For day two, our driver took at back to the Angkor Thom complex first, as there were a number of places we had missed the first time. Whether at the front gates of the temples or even along the roads leading to them, security people would be on the lookout for our passes and ask to see them, sometimes waving our driver to a halt to check.
Just northwest of Bayon Temple, where we visited on day one, was an elevated platform connected to a walkway leading to the Baphuon Temple. This was located just outside the royal enclosure of Angkor Thom. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, it was constructed in the 11th century. The original structure was renowned for its bronze tower that earned it the title of the “Tower of Gold.” Later converted into a Buddhist temple, the complex was in bad shape when a restoration project was undertaken in the 20th century.
Working with 300,000 individual blocks, the “puzzle” of rebuilding the temple (halted during the civil war of the 1970s) was finally completed in 2011.
We moved on to a nearby ruin that I haven’t been able to identify as yet. It had a stairway that led up to a large flat terrace with views of the surrounding jungle.
The Terrace of the Elephants is a huge area that includes entire eastern end of the Royal Enclosure. It overlooks a vast central square that is over 300 meters in length. The stairs are decorated with 3-dimensional carvings of the elephants, and either end of the platform features a carved parade of elephants. The Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall.
Located just north of the Terrace of the Elephants is the Terrace of the Leper King, so named because it is believed that two of the kings from this era had leprosy, though there is some dispute about this. Another theory is that the Hindu god of death, Yama, is depicted in the terrace. The base of the terrace is composed of five layers of detailed carvings, and was quite impressive to see.
From there we continued north on foot. The Preah Khan temple complex situated at the northern edge of the Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the most significant buildings erected during the ancient Khmer empire. This complex was dedicated by the great king Jayavarman VII to his father in 1191.
Preah Khan is a significant example of a linear temple complex in a dense jungle setting. It is rectangular in shape and occupies an areas of about 140 acres (56 hectares). The borders of Preah Khan are defined by a protective moat and fortified walls adorned by monumental carved stone garudas—eagle-like divine beings. Largely unrestored, this temple complex includes entryways, towers, ceremonial spaces, courtyards, shrines, and a variety of connecting corridors.
A short distance away was Neak Pean. This is a tiny temple built as an artificial island. It was constructed during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, and was said to have been created for medicinal purposes. It was believed the pools of water around the temple would balance anyone who bathed in them. Needless to say, the pools didn’t look so inviting now, but it made for a dramatic appearance compared with many of the other temples located squarely in the jungle.
We took a long wooden walkway to get into the temple area, crossing over a reservoir that was built on the king’s orders. The reservoir was quite large and was also used to irrigate the rice fields during the dry season. Not much remained of the interior area of the temple, but it was a peaceful place.
As the afternoon wore on we did a few more temples in the surrounding area. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the following one.
The impressive Pre Rup temple was our last stop for the day. Built in the mid-900s, it was dedicated by King Rajendravarman II. The temple’s name means “turn the body”. It refers to the belief among Cambodians that funerals were conducted at the temple, with the ashes of the body being ritually rotated in different directions as the service progressed. A number of deities that looked like a combination of humans and beasts stood guard around the temple. Built in a square pattern, it contained long galleries along each side and towers in the centre. We spent a bit more time at Pre Rup as it was a larger complex.
Pre Rup was a nice finish to the day–it was large and relatively intact, and gave some good views from the higher points of the temple. It is a popular spot for sunsets (similar to nearby East Mebon temple, which looks very similar in appearance) but after a long day of walking and temple-watching we were ready to head back for the day.
After another long day we headed back to Siem Reap to rest before our last day in Siem Reap. In spite of the number of places we saw on the first two days, the variety in styles and layouts ensured it never got boring for us. It was tiring, but there was something new around every corner.