This gentleman was waiting for us as we stepped off the bus. These were a snack.

Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

April 05, 2013
Santa Paula News

We left out ship and crew behind and boarded a bus for our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While bus trips are usually not fun, this one was an exception. We drove through countryside and small towns that were typical of Cambodia. As we entered each small town, you could see stores, markets and people going about their daily lives. Of course we stopped a couple of times for that needed rest stop. We were told that one of the stops would be in  a town known as Tarantula City. For those that don’t like spiders, it was a collective “you’ve got to be kidding.” Guess what, they were not kidding. As we stepped off the bus a gentleman was waiting for us with spiders crawling all over him. All you needed to do, for a fee of course, was pick your spider and he would deep fry it for you as a snack.  I didn’t see anyone in our tour take him up on the offer; however our tour guide had a snack.

We continued our trip to Siem Reap and arrived at our hotel and checked in and had something to eat. Then it was off to one of the “wonders of the world.” The Temples of Angkor.

After a short bus ride and stop to buy tickets we entered the complex and immediately it was eye catching and photo catching. The stop was one of the first temples with an architectural grandeur of the Angkor temples and is arguably unmatched among ancient ruins anywhere in the world. The stop was at Angkor Thom. One of the few Buddhist temples in Angkor, it features some 200 striking faces carved in 54 towers and impressive bas reliefs.

While the description of Angkor Thom is long and involved, as it should be for something that was dedicated in 1295, it was very interesting to read and see the history of the complex.


Angkor Thom is located in present day Cambodia, and was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 5 miles, within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the center of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.

Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centered slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace

The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived. In the following centuries Angkor Thom remained the capital of a kingdom in decline until it was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, “as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato.” 

Angkor Thom is in the Bayon style. This manifests itself in the large scale of the construction, in the widespread use of laterite, in the face-towers at each of the entrances to the city and in the naga-carrying giant figures which accompany each of the towers.

The city lies on the right bank of the Siem Reap River, a tributary of Tonle Sap, about a quarter of a mile from the river. The south gate of Angkor Thom is 4 miles north of Siem Reap, and 1 mile north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. The walls, 26 feet high and flanked by a moat, are each 4 miles long, enclosing an area of 5 miles. The walls are of laterite buttressed by earth, with a parapet on the top. There are gates at each of the cardinal points, from which roads lead to the Bayon at the center of the city. As the Bayon itself has no wall or moat of its own, those of the city are interpreted by archaeologists as representing the mountains and oceans surrounding the Bayon’s Mount Meru.  Another gate , the Victory Gate , is 1600 feet north of the east gate; the Victory Way runs parallel to the east road to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace north of the Bayon.

The faces on the 75 foot towers at the city gates (which are later additions to the main structure) take after those of the Bayon, and pose the same problems of interpretation. They may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire’s cardinal points, or some combination of these. A causeway spans the moat in front of each tower: these have a row of devas on the left and asuras on the right, each row holding a naga in the attitude of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to the myth, popular in Angkor, of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The temple-mountain of the Bayon, or perhaps the gate itself,  would then be the pivot around which the churning takes place. The nagas may also represent the transition from the world of men to the world of the gods (the Bayon), or be guardian figures. The gateways themselves are 3.5 by 22 feet, and would originally have been closed with wooden doors.  The south gate is now by far the most often visited, as it is the main entrance to the city for tourists.

Within the city was a system of canals, through which water flowed from the northeast to the southwest. The bulk of the land enclosed by the walls would have been occupied by the secular buildings of the city, of which nothing remains. This area is now covered by forest.

Most of the great Angkor ruins have vast displays of reliefs depicting the various gods, goddesses, and other-worldly beings from the mythological stories and epic poems of ancient Hinduism (modified by centuries of Buddhism). Mingled with these images are actual known animals, like elephants, snakes, fish, and monkeys, in addition to dragon-like creatures that look like the stylized, elongated serpents (with feet and claws) found in Chinese art.

At the end of the visit to Angkor Thom, you couldn’t help but wonder about the people that lived in the temple area. It was from here we headed to the next stop the temple of   Ta Prohm, an even more spectacular temple, which was very difficult to believe but was true.

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