Other than the famous Bayon Temple, you'll find a slew of other temples and sites to explore. The Phimeanakas or Angkor's royal palace is one of them. Though it doesn't look like it, Zhou Da Guan, an ancient envoy, called it a Tower of Gold as it had a golden pinnacle. Needless to say, the pinnacle is long gone and it looks more like a tower of bricks now...
Date: beginning of the 11th century
Kings: Jayavamen V and Udayadityavarman I
Legend - According to a kinky Khmer legend, the palace was once inhabited by a nine-headed serpent-spirit called a naga. Now, this willy naga would appear to the king in the form of a sexy woman every night and quite predictably, the king had to shag the naga before he joined his wives and concubines for the night or.... he would die! Sounds like a kinky Angkorian excuse to me. Sigh, men will just be men, even if he is King..
Architectural Style - Phimeanakas is rectangular. The grounds originally included several ponds and courts.
Things to do - The upper terrace of the palace offers a superb view of the surroundings. So if you willing to risk life and limb like me, climb to the top from the front and look around. After you do, climb the bottom from the opposite side. It has a railing in case you freak out.
Now that you've done the elephant terrace, you might probably want to see a terrace named after a half-kneeling, asexual statue. Yes, this is the Terrace of the Leper King and the King in question is either the leprosy-afflicted King Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII. Take note though that the statue is a fake and that the original statue is now in Phnom Penh. Scholars beg to differ however, and claim that the naked statue is in fact Yama, the god of the death and that terrace might have been a royal crematorium....
Date: end of 12th century
Kings: Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1220)
Legend - A local yarn spun a tale about a minister who refused to lie prostrate before the king. Needless to say, the king got fed-up and he hit his minister with a sword. Unfortunately, the royal sod got spat at in return and got afflicted with leprosy! Guess spittal is indeed dangerous and it's no wonder why it's a bloody penalty in Singapore;)
Architectural Style - Bayon
Things to do - Since this might have been a royal crematorium, walk through to feel like a tomb raider. But really, this place has a narrow and long trench filled with magnificent sculptures of apsaras, kings, demons so you might stop halfway to admire and cause a human bottleneck.
If the Phimeanakas had been a tower of gold, the Baphuon was a tower of Bronze that represented the mythical Hindu Mount Meru. A Chinese envoy, Zhou Da Guan, called it "a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base" . Sadly, it looks more like a wreck today as the Khmer Rogue destroyed details of the Baphuon project during the civil war. Over 300,000 pieces of stone still lies along the periphery of the temple, neatly marked by numbers and drowning in thick vegetation.Little wonder why, it must be tough to piece such a big jig-saw puzzle together!
Date: 11th century
Kings: Udayadityavarman II (1050-1066)
Religion: Hindu ( Dedicated to Lord Shiva )
Architectural Style - This structure stands on a rectangular base and reaches a height of over 50 meters like a small pyramid. Little conincidence, it was built to represent Mount Meru anyway.
Things to do - There's little to do over here other than to admire the architecture from far and walk along the stone walkway. The temple still cannot be visited as it is still under reconstruction by the EFEO (École Française d'Extrême Orient) .
Read on to see the original state of the Baphuon
Have you ever heard "The Elephant Parade Song" ? Well, the Terrace of Elephants would befit such a song. You'll see a truly magnificent string of gigantic elephant bas reliefs on the wall, complete with servant and prince passengers. Apparently, these elephants were used as Land Rovers for hunting and fighting as you can see the elephants scooping up prey with their trunks. This lovely scene stretches for about 350m or so. Interestingly enough, this terrace was used by kings to watch circus performances or ceremonies.
Date: end of 12th century
Kings: Jayavarman VII (who else?)
Legend - Nil
Architectural Style - Bayon
Things to do - Other than humming the tune from elephant parade and looking at pictures of elephants tearing bulls into smithreens, look out for south stairway where you'll find the famous 3-headed elephant called Airavata. This animal was the Land Rover of the god Indra and was born when the gods and demons churned the ocean . It's seen scooping up lotuses in its trunk. Also look for life-sized garudas and lions alongside.
There you have it, a scene from the wall of the Elephant Terrace in Angkor Thom. Here you see a couple of elephants scooping up a bull by the head. Notice how the servants on top of the elephants are smiling as they wave their swords ( 2, no less! ) in regular KILL BILL, oops, I mean KILL-BULL style in glee.
Found alongside the central stairway of the Elephant Terrace in Angkor Thom are life-sized garudas and lion chimeras ( deviated creatures that are part animal, part human). Note that these creatures are standing akimbo, as though they are supporting the whole terrace itself. Also note how the garuda and lion stand in alternate places with the 7-headed nagas (an even more deviated creature with seven snake heads) tickling them in between .
If you have limited time to visit all the Wats. Make sure you visit Bayon & Angkor Wat. There are the two most grand & important Wats in the entire Angkor Wat Archeological Park.
The best of Bayon are the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level where the stone faces reside.
Angkor Thom means The Magnificent City, a great capital of the ancient Khmer Empire at Angkor Period [after the final battle with Thai troopers at 1431, Angkor handed by minor reigns].
Before reach the main entrance, the visitors passing the South Gate of Bayon. The statues of 54 demons are placed on the right side and 54 gods at the left. All of them carrying a giant snake called Naga [read my Angkor Wat page "Churning to the Ocean of Milk" legend].
Then we will find a high monument with 4 Buddha's faces which looking for all directions. It's also symbolizing that King Jayavarman VII will protects all of his people. Then, surrounding this complex is a moat with fierce crocodiles.
After Naga as the great animal character and personification, the elephant trunks also play the important icon in ancient Khmer civilization. It used to be a golden crown which put on top of the King Jayavarman VII head nearby these elephant heads.
About the elephant and elephant trunk also popular in ancient Khmer can be described by this bas-relief on the first level of Angkor Thom. This animal used as a vehicle for the commander to the battlefield.
This terrace is the second one you find coming from the Bayon. If you climb up, you will find a statue of Yama (goddess of the underworld) here, because here took place the cremations.. The original is in the Phnom Penh museum.
On the walls you will see nice bas-reliefs of dancing women.
BTW, the "leper king" was Jayavarman VII.
As you approach the south entrance you will find the 100 metres causeway before the huge gate.
There you can see 2 rows of statues. On 1 side there are the Gods and on the other the Devils. So which are which, as they seem all the same? Look at their eyes! The almond shaped are gods, the round shaped are devils...
Most of them are replicas, the originals being under restoration now.
At the first floor of the Bayon temple you will find these amazin carvings on the walls. There are no signs indicating the way, just go explore around, in some places the stones are down, so you will have to walk amongst ruins, but is worth the effort, as you will discover real treasures!!!
Some pieces depict everyday scenes. In this you can see a pic of the Royal Court, with all the servants at the ground, the king on his throne... You can stay there looking and looking and you will discover many little details in every metre of the wall...
The South Gate is the busiest gate and is passable by most medium size tourist bus. Is a gateway to all tourists to Bayon & other nearby Wats.
"The east gate (of Angkor Thom) was most recently used as a location on Tomb Raider where the bad guys broken into the ‘tomb’ by pulling down a giant (polystyrene) apsara."
FYI, all the 4 gates were built with identical design but facing different direction, level of damages & restoration.