Angkor Thom in Cambodia

Angkor Thom was once the political capital of the Khmer empire, and now it's an essential destination on your holiday to Cambodia. A nine square km complex of monuments, palaces and temples, surrounded by a moat, its name means 'great city' and hints of its former glory are everywhere.

Any invaders would have thought twice when encountering a formidable eight metre high wall and four giant stone faces staring out at its gates. But you'll be most welcome when you visit Angkor Thom, despite the imposing huge stone figures holding a snake which guard each causeway over the moat. Walk past these silent stone sentinels and you will enter through one of the five gates. Four were used for general entry and are named after each compass point, while the Victory Gate was reserved for the return of victorious armies.

Delve deeper into the complex and you'll find even older monuments depicting deva and asura deities, fighting legendary beasts. Everywhere you look, there's a historical or mythological wonder to behold. You'll find more than a dozen individual structures inside the site.

It's a full day's outing to take in each one, but this is highly rewarding as you'll absorb so much about the culture and feel of the Cambodian temples. Some of these incredible sites include the Bayon, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, Preah Palilay and Tep Pranam. Each of these locations is unique in its construction and is fascinating to explore.

The Bayon is a temple known for the mysterious faces on its towers while the Royal Terraces, with their sculptures of elephants and multi-headed snakes are where processions were held.

You'll discover the temple of Preah Palilay rising up from the jungle and a giant seated Buddha in Tep Pranam.

Angkor Thom grew over time, with additions being made by each new ruler. As a result, you'll notice a huge variety in the type of structures you'll see. Some have large, flat galleries, with long stone arches which are slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. Others stand tall, surrounded by artificial lakes and waterways, with the moss on the stone as the only sign that nature has affected them at all.

Perhaps the most alluring thing about Angkor Thom is the mystery of its abandonment. No one knows why the great city was left to fall into ruin, with theories ranging from a natural disaster, to an invading army, to divine intervention. However, the city fell into disrepair, by wandering the vast site you get an intriguing glimpse into the Khmer history and culture.

Angkor Thom can be accessed from both Angkor Wat or Siem Reap city. The best time to visit is in the early morning and late afternoon, where the light and the shadows cast by the rising and setting sun provide a dramatic way to view these wonderful monuments.

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