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Angkor Thom (The Great City or Big Angkor) is the royal city and the last capital of the Angkorian Khmer Empire. It is the walled and moated city. Together with the internationally admirable Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is the big magnet attracting the history fanciers to travel to the magnificent and sacred complex of Angkor Archaeological Park. Let’s discover Angkor Thom with Indochina Charm Travel – the local Cambodia Tour Operator !

About Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was set in the north of Angkor Wat. It was a square city enclosed by 8m-high walls and 100m-wide moat. The royal city of Angkor Thom was erected by the frenetic building campaign of King Jayavarman VII, who reoccupied the Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181. It was characterized as the King’s new, grand, and enclosed capital with the outer wall and moat, in an area of 9km2. There was one inscription in the city that referred to Jayavarman as the groom and Angkor Thom as his bride.  The name of Angkor Thom was reported to be in use from the 16th century. In the reign of King Borommarachathirat II, Angkor Thom was sacked and then abandoned until the year of 1609 whenthe uninhabited city was rediscovered and made known in the world.

History of Angkor Thom

Time of Construction and Growth

In the late 12th century, King Jayavarman VII drove out the Cham invaders and then began a massive building campaign in which Angkor Thom was the centerpiece. Angkor Thom was nearby Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and Phnom Bakheng. The new royal city was fortified firmly. At the ground where Angkor Thom was erected, there are some older monuments existed already. The most notable ones were Baphuon Temple (the mid-11th century) and The Phimeanakas (10th or early 11th century).

Adding to the impressive Angkor Thom, some of the Angkor’s best temples were constructed, namely Bayon, in the center of the city. As noted, Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Khmer Empire, and King Jayavarman VII did consider it as his royal city while Bayon was his state temple. Besides, the complex included the new Royal Palace made from perishable materials; therefore, the palace could not remain today except for the Royal Terraces built from stones. At that time, the royal city was home to thousands of inhabitants and owned the network of roads and waterways.

Time of Decline

In the 15th century, the Khmer Empire went into a decline. In the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Angkor Thom was sacked and deserted in the jungle. Until the 19th century, the abandoned site was rediscovered by the French explorers. After that, some works of discovery and restoration of the monuments were processed to unveil the secrets of Angkor Thom, which had been concealed by the thick jungle for centuries. And now, included in the Angkor Archaeological Park, Angkor Thom is frequently visited by the tourists worldwide. It is no longer the deserted site!

Architecture of Angkor Thom

Entrance Gate

The city is encompassed by the 8m-high and 3-km long defensive walls. Inside the wall is an earth embankment that helped the Khmer armies to observe the enemies outside. So, to enter the city, you see the five gopura gates, and each gate is set in the center of each wall. According to the Khmer terms, gopura refers to the entrance gate in the wall surrounding a temple. The gate is impressive with the carvings on lintels and pediments. Historically, the gopuras of Angkor Thom were constructed between the end of the 12th century and the early 13th century. The gopuras here included a 23-m-high central tower flanked by the two smaller towers.

The Face Towers

The three towers on the gopuras of Angkor Thom are characterized by the four giant heads on the top of the gates. Each head looks at the each of the four cardinal directions. Believably, those faces represented Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. In particular, the central tower includes two giant faces seeing in the opposite directions while each of the two smaller towers has one face, and each face looks at one of the remaining two directions.

Ground Level of the Gates

The large sculpture of Airavata –the three-head mythological elephant, with the God Indra sitting on the bank, makes the ground level of the entrance gates eye-catching.

The Causeways to Cross the Moat

The long-lasting causeways allow people to cross the moat and access the gates of the city. On the access route crossing the moat, you see the stone figures that keep the giant snake. Those stone figures represent 54 Devas – a Hindu deity on one side, and 54 Asuras – the demons battling the Devas on the other side. This scene is taken from an ancient Hindu story namely “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk” which said: The ocean was stirred by Devas and Asuras, aiming to extract the nectar of immortality from the ocean. The giant snake Vasuki was used as the rope while the Mount Mandara served as the stirring pole.

Ideal Periods to Visit Angkor Thom

When to go to Angkor Thom? Known as the last royal city of the Khmer Empire and the big magnet in the Angkor complex today, Angkor Thom is filled with rich history and admirable Khmer architecture.

Based on the Weather

  • Dry Season: The best time to visit Angkor Thom is the dry season, from October to May. It is when the weather is dry and hot that requires you to be able to accept the heat. But the dry time is suitable to explore the royal city rather than the wet one (from June to September). Provided that you come prepared with an umbrella and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun, it’s easy to visit Angkor Thom in the dry months! Also, the peak time for Angkor Thom exploration is the dry month, from October to May. Perhaps, most tourists can endure the heat rather than the rain.
  • Wet Season:Differently, it brings the heavy rain, monsoon, and flood. Luckily, the local drivers know the ways to reach the monument regardless of the flood. Besides, the wet time is interesting in its way: the Mekong River Cruises. The cruises offer the fantastic views of the Angkor complex from afar, and then it will anchor somewhere waiting for you to discover the monumental ground of Angkor Thom as well as the other Angkorian remnants.

Based on Time of Day

You see the best of Angkor Thom in the soft-lighting condition: in the sunrise and after 14:00 PM. While the early morning gives Angkor Thom the dramatic view, the time after 14:00 PM until the sunset showers the city with the divine coat. So, notice this timeframe so that you can enjoy sightseeing and photographing the most flattering corners of Angkor Thom. As the ancient ruin is in a great size, expect that you might look quite little in such the grand complex! After all, no matter what time of the year that you decide to visit Angkor Thom and the whole Angkor Archaeological Park, they are the respectable sights of Cambodia that you are sure to remember for a long time. The images and atmosphere in the last capital of the Khmer Empire might reinforce your admiration for what Cambodia has: the Angkor!

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