Angkor Thom


The first complex of temples that we visited outside Siem Reap was Angkor Thom, a huge “city” with several incredible temples built around the 12th and 13th century. I have to admit, I didn’t listen too closely to the private guide who at some point, while incredibly well-meaning, was droning on and on and on. But the reality was this. Nearly 1,000 years ago, in the middle of the Indochinese peninsula, an incredible set of temples were being built. A city with hundreds of thousands of citizens lived nearby. The stones for these incredibly intricate and humongous structures were brought in from hundreds if not thousands of miles away, probably transported mostly by elephant power. Imagine the scale of the projects, the weight of the construction materials, the food and poop of the elephants, the broken toes of construction workers. The sheer amount of money or resources spent to create these marvels. That is what is awe-inspiring. That is what you couldn’t get away from, regardless of the detailed stories of which buddhist did what to which Hindu. That the Chinese and Indians were at odds in this crossroads between two great empires. I cannot be more detailed, but the temples and their photos should almost speak for themselves. They were magnificent. Simply magnificent.


We started out at the South gate of the complex, one of five gates. The surrounding man-made moat was HUGE and meant to protect the complex from invaders. I cannot imagine digging more than 3 holes to plant medium sized trees, imagine managing the excavation of river like proportions for several dozens of miles around the temple complex?


The south gate was very narrow, in order to keep the complex sealed off and protected. I like to think of it as being as wide as an elephant. Every bit of it had some carving of some sort, with far too much meaning and significance for my brain to absorb in one short visit.


From the gate we drove by dozens of monkeys, begging tourists for dole outs, and onto the Terrace of the Elephants, an area where royalty would sit and view down at the grounds below, where sports or other games would be played.


I can tell you that the scale of it all was the most impressive fact. These guys were serious ego-maniacal-builders!!! But like with a MAJOR inferiority complex. Can’t imagine what building they saw elsewhere that compelled them to go so wickedly over the top on this complex of temples. I sure hope they ended up in their equivalent of heaven for leaving such a long-lasting stone structure on this planet.


Don’t be fooled by the lack of people in the photos so far, the place was crawling with tourists. And despite our guide taking us places at off-hours, one had to go into zen mode to understand the serenity of the place unmarred by us and thousands like us brandishing cameras and referring to guides and guidebooks. Excavation work was still on-going and when asked what they might be looking for, they said gold, gems, artifacts…


A very steep set of stairs (they all seemed incredibly steep) at the Phimeanakas temple, currently under-going renovation work with the help of the Czech government. With my fear of heights, I let the Teen climb up by herself and she reported a nice view of the surrounding tree tops.


My brother-in-law had the opportunity to visit Siem Reap and the temples in the early 1960’s, after the French had began to restore in earnest and then the war broke out and the place went unvisited/unattended to for decades, and in some cases was damaged by the fighting and looting and hundreds of statues went missing. He recently returned to Siem Reap and lamented that it was a shadow of its former charming self. But I have to say, the temples are still very impressive, even in their current raped and pillaged state… Thousands of pieces to what is possibly the world’s largest temple jigsaw puzzle lay strewn everywhere. And I hate to think how many pieces of these temples are in chic apartments and homes around the globe.


Smaller and simpler gateways from one temple area to another, in this case, on the way to Baphoun, provided ample moments to reflect and of course, photo opportunities galore.


The huge trees that are everywhere in the temple complexes were incredibly impressive, but in many ways were damaging the structures as well. I can see why the temples were quickly overgrown and hidden by thick jungle for several hundred years before they were “re-discovered” a century or more ago.


I am not much of an explorer in the vein of hacking through jungle to find some lost temple, but I can imagine what the first explorers into this area must have felt when they came across this incredible set of structures in the midst of a tropical rainforest.


We made our way to Bayon, the piece de resistance for Angkor Thom, and our jaws were agape at the beautiful and well preserved temple, smiling faces all around… Huge reliefs were hand carved on the sides of the temple and detailed stories of war, aggression, everyday life and what not, painstakingly recorded by artisans of the most amazing sort.


In the end, the best way to sum it all up wasn’t some long explanation of the enormity of the experience, but rather, this stunning smile on the face carved into stone, a smile that had withstood nearly 900 years of time and the ravages of both man and nature.


37 Responses

  1. I thought your site had crashed MM — it was just you uploading your latest!

    Good to see you enjoying a break; keep it up.

    Can’t wait to watch NR here in Melbourne!

  2. When we were there in 2002, one of the info our guide told us was at it’s height (10th-13th century) this area had a population of about 1 million people. When the Angkor structures had been built and a huge population was living there, Europe was still in the Middle Ages. Paris had a population of about 80-100,000 and the Notre Dame Cathedral was not even built!

    It’s kind of sad when compared to where Cambodia is now. But at the same time inspiring to see what the people before could do without the modern gadgetry we now have.

    In 2002, there were lots of international groups doing restoration work in Siam Reap. As I recall, when we counted there was something like 10 groups!

    These photos bring back memories! I so wish to go back to Siam Reap & Angkor!

  3. Hey, ladies…if you want to go Thailand and Cambodia…I discovered the best time to tell your hubby …let’s go there on our next holiday!”…It is Super Bowl….overtime and he said never daw has there been overtime at Super Bowl! So just as I was checking out this post, i asked hubby, “Wow, Cambodia is surely a nice place to visit…let’s go there.” OMG, I can’t believe my ears when he said “OK…!” and his eyes are still glued to the TV!!!

  4. AWESOME!!!! And not just Angkor Thom….but YOU too MM!!

    First you feed our stomachs with your food adventures, now your feeding our minds with your travels!!

    Your truly the renaissance man!!!

  5. i went there 2 years ago, around this time, and the weather was HOT and humid! but needless to say, like Angelina Jolie (heheheh!), i fell in love with this place and the people. They are simply amazing!
    …..and of course, let’s not forget the inexpensive, yet wonderfully made, antique reproductions you can get over there.

  6. Yep, Bayon is one of the more memorable temples of the Angkor complex. I hope you’ll post pix of Angkor Wat’s magnificent bas reliefs and sunrise vista. Best time to visit Siem Reap is during the cool months between Nov and Jan otherwise the heat will just drain all the energy out of you. I went in Feb 2007 and it was already punishingly hot.

    While Angkor’s magnificence took my breath away, I was extremely saddened by the country’s more recent history under the Khmer Rouge. MM, did you notice that most workers were women and if you did see men, they’re all young under the age of 40? That’s because the older male demographic was all but wiped out by Polpot between 1975-79: About 2 million victims, 30% of the country’s population, mostly educated males. Our guide’s father ‘disappeared’ during that terrible era. Imagine an entire society with only mothers to bring up their children. That’s Cambodia in the last 30 years.

  7. pecorino1, yes, I did note that, most of the youth were orphans or had lost a parent. But oddly, I think they will develop faster than the Philippines has over the past twenty years with some luck. They only have a population of 13 million which hopefully won’t grow so fast. There is tremendous tourist potential, wonderful crafts, and so many nations willing to help them… I hope they buckle down, and like Vietnam, zoom along the development path that will see them far better off in one or two more generations… I was oddly more hopeful there that I am currently about our own national prospects… :(

  8. hi MM! do the food vendors surrounding the angkor temples still heat the french baguettes on wire screens over hot coals? each baguette was US$.25 in 2002. we ate lunch at those stalls and had the most delicious chicken topped with crunchy shredded ginger! haven’t been able to find the same dish since then. how do you like their food?

  9. MM, when i went to siem reap last year, i asked why the steps are too tiny. our guide told us that people then had to walk sideways as it is disrespectful to turn one’s back to another. :)

  10. One of those interesting places I want to visit on a backpack.=) Promised myself that before I get married I will tour a foreign country on my own and so far the Indochina is the most feasible.=)

    Just in passing MarketMan, I was in Baguio last Wednesday to Saturday for a business trip and had the opportunity to shop for pasalubong. Since I got intrigue by your post on Sagada oranges, I bought 3 kilos last December in La Trinidad and again I bought 2 kilos in Mines View on our first day. Knowing how sweet they are I introduced our Japanese companions to it and they bought some for themselves.

    Long story short, they again want to buy some. We troop to the market and went first to the vegetable section. Going there while passing buy the section for pasalubongs, I already saw two men squatting down and peeling of the sticker of *gasp* BIG CHINESE ORANGES!!! They were selling it as “SAGADA ORANGES” at the same price of P 80/kilo!!!

    So I waited for some vendors to sell the authentic one. While buying some chocoflakes, I inquired to the seller where can I buy SAGADA Oranges and he pointed me to a lady who is apparently his friend. Having inquired for true SAGADA Oranges, she led me to at least four boxes of IMPORTED CHINESE ORANGES!!!! Reminding her that I am looking for REAL SAGADA ORANGES, she had the nerve to reply “Ito yung SAGADA ORANGES na binebenta namin, NILOLOKO LANG NAMIN KAYO!” with a smile on her face. I immediately went out of her stall before I became too furious.

    Luckily I saw some bunch of oranges that looks like the one on your site and the ones I bought in La Trinidad last December for P70/kilo. I managed to save our Japanese companion by getting tricked into buying SAGADA ORANGES from CHINA.

    For those readers of MarketManila who will buy Sagada oranges in Baguio, try not to buy it in the market. I’m sure 90% of the time it is fake. IMPORTED CHINESE ORANGES are PIMPLY, TOO ORANGE AND TOO SHINY because of the wax. Please refer to MarketMan’s blog to have a reference. It must not be shiny, it must be smooth and so big. Also look at the tip if it is freshly cut. Last time in La Trinidad I managed to sang some with a part of the branch and leaves still intact.

    I hope the authorities in the Baguio would do something about it. Honestly, it is the next best thing to buy as pasalubong other than the usual strawberry.

    I can still see the ladie’s face snickering at me.=(

  11. Alexena, that is absolutely horrible. I hope I haven’t been fooled before. If the chinese ones are just as good, why don’t they just sell them as juicy chinese ones? The Sagada ones are brilliant… but maybe I got Chinese ones instead! The Teen was in Sagada a few months ago and they did have oranges in the market, and I am hoping at least those were AUTHENTIC. As always, we have to be discriminating buyers. I can’t stand it when merchants knowingly engage in that kind of deceit.

  12. Searched your site for your post and the pictures of the Sagada oranges you bought from Baguio and Salcedo is the same ones I bought in La Trinidad at the strawberry farm =) The Chinese oranges would not pass for the pictures in your blog. They are too orange in color, too pimply and just too shiny. One thing with sagada oranges you can really peel then easily and the skin is sweet tasting even if you accidentally bite into one.

    I also have nothing against them selling Chinese oranges but to actually admit to you that they deceive you is someting else.=( I know maybe nowadays it is not in season but such resort is too dubious. Especially for tourist. Pinoy na nga ako muntik pa ako maloko=(

    Anyway I will enjoy the two kilos I bought from Mines View and really observe the difference.=) Lesson learned I want to share with you and the viewers.

    BTW really nice hotel you stayed in at Cambodia although I wouldn’t want to share a room with that kind of set up for their toilet hahaha!!!=)

  13. So much history there..Cambodia,Vietnam and Laos all share a history of wars.. Cambodia has a past that has left so much to tell…those temples are awesome.
    I giggled when bettyq said good timing is to ask we visit Cambodia when hubby is watching Superbowl. I should try that when hubby is watching Tennis opens..hehehe..will try it bettyq. You made me giggle…

  14. AleXena, it might console you to know that some fruit sellers in Divisoria and Quiapo also pass off the big Chinese navel oranges as Sagada oranges with green leaves as “props”. I bought some once before and compared the taste with the ones sold near the entrance of Salcedo Market. They tasted the same.

  15. Re Sagada oranges – I was in a conversation with one of the biggest fruit dealers/sellers in the country and she told me there is NO such thing as Sagada oranges as being touted by that guy in the Salcedo and Legaspi markets. These all come from China. The temperature in Sagada is apparently not that cold enough to produce that bright orange hue in those so-called Sagada oranges. Since then, I have stopped buying those 150 per kilo pseudo-Sagada oranges and realized that those 20 per piece chinese oranges are as good.

    Sorry MM for using your Angkor entries as a forum for these oranges! Your Bayon pictures are beautiful.

  16. Ruth, there are photos of visitors to Sagada of the orange groves see this link to “The Lizard Meanders” blog and photo (though caption says lemons), and they are orange, so I am inclined to believe there are sagada oranges, but which ones make it down to Manila, hmmmm… now I am not so sure.

  17. Nice pics, MM. I will include it on my list of places to go before I die, hahaha. Btw, if you appreciate Angkor Thom, I believe you will appreciate Chichen Itza (Mexico). That place is so awesome but my DH and I did not climb it all the way as just looking at it I felt dizzy already. When I turned around I saw an ambulance parked on the side, ready to assist when one encounters a problem. We’ll be going to Machu Pichu, etc. (Peru) in a few months and we’re really excited as I have been wanting to go since I was a teenager (___years ago!). Happy travelling. P.S. I love your camera, what kind do you use esp. when you’re taking pics of food?

  18. hi thank you for touring us around cambodia and other beautiful, exotic, and yes, very spiritual places.

  19. nice choice of camera MM, a G10 is great : ) for those who are on the lookout for digicams, try looking at panasonic lumix lx3 also.

    thanks for the pics MM, all of us now are wondering when can we go and visit Cambodia?! I am now inclined to follow betty q’s advise, except that I don’t have a husband yet…might still try it though with my boyfriend…hehehehe..

  20. the place is absolutely beautiful and impressive. Isn’t it a World Heritage site now?? I do hope funds continue to pour in for the maintenance of the Temples. Who knows, generations from now, one can only view it from the plain. It would be off limits since everything is deteriorating. So Sad..

    I am sure a food post will follow? I am curious about Cambodian cuisine

  21. lovely photos :) btw, I am a Canon G series fan. I had a G2 back in 2003 and upgraded to a G9 last 2007. i love that it gives almost the same image quality as an SLR but is handy and fits in my purse :)

  22. speaking of food, did u have amok? and that mini-baguette with pork filling and pickle? we walked for a long while out of the main tourist area, until no one spoke english, and no western-looking tourists were seen, and then settled for our pick of “authentic” roadside stalls, or so we think! i really enjoyed cambodian food somehow, although the rest of the gang were dying to dig into thai food across the border instead :(

  23. AleXena,

    Yes, I noticed that too. Just this december, we went up to Sagada. Our guide said “orange season” in sagada is around march and april. Coming down from Sagada, we stopped at Baguio and whilst at the market, we noticed too that the oranges for sale were indeed the Chinese oranges you mentioned.

    I feel bad that vendors would really resort to underhandedness just to make a sale.

  24. Am so envious! Just read James Rollins’ thriller “Judas Strain”, where the climax took place in Angkor Thom & Bayon. Everything you said about it made the book come doubly alive. You just provided us another reason to go to Vietnam. Many, many thanks!

  25. I don’t get the INFERIORITY complex comment!?!!? When you build on such a scale, it stems from an inferiority complex? Does it follow that the pyramids of Giza, were driven by the same impulse? Please explain.

  26. Crissy, I meant it, though not in a totally couch clinical context, in that the Kings who built these temples, ostensibly as a religious offering, where perhaps just feeling inferior or less superior than previous or neighboring kings (often from different ethnic backgrounds, and who regained and lost control of these area in several waves of conquest), so they OVERCOMPENSATED for this feeling of inferiority by commissioning ever larger, taller, more elaborate temples as a testament of their now resulting superior position… It was a lightly made comment, but I still like the spirit of it. It was made in the same vein as light comments regarding individuals or countries that MUST build the tallest towers or structures or buildings and psychoanalysts slyly suggesting they build such tall and phallic structures to make up for their own shortcomings… Here’s wikipedia’s really simplistic take on an “inferiority complex”…

  27. Hi MM,

    This is off topic. . .I’ve read of how much you love La Maison du Chocolat, so look what I found on Gourmet’s website:

    I just might try making this for Valentine’s. I also read your blog re chocolate taste test (Valrhona, Scharffenberger, and Godiva). Hey, if Valrhona is good enough for Robert Linxe, it’s good enough for me ;)

  28. Angela, those look divine. As for the valrhona linxe uses, I wonder if it is a different quality level from the commercially sold valrhona…

  29. Valrhona custom blends exclusively for La Maison du Chocolat (and only for them) per formulation of Robert Linxe.

  30. Very nice pix MM! Thanks, as always for sharing them. We’re planning to visit this place come April but with the comment of heat and humidity during this period, November sounds better.

  31. Gorgeous, MM, just as I envisioned! I am now feeling even worse that our Viet/Cam trip last year didn’t push through, but more determined than ever to make sure we do it this year. :-)

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