Angkor Thom translates to ‘The Great City’ in Khmer language, and that it was. With its numerous temples, royal palace, 8-metre-tall fortified wall, 100-metre-wide protective moat and five intimidating entrance gates, this was an ancient city of monumental proportions. Neighbour to the world-famous Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is equally worthy of attention due to its sheer size and historical importance as the last capital of the Khmer empire.
Dating back to the 12th century, Angkor Thom was built under the order of King Jayavarman VII, the city wall enclosing an area of 9 square kilometres. The first thing to captivate visitors to Angkor Thom is the sight of the long causeway leading up to the towering entrance gates. On either side of the road, 108 stone sculptures of demons and gods are locked in a tug of war with a nine-headed snake, a scene played out from the Churning of the Ocean of Milk from the Bhagavata Purana in Hindu mythology.
The south gate has been fully restored and also leads into Angkor Wat, making it the most popular and busiest entrance. One of the main highlights of the city is the spectacular Bayon temple, situated smack bang in the centre, with its 54 sculpted towers displaying the eerie smiling face of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Rumour has it that the central tower was once dripping in gold leaf. Angkor Thom is also famous for being a film location for Angelina Jolie’s action blockbuster film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
It’s worth setting aside half a day to explore Angkor Thom. The capital city of Siem Reap is the gateway to the historic Angkor complex and you can easily jump in a tuktuk from there to explore Angkor. Angkor Thom’s popular south-gate entrance is 7 kilometres north of Siem Reap.