Thom
|archaeological sites; city ruins; World Heritage Sites
|Visitor and Contact Information
|13.441299° N, 103.858759° E
|Siem Reap, Cambodia
|View hotels near Angkor Thom
- Lonely Planet Cambodia (2005).
- Frommer's Southeast Asia
- Angkor Map and Index - Oriental Architecture
- Angkor Thom, the Great Walled City - The Cultured Traveler, July 2004
- The Splendors of Angkor Thom - by Michael Buckley
- The Temple of Angkor Thom - Cambodian Online
- Photos of Angkor Thom - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap
Below is a location map and aerial view of Angkor Thom. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.