Travel Report: Bayon Temple, Cambodia.
November 2015. A day or two spent touring Cambodia’s astounding Angkor Temples is one of South East Asia’s definitive highlights. One of Angkor’s most fascinating structures is Bayon Temple, known locally as The Temple of Faces. Having started my day tour with the incredible Angkor Wat, I was wondering if Bayon might pale in comparison. However, I found this temple every bit as impressive, its collection of carved faces giving the place a unique and playful feel.
Bayon Temple dates back to the 12th century, when it was constructed by Cambodia’s most celebrated king, Jayavarman VII. The King ordered its design to represent Mount Meru, the so-called centre of the universe in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. Unlike the sweeping majesty of Angkor Wat, from a distance Bayon looks like a shabby hump of rubble. It’s only once you get close up that you start picking out its breathtaking sculptures.
A wander around Bayon Temple is a bit like exploring your great grandfather’s basement. There are dusty curiosities everywhere. Take a rubbly staircase up to a tiny watchtower. Pick out the tiny details of a bas-relief depicting an ancient naval battle.
For me though, the real charm of Bayon is all about those amazing carved faces and their mysterious, almost knowing smirks. There are over 216 faces in total, all of which depict the smiling form of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Furthermore, the King’s massive ego was such that many of these faces were specially carved to look like him.
Bayon Temple, Cambodia.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the opportunity for a photo nose-to-nose with the king. Don’t worry about finding him, you’ll certainly see the line of people patiently waiting for a profile shot of their own. Ok, so this dude was a powerful ruler who reigned supreme and built one of the world’s great temples. But honestly, when it came to having a nose-off, he was no match for me!
Bayon Temple is located deep in the jungle of Angkor Archeological Park. It lies seven kilometres outside the city of Siem Reap. Therefore you’re looking at about thirty to forty minutes in a private car, or quite a bit longer in a crappy old tuk-tuk like the one I took.
You can visit Bayon Temple with The Angkor Pass, purchased both online and in person at The Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket office. At the time of writing, foreign tourists have been virtually wiped out due to COVID-19. As a result, those lucky enough to be in Cambodia have an unprecedented opportunity to see the temple free from the usual crowds. If you can, don’t even hesitate!
For more on this incredible region of Cambodia, check out my other travel reports from The Temples of Angkor.
Or maybe delve further afield with my travel reports from across Cambodia.
You can also check out my exhaustive guide to the sights, cafes, restaurants and hotels of Siem Reap.
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