A day in Angkor Archaeological Park - Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat was an amazing experience, but it was just the start of our tour around the Khmer ancient heritage.
Another major site is Angkor Thom. We entered by its South Gate - the best-preserved of its five getaways. An impressive causeway received us before arriving to the gate. It has 154 stone statues - gods on the left and demons on the right side, each carrying a giant serpent.
After we passed the South Gate, the tuk-tuk left us to explore Angkor Thom at our own pace. Angkor Thom was once a fortified city with around one million people population, at its peak. City's most unique temple was Bayon. It has a pyramidal structure, with 54 towers and 216 mysteriously smiling faces - the last ones are believed to represent the all-seeing and all-knowing Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, as personified by Jayavarman VII himself. This is where we started our walk.
Angkor Thom is spread over an area of around 10 km2. Beside Bayon there are many other monuments to see, but as we had only one day to explore the entire heritage site, we opted seeing only what's on the West side of the Terrace of the Elephants.
Baphuon was our first stop here. It was built by King Udayadityavarman II in the 11th century as a Hindu temple. Its pyramidal structure represents Mount Meru - the mythical home of the gods. Baphuon temple is approached by a 200-meters long, raised causeway. Inside, on the length of its western wall a huge reclining Buddha can be seen (with a bit of imagination and a hint where to find it), probably added in around 15th century. It's believed that Baphuon has been one the grandest temples in Angkor.
Our next stop was Phimeanakas - a royal temple-palace that dates from the 10th century thanks to King Rajendravarman II. It is also known as the Celestial Palace. There is a legend that says there was a golden tower that stood on its top, where a nine-headed serpent resided. This magical serpent would appear to the King as a woman and he had to make love to her, in order to keep the royal lineage safe.
Between Phimeanakas and the Terrace of the Leper King (where the tuk-tuk was waiting for us to continue) we enjoyed a fresh walk in the park area and even got to see a monkey.
The Terrace of the Leper King dates from late 12th century. The headless statue on the top of its structure represents Yama - the Hindu God of the Underworld. The original one is now placed in Phnom Penh's National Museum, while the one available to see in Angkor is a replica. What's more impressing about the terrace (at least for me) were the two walls with remarkable bas-releifs - figures of underworld deities, apsaras (celestial female dancers), kings, nagas with five, seven or nine heads, warriors with swards, etc.