The inner wall of the Terrace of the Leper King
After checking out the impressive Temple of Bayon, the exploration doesn’t end there. Angkor Thom, is a vast complex surrounded by high defensive walls with 5 gates, thus the name Thom, meaning Big. When Javayarman VII recaptured Angkorian empire from the Chams in 1181, he did some major empire wide constructions and made Angkor Thom as the new city capital. So aside from Bayon, there are other impressive structures just a walking distance from the center of the complex worth noting. So let’s take a brief look into some of them.
Exploring the Terrace of the Leper King
First, let me give a note about exploring the temples. Most of the time, the area where the structures are, is exposed to the sun and also at times dust. So make sure to wear light cool clothing, bring sun protection, like hat, sunglasses and/or umbrella. At the time we were there, the sun was blazing, since April and May are their hottest season, so make sure you bring plenty of water. I’m sure a liter of water wouldn’t suffice, I think I drank around 2-3 liters of water a day during exploration just to keep myself hydrated. There is no shortage of water in the area as vendors, with their hypersensitive tourist-sensor would immediately scream their “Would you like something cold to drink sir?” alarm once you step on their perimeter senses. I think I spent more money buying water here than food, a bottled liter of water here cost US$ 2.
Inner wall corner detail at the Leper King Terrace
Continuing on, there are two structures here that is really worth examining closely for their intricate details. These are the Terraces of the Leper King and the Elephant. The former is a double terrace wall. During the French restoration of the structure they found an inner wall collapsed and when they cleared the debris they found an inner terrace wall which seems to be the earlier version of the terrace. Now everyone is free to inspect both walls, warning though to those claustrophobic as the inner wall has narrow corridor and 20 feet high wall. It feels like being inside a maze since it’s quite a distance from end to end.
Outer wall detail of the Leper King Terrace
What amazed me about this terrace is the level of details adorned on both walls. The terrace is made with laterite and sandstones and the design consist of snakes, giants, asparas and other decoration I think the creator could think of. I must admit my pictures here only gives half of the level of detail when you’re on the wall itself. The identity of the “Leper King” himself is also a mystery to researchers, but nowadays, it’s been accepted that it represents Yama, the god of judgment and death since the place is believed to be a crematorium.
The Elephant Terrace
The other impressive terrace is The Terrace of the Elephants, which is a larger 2.5 meters tall and longer terrace spanning 300 meters long. This terrace is elaborately decorated with larger sandstone carvings, and most notable are the sandstone elephants with protruding trunks which the terrace got its names. But aside from the elephant there’s also some tigers, lions, nagas, garudas, warrior ans horses in the bas reliefs presented in excellent details.
The elaborate Elephant Terrace spans 300 meters long
Another thing about exploration, you could also hire a guide who can explore important facts about the temples and the structures. A guide would cost around US$20-25 a day. Likewise if you don’t have the fund, you could read your book as well if you have one when you’re there like we do. If you don’t have one again, there are lots of bootleg books being sold there on considerably cheap price! But as for us, when we chanced upon a guide who can speak English touring a group, we try to eavesdrop on their explanations so we could have an idea of what we are looking at. Like for the Terrace of the Elephants, we learned that the Royal family sometimes use this as a stage for entertainment and as for the ministers and generals, it’s to review their forces.
Entrance to Phimeanakas
Another significant structure in Angkor Thom is Phimeanakas also known as the ‘Aerial Palace’. The temple is a small pyramid-like structure built with laterite and sandstone in around 10th or 11th century. Frankly when I saw this, it immediately reminded me of the strutures from the Mayan or Aztec pyramids in Apocalypto where sacrifices are held. But this temple is very important since this is where the kings do their worship.
The Aerial Palace, Phimeanakas
The bas relief details here though isn’t as impressive, but do try to climb at the back where a stair was constructed for an easy climb at the top where you could see some views of the surrounding areas. Legend also has it that a nine-headed serpent lived in this golden tower before and would transform into a woman. The Angkorian Kings were required to make love to this serpent every night or else disaster would be brought to his kingdom.
The giant jigsaw puzzle, Baphuon
Another interesting structure in the area is a Baphuon, which is also a temple which symbolizes a mountain. I saw a feature of this structure before in Discovery Channel as it is one structure undergoing massive restoration. During restoration by The Ecole Francais d’ Extreme Orient in 1972, they found the structure severely collapsed and had to remove all the pieces individually and documented each piece before they restore it all together. But when war came, the restoration halted and some of the documents where destroyed or lost. After the war, they had to document each pieces again and figure out how to put them back together, thus it became a jigsaw puzzle. Luckily they seem to going on the right track as a large part of the temple has been restored slowly.
Prasats Sour Prat
Finally, spread across evenly just in front of the terraces are these Prasats Sour Prat. Prasats are also known as Towers. There are twelve of these towers, which artistically and architecturally is quite different from all the structures in Angkor Thom, making it hard for archaeologist to classify and date them. At first I thought it was like a first line of defense when an enemy infiltrated a war, but another writing said that these towers were used to settle disputes. Accused are put inside each tower and the one who goes out sick is guilty. A bit absurd personally but if that is what they believe in at that time. Now it’s a very nice photo opportunity with those towers standing along the green hill and some fauna grazing along.
That’s it for Angkor Thom! If you only have a day or limited time to explore the park, Angkor Thom along with Angkor Wat should be on top of your list. Next post would be a side trip of sorts. I will be alternating features regarding some stuff, food and places in Cambodia to avoid being templed-out in this blog. 😀
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.