Angkor's Royal Palace is not an impressive must-see. Its structures were for non-religious purposes and therefore made of wood. That's why they have disappeared in the course of the centuries, leaving no traces for non-achaeologists. What remains, is the enclosure wall of the compound, some pools, and the Phimeanakas temple.
A Royal Palace existed in this area already in the tenth century. In the eleventh century it probably was the residence of the King Suryavarman I, one of the three most important Khmer kings (besides Angkor Wat founder Suryavarman II and Angkor Thom founder Jayavarman VII, both ruling in the twelfth century).
Jayavarman VII integrated the already existing palace complex into the scheme of his new capital Angkor Thom. The fifth - and only secular - city gate of Angkor Thom is located on the axis of the palace, leading to the east.
The rectangular Royal Palace compound, once protected by a moat, too, is enclosed by a five-metre high laterite wall, built under Suryavarman I. It is 585 m long and 246 m wide, oriented along an east-west axis. Various instruments used to defend the Palace against attacks, such as three-pointed metal spikes, have been uncovered, indicating that the enclosure wall served as a fortification. There are five sandstone Gopurams gates along this wall, two on the north side, two at the south side, and, larger than the others, one at the east front. This main gate is leading to the Terrace of the Elephants. That platform served as the royal grandstand, it is a later addition from the 13th century, when Angkor Thom was the capital.
Within the royal complex, there are pools of considerable size, called East Pond and the Large Pond in English, or, more poetically, Srah Pros and Srah Srei in Khmer, the pools of the men (king) and the women (queen) respectively. The eastern one, Srah Srei, measures 50 m by 30 m, the Large pond is 125 m by 45 m. It is bordered by terrace walls with friezes of princes and carvings of Garudas, Nagas and aquatic animals. Those on the south-west are in a pretty fair condition. The bas-reliefs were added when the reservoirs were remodeled during the Bayon period (Angkor Thom time). Another pool further west has a terrace with carvings of elephants and horses. Particularly noteworthy is a freeze of sacred geese called Hamsa (pronounced "Hanssa" with an "n" instead of the transcription-"m"). They are late additions, of the 14th century or even later.
The royal lodges most probably consisted of open pavilions in a garden-like park. Some polychrome terracotta tiles were found during archaeological excavations. The most conspicuous monument of the Royal Palace compound is the Phimeanakas temple, which is older than the palace, though its present form is due to alterations under Suryavarman I. Srah Srei, Srah Pros and the Phimeanakas pyramid belonged to the "public" area visited by dignitaries. An inner wall, of which only traces remain, separated it from the private area of the royal family.
The text of a famous vow of fidelity to the king, sworn by the civil servants, is engraved at the main gate, most of the text is on jambs of the left-hand window of this East Gopuram. This oath of allegiance was introduced by Suryavarman I and is practiced in the Kingdom of Cambodia till the present day. The famous inscription is listed as K 292.
The morning is a good time to visit the palace area and adjoining structures. The ticket will usually not be checked here, but is required for the neigbouring temples Baphuon and Bayon and should always be with you when you are visiting Angkor Thom.