Angkor Thom is a bit unique compared to the other sites within the ancient city of Angkor in that it is not just a temple, but a city. It was actually the longest lasting capital city during the era of the Khmer Empire (802-1431) and can be thought of as a town within the larger city of Angkor. The great king Javayarman VII built this city around the same time as Ta Prohm and is most famous for its central temple called the ‘Bayon.’
Bayon is distinctively different from the other major temples in Angkor (Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, and Preah Khan) as it has depictions of human faces on all four sides of every pillar, making it just mind-blastingly cool. Walking through it looks like something you would only find in an adventure movie, or a video game, but alas, it is real. This temple has a main entrance, but has a lot of side rooms and tunnels to go through to satisfy your need to act like Indiana Jones.
One interesting feature which was recently brought to my attention is that if you look at the temple from the side, it looks like a Buddha laying down. I am not sure if this was intended, or just a happy coincidence, but it is well known that the Bayon was the only main temple in the Angkor complex that was built in honor of the Buddha as Javayaman VII himself was a devout follower.
Angkor Thom is much more than Bayon, but this temple alone will take two hours to explore thoroughly. Bayon was also the only temple in the whole city of Angkor where I noticed Buddhist monks actively praying and bringing offerings to the Buddha statues inside and immediately outside. I also noticed a traditional Cambodian performance inside the temple, which after cross-referencing with friends that have visited, seems to be a common sight. While very popular among history buffs and temple enthusiasts, Angkor Thom and Bayon are definitely less traveled than Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm, so you don’t really have to push anyone out of the way for some cool pictures.
I know I have said this a million times, but take your time to take it all in. I know that Cambodia can get you “templed out” more than pretty much anywhere else on Earth, but trust me, it is like no other place on Earth. If there is one place where you should get templed-out, it is at this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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