The four tiers of aspara here are incredible. They are more than 700 years old but many are extremely well preserved, likely to be a result of them having been covered over by the front wall.
Extraordinary that these figures were simply covered over. It is believed that this was undertaken to simply extend the length of the platform which is believed to have held a wooden structure on the top.
The five-tiered retaining front wall of the Terrace provides wonderful carvings of apsara. But make sure you go behind it – there's a little maze, the walls of which are older than the retaining wall and which was probably covered over when the new front was built.
Terrace of the Leper King is another Angkor Thom enigma. A 7 metre high platform, overlooking the Terrace of Elephants, superbly covered in the most extraordinary carvings, which is believed to have been the royal crematorium.
Sadly overlooked when it came to the name-game: the majority ignored in favour of the minority. Garudas most definitely outnumber the elephants here, but it was still known as the Terrace of the Elephants.
The parade ground to end all parade grounds – the Terrace of the Elephants. Some 300 metres long, this was likely to have been the most public spot to view the King during the pomp of official ceremonies. It is believed that wooden structures sat atop the superb carvings and adjoining terrace where the King could observe great parades of power and where his subjects could observe him.
The carvings are wonderful, although interestingly, there are more garudas than there are elephants (see next tip).
As enigmatic as the Mona Lisa - smiling or not smiling?
The image that is probably second only to the view over the lake of Angkor Wat in terms of association with Angkor. 200 are to be found on the 54 towers representing the 54 provinces of ancient Khmer, looking out across every direction of the kingdom and empire.
As you ascend those steep, narrow staircases and gloomy corridors, the bas-reliefs of everyday life and victorious battles give way to more courtly, gentle imagery, with dancing courtesans a much more common sight.
Dancing courtesans as well as regal, statuesque courtesans are featured in the outer walls of the Bayon.
You could easily spend hours checking them all out - and this is before you even get to the main 'highlight'.
The Bayon is covered with some 120 metres of bas-reliefs incorporating an extraordinary 11,000 figures.
The outer walls of the first level are stunning, providing a record of everyday life (and death) in 12th century Khmer. Battles, prayer, animals, hunting, entertainment all feature and most are in remarkable condition.. (although occasional repairs and over-eager tourists touching the stones have resulted in varied colourings of the stonework).
As you first approach it, the monument has been eroded to an extent that it looks almost like a massive rock formation.
Visitors approach it from the south gate, but the main entrance was the east gate, a colonaded gateway (now containing this buddha) which also provides a slightly more harmonious view of the monument as a whole.
The 12th century Bayon is something of an enigma.
Its purpose is still being debated (although it is accepted that it is the State Temple of the new capital of Jayavarman VII, away from Rolous, away from Angkor Wat). But it is also quite difficult to get a full sense of the place, mainly because with its collection of some 54 towers (apparently the Khmer kingdom was made up of 54 provinces), many different levels, dark and uneven corridors, almost vertical staircases and those 200 enigmatic carved faces of Avalokiteshvara greeting you at virtually every turn at the higher levels, all add up to create a somewhat disorientating 'feel' to the place.
Unlike the central temple in Angkor Wat, the Bayon is spread out vertically AND horizontally. It is also huge - 8 metre high walls surrounding a 3km square inner moat before the inner sanctuaries are reached!
Also built in the 12th century, Angkor Thom is one of the largest ancient city temples of Khmer period. It is located just a few minutes tuktuk ride from Angkor Wat. We entered through the south gate with a cosway lined by statues of gods (left) and demons (right) leading through the entrance. The entrance has a tower with four faces pointing on four directions and three headed elephants. This temple complex includes Bayon temple which is known for the tower with four faces. This temple represents the intersection from heaven and earth.
The Victory Gate is one of two gates located on the eastern side of the wall that surrounds Angkor Thom. It provides access to the Royal Square and the Palace and, like other gates, is 75ft (25m) tall and surrounded by a turreted structure consisting of four faces of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara.
After visiting Angkor Thom, you can exit via the northern gate in order to visit Preah Khan. Like the South Gate it features a bridge which is flanked by two sets of statues recreating a scene taken from the legend of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. As for the gate itself, like all five, it is 75ft (25m) tall and surrounded by a turreted structure consisting of four faces of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara.
Commencing where the Elephant Terrace left off, and believed to date to the 13th century, the 6m-high Terrace of the Leper King is so named for the statue of Yama, the God of the Underworld, atop it. Stark naked, Yama sits with one knee raised, surveying the Royal Square. Because it is tainted by discolouration and lichen, the statue was believed to be one of a leper, and the name stuck. The statue is a replica, with the original now held in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The terrace is decorated with seven levels (the top level is almost all gone) of bas relief carvings. Three of the four walls (east, north and south) are carved with very deep bas reliefs.