Angkor Thom, the ancient city of the Khmer, is surrounded by moats and walls on all sides. The fortified city has 5 gates, standing at 20m in height. One in northen, western, southern and 2 in the eastern wall. The road in front of each gate is flanked by statues of 54 gods and 54 demons, a motif taken from the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, as illustraed in the bas-relief in Angkor Wat. Bayon is located right in the center of Angkor Thom.
Along the road that runs through the south gate, you will pass by Baksei Chamkrong and Phnom Bakheng before you get to Angkor Wat.
Banteay Kdei is the 1st temple I went to on my 1st day in Angkor Park. (Apart from the sunset in Bakheng the day before, but that doesn't really count because it's not the 1st day on my pass yet). Banteay Kdei is just right across Sras Srang, a great place for sunrise. I dunno what's wrong on that day, the sunrise is less than spectacular. Though I've seen pictures taken by my friends, which is simply amazing.
I got up early in the morning, at about 4:45am. About 30 minutes on tuk tuk later. We got to Sras Srang. It's actually a platform with nagas looking out to a lake. When I'm done with the sunrise, crossed the street to Kdei. The temple is not in a really good shape. If time is not on your side, I would say you can go to the next temple.
Apart from the well-known temples that I've already described, there are several smaller and less common temples. They are still interesting, however not nearly as stunning as the Bayon or Preah Khan.
* Phimeanakas is within walking distance from the Bayon and a very compact temple. It may measure 25x25m, but then again it's also around 15m high! From up there, you can enjoy a good view on the water basin nearby which children use for swimming and performing some extraordinary jumps into the water.
* The Baphuon is another temple close to the Bayon. It's said to be quite beautiful and interesting, but both in 2005 and in 2008, it was closed for refurbishment.
* Chau Say Tevoda and Thommanon are twin temples facing each other on both sides of the road. Thommanon is quite beautiful - a combination of three temple parts that are well preserved. Its twin is not nearly as beautiful, mostly because large parts of it have been renovated and look too new. A warning: the children at Thommanon are the most annoying souvenir vendors you'll meet at Angkor. They never give up!
* Ta Som is one of the temples on the grand tour. Although rather small, it is worth a visit due to its beautiful yards and tranquil places.
* Neak Pean is a strange one: a temple located in the middle of an artificial lake. According to Albanese's standard work about the temples of Angkor, this was one of the most important temples. According to me, it's simply boring. Okay, there is the lake and a weird horse statue in the middle of the water. But that's about it. No hidden corners, hardly any apsaras, not even a Spung tree. Skip it or give it a 5 minute chance.
The Roluos Group of temples is a little bit off the Angkor Wat area, yet not too far away. Roluos served as the Angkorian capital in an early time of the civilization and therefore the temples are among the oldest to be found. The group consists of three temples, but the most interesting and impressive is Bakong which was built in the late 9th century under the reign of Indravarman I. Like many other temples it also represents the mythical Mount Meru. Bakong is a pretty large temple and there's an active wat just at its side. The other two temples belonging to the Roluos group are Preah Ko and Lolei.
Phimeanakas means 'Celestial Palace', it's believed that it was once topped by a golden spire. This temple is another pyramidal representation of Mt. Meru with three levels. You can climb up to the top level to have a good view of nearby temples/ruins. I tried to climb up the stairs to the top level but I gave up under the hot, scorching early May sun.
Beng Mea Lea is an Angkor temple that is visited by only a few tourists - it is situated about 55km away from the main sights. Nevertheless, it's very interesting to go there. The temple complex is rather big and inside the outer walls you'll find out how devastating nature can be. Walls have broken down, trees have grown out of windows, huge piles of former temple parts are scattered througout the complex. It's big fun just climbing around and checking out the more hidden parts of the temple. Beng Mea Lea is almost as spectacular as Ta Prohm or Preah Khan, and in any case interesting if you get your first impression of Angkorian temples here (like I did back in 2005). It's also quite different - but find out yourself!
As it is located outside the Angkor zone you have to pay an extra fee of 5$.
Not sure I would go out of my way to see Banteay Samre but if you go to Banteay Srei, it is worth a stop on your way back to more touristy sights. Dating to the mid-12th century and in the Angkor Wat style, the temple is extensively renovated so in very good shape. This along with its being set amongst small villages and accompanying rice paddies makes it a nice excursion from the madness of the Grand Circuit.
The Bayon is the best! Definitely! It's one of these places that you will never forget in your life. Looking like a pile of rubbish from the distance, you'll be stunned by what is inside. Labyrinthic hallways, steep stairs, dark corridors with monks praying at a hidden shrine... Then you're being watched by no less than 216 giant stone faces, wearing the so-called Sourire Khmer (Khmer smile). They are placed on 54 towers, one face looking into every direction. Built in the 12th century as the main temple of Angkor Thom, the Bayon is a mystery to scientists. Until 1925 they thought that it was a hinduist temple, but later buddhist parts were discovered. This is due to many reconstructions and changes that the Bayon was subject to over the years. In any case, it's a lifetime experience! Don't miss it!
The best way to understand how the king and the citizens of the Khmer Empire lived is to walk along the long rectangular corridors of Angkor Wat. You will see battles, court life and ordinary life depicted on the wall frieze.
Highly recommended to do read ahead the day before, so that you can enjoy appreciating the frieze rather than trying to listen to every word of your tour guide citing different long names of Kings and the different years of dynasties.
It is truly a walk down a memory lane - taking a step back into history of life long gone.
The Bayon, to me, was my favorite temple at Angkor. I loved how steeply it rose and all of the chambers and walkways that it contains. While nowhere near the size of Angkor, or the coolness of the trees of Ta Prohm, it has a feeling of its own. Watching the Buddhist monks walk around, some praying, with all the stone faces smiling at you around every corner are memories that will live with me forever.
The Bayon was actually use as a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple in its long history. It was built by Jayavarman VII, within the walls of the Angkor Thom. The temple was first designed as a Hindu temple, being dedicated to Siva. But during construction, it became a Buddhist temple and thats why there are so many Buddhist statues here.
Today, it is still a place of worship, and you can see the Buddhist monks walking, playing, and praying everywhere.
The Bayon was originally two stories high, when it was a Hindu monument. Then, when the Buddhists took over the planning, a third level was added. Walking around, it is easily noticable where these two levels meet. The top layer contains the massive smiling Buddhist faces.
I found this great quote from a website:
"Pierre Loti, a visitor to Angkor in 1908 and one of the foremost writers on the temples, wrote of these towers and their carved faces: "These towers, with their squat shapes and superimposed tiers, bear comparison in silhouette with colossal upright fir-cones. They are like vegetation in stone sprouting under the sun, dense and exuberant... And, from on high, the four faces on each tower, looking out to the cardinal points, looking everywhere from under the same lowered eyelids with the same mixed expression of irony and pity, the enigmatic smile. They assert, with haunting repetition, the omnipresence of the god of Angkor."
An absolute must, when at the Bayon, is to explore every inch of the tunnels and tracks that lead all over the complex. Even if you think that the outside looks the same all over, the "underworld" of this temple supplies you with all types of mini temples and shrines. There are fascinating carvings along the walls, as with most of Angkor. I implore you to explore!
Another great structure inside the walls of Angkor Thom, is the Baphuon. It has been determined to be just a fraction of its former self. Once standing over 140 feet in the air, the temple is now just the remains of the lower levels. However, it still should be high on your list because of the great carvings that remain, as well as, the long reclining Buddha that is carved into the temples back wall. You can't get very close ot it now, as they have the area roped off for, I would guess, restoration.
This is an impressive temple with multiple towers, each with 4 giant faces in 4 directions. The steps are small and you can explore to different part of this maze-like temple and come close to giant benevolent looking faces. I thought the faces were of Buddha but this temple is a culmuniation of Hindu temples, Khmer Kings and later influence of Buddhism.
A picture of Bayon temple is a must.