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Beyond Angkor Wat

Your first impressions of the Angkor complex may be of ancient temple ruins covered by giant roots of banyan trees; or of many smiling stone-carved Buddha faces, comprising a stone mountain of ascending peaks. Such mysterious ruins in dense jungle often appear in action films.

Such images originate with the well-known Ta Prohm and Bayon temples. Angkor has much to offer, however, besides these two temples. The following are some suggestions for sightseeing after your visit to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was founded in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, considered the most powerful Khmer monarch of all time, and was one of the largest of all Khmer cities. Here lie the ruins of many striking monuments.

Most visitors reach the monuments by driving up to Angkor Thom. Once they’ve arrived, they stop off to go inside. Although most ruins are in a state of disrepair, the remarkable scale of the architecture and the intricate carvings still reflect the city’s glorious past. Of the five gateways into the city, the usual approach is via the South Gate.

Bayon Temple

The temple features many wonderful bas-reliefs (sculptures in which figures project slightly from the background). These depict scenes from daily life, battles and other historical events. The best-known are at the eastern section of the south gallery, and depict a battle between the Khmers and the Chams, along with other interesting images from everyday life in the 12th century.

How much time you spend viewing the bas-reliefs depends on you. We recommend first-timers to visit the eastern section of the south gallery, and the southern section of the east gallery; together these create a convenient and interesting short detour.

Save most of your time for an exploration of the inner temple’s architecture. The complexity of the inner enclosure allows surprising glimpses of the stone faces when you look out from inside. Early morning and late afternoon may be good for photography: the light is such that you may have unusual and unexpected views of the faces.

Elephant Terrace

This terrace, more than 300 meters long, is named after the elephant-carvings on its eastern face. Stretching from the entrance of Bayon to the connecting Leper King Terrace, the Elephant Terrace was built by King Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to inspect the royal army and other parades.

The Elephant Terrace has three main platforms and two smaller ones. The entire terrace is elaborately decorated with life-sized sculptures, such as three elephants with their trunks pulling lotuses from the ground, elephants in a procession with their mahouts, alternating Garuda with raised arms (the mount of Vishnu). Images of lion-headed figures, serpents and horses can also be found on the terrace.

Leper King Terrace

Ta Prohm

This is the well-known jungle temple that appears in the movie Tomb Raider. Perhaps the most mysterious structure at Angkor, the temple is in a state of disrepair, with trees interlaced among the ruins, helping to create the enigmatic atmosphere.

Banteay Srei

The remarkable Banteay Srei is located about 20 kilometers north of Angkor. Considered to be the jewel in the crown of Khmer art, the temple was built largely of pink sandstone, with exquisitely detailed carvings depicting Hindu mythology.

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