My pre-tour briefing book translated "Angkor Thom" as "The Great City." My on-site guide preferred "Great Capital." Clearly, it was both.
Though Angkor Wat is the main attraction, Angkor Thom may have been the greater architectural achievement. Angkor Wat covers about one square mile; Angkor Thom was four times that. It was the King’s residence and administrative center and home of many of the temples and shrines his family worshipped at. Within its walls were the parade grounds where he marshalled his armies.
The base of the main palace, called "The Elephant Terrace" is defined by a 10-foot high wall, at least 100 yards long, covered with bas-relief carvings of elephants doing battle with various other creatures. The scenes represented the Royal troops repelling invaders, with the elephants as the good guys. (Buddhists often used sculptured elephants as a symbol of power and strength.) As built, my guide said, the palace was 300 meters long.
The river channel guarding Angkor Wat also defines the southern boundary of Angkor Thom, and the entry from the south is by far the most impressive. A wide stone bridge, with elegantly carved stone figures for side railings and abutments, leads to a massive stone gateway. I photographed this twice, one during a light rain and again in morning sunlight, to demonstrate how changing light can dramatically alter the mood of this place.
At certain times during the day, a small parade of elephants would march out of the south gate and across the stone bridge to be fed and rested. Here, elephants are mainly for work, not show. They help to clear land and move reconstruction materials. I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough to compose a decent photo but, though I’m not proud of it, I’ll share a hasty "grab shot" with you.
Within Angkor Thom, you’ll also encounter Bayon, ruins of a once-massive temple, and Tap Rohm, the now-ruined mansion the king ordered built for his mother. It’s a classic example of how the jungle reclaims its territory, and deserves a journal entry of its own. . .