The ancient glare of Angkor Thom

Mike Grist Haikyo, World Ruins Leave a Comment

Angkor Thom is a behemothic ruin, 9 square kilometers of temples, lakes, terraces, and dusty faded glory all bound in by a ten-foot wall. Much of it now is paved with roads built by the South Koreans, the Chinese, the Indians. Our guide happily explained the times and dates each country came along and chipped in their bit to keep this grand testament to ancient Khmer wealth in a visitable condition.

And visitable it most certainly is, from the hydra-headed temple of Bayon to the seemingly endless codices of ‘forgotten temples’ across from the palace’s elephant terrace.


The heads of Jayavarman VII, who built a temple with some 88 copies of his on head, looking in all directions with ‘peace and serenity for all’. Nuts.

There are four main gates to Angkor Thom, at each of the cardinal compass points- and at ech point you’re met with another smiling god-king’s head.


Big Brother sees all.


Hears all.


Feels all.


Knows all.

Our guide took us to all the highlights, and through the hot day we raced around them. Once we bumped into a gang of boys, maybe 8 years old, who were climbing willowy trees to get at the berries at the top. I climbed trees when I was a kid too, but never with the monkey-like ease these boys did. Walk up the side, out along sway-thin branches, pluck berries and drop them in a plastic bottle, then on to the next.

They were cheerful, chatted with our guide, who in turn translated that they lived over 5km away, had walked here, and were picking berries to sell at the road side.


This is Bayon from the outside. you can’t see the heads from so far away, but every crenellation above was stocked with plenty of them.


Rising towers of heads.


A smile meant to bring peace and serenity to all that slaves that built it.

And of course there were lots of other temples that we popped in and out of, the names of which I’ve forgotten. Here are a few highlights.


Valley in the ruins.


Another vision of heaven.


A tumbledown red temple.


With odd bits of conservation going on.


And missing heads.


A real jungle temple, properly un-conserved, largely as it was, and gloriously empty and climbable.


Up, up, up, the ziggurat lickety split.

A final section, in the dying moments of our last day in Angkor Thom, while our guide was really hoping we’d be too knackered to see any more, we pressed for one last round of a final few temples. And what we got was well worth it, this row of stunning watch-tower type stations arrayed in front of the elephant terrace. The terrace itself is unremarkable, a stone wall beyond which the palace would have stood, all in wood. Of course the wooden palace is gone, and only the terrace remains, and the temples and watch-towers before it.


What were these towers for?

Our guide wasn’t sure what the towers were for, but perhaps they were like an early telegraph signal, passing a sign from one end to the other very quickly. Though it’s hard to see the point of that, since the distance they cover is not really more than a loud shout.

Another notion was that there was a rope strung between them, and clows would walk along it for the King’s entertainment.

Maybe our guide was just making stuff up, at that point? Nice idea though…

And behind the watch-towers, a bunch of ‘forgotten temples’. I’m sure these temples have names, but our guide just called them ‘forgotten’.


We climbed and romped.


And romped and climbed.


While these guys were as serious as ever.


And then that was that.

We packed up and rolled out of Cambodia the next day, on a spine-rumbling back-seat of a little van all the way to Bangkok. What a trip!

If you’d like to see photos from Ankgor Wat, you can go here.

For more photos of world ruins, go here. For Japanese ruins, go here.

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