Bayon, Angor Thom, Cambodia
“Bayon can be said to be the most imaginative and singular in the world, because more unearthly in its conception, a temple from a city in some distant planet…imbued with the same elusive beauty that often lives between the lines of a great poem.” Bruno Dagens
Bayon and Angkor Wat evoke similar aesthetic responses yet are different in purpose, design, architecture and decoration. Bayon was built in late 12th century to early 13th century, by King Jayavarman VII. The dense jungle surrounding the temple camouflaged its place in relation to other structures at Angkor so it was not known for some time that the Bayon stands in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom.
To get to the temple you cross a bridge lined with amazing statues.
You continue on to my favorite place – the terrace of the elephants.
On approaching from a distance, it resembles a rather formless initially disappointing jumble of stone.
Inside you discover a maze of galleries, towers and passageways on three different levels.
The structure is rich in decoration, detailing scenes from battles, religious rituals, and everyday life.
The most famous thing about the Bayon Temple are the over 200 faces carved into the stone temple towers – some indistinct and crumbling and others perfectly preserved.
It is generally accepted that four faces on the towers are images of the bodhisattva (fully enlightened beings) who delays entry into Nirvana to aid the spiritual development of others.
The characteristics of the faces – a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends-combine to reflect the famous ‘Smile of Angkor’.
The feeling at Bayon Temple for me was very different from Angor Wat. It is smaller, greyer and in the jungle.
There are slabs of stone and crumbling ruins all around.
You can see how they brought the stone from quarries thirty miles away and lifted it up.
My guide in Cambodia was Mr. Wong Kimsien. Kim was very knowledgeable and fun. He had a good sense of humor and was able to go with the flow and switched gears whenever necessary. He also took most of these photos and the ones at Ta Prohm as well. He is a very good photographer. Thank you Kim for being such a good tour guide and all your kindness.
Bayon is less crowded than Angor Wat so you can even find a quiet space for a blessing under the sightless gaze of the ever-present faces.