I can safely say that we are “all-templed-out.” Over the past three days we’ve been to more temples than we can count. We’ve walked up and down thousands of steps in the steaming heat, and I’ve felt sweat on parts of my body that I didn’t know could secrete. But I’ll tell you about one famous city called Angkor Thom.
Known as the last capital of the Khmer Empire, the 10 square kilometres was built in the 12th century and contained a population estimated to be as large as 150 000 people. The city supported up to a million people in the surrounding region until the early 1600s when the capital was abandoned for a new site in Phnom Penh.
We entered Angkor Thom through the south gate, crossing the moat using the walkway known as the Avenue of Gods and Asuras.
The first thing that strikes you are all the heads. Fifty-four demons and 54 gods line the causeway and appear to be involved in a tug-of-war. I’m sure the causeway is not a favourite place of those who constantly feel watched, especially when you notice the four-headed tower over the entrance gate!
Inside the city we visited several areas including the Bayon (state temple), Baphoun, and the Elephant Terrace. The massive buddha heads decorating Bayon were incredible to see, and the reclining Buddha at Baphoun jumps out at you at the very end. I almost didn’t notice until our guide pointed out its shape in the side of the temple.
The massive Elephant Terrace is the heart of Angkor Thom and looks out over the Royal Square. It marks the entrance to the Royal Palace and was the focal point for royal receptions. The carvings of elephants along its walls give the terrace its name today.
Several restoration projects are underway, including a project funded by France at Baphoun. Over the past few days it’s been nice to see how many countries are contributing funds and experts to help Cambodia preserve its historical treasures.
I keep thinking over and over how these temples could have been forgotten so quickly when they were so important for hundreds of years. But the jungle grows quickly and nature takes its course. I wonder what else the jungle is hiding!