Travel Report: Bayon Temple, Cambodia.
Bayon Temple, Cambodia.
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.
Bayon Temple, Cambodia.
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. In fact, 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.
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.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
Hi Leighton, hope to ask you a quick question if ok. I see online like tripadvisor etc tours to book before getting to SR. Should I book these before or can i just organise like a day at the temples through my hotel or on the street? What do you suggest is best? Thanks for your time and all the info you share! Cheers, Anna.
Hey Anna, you wouldn’t need to book anything before you go, unless you’re staying for a very short time. These days the tourist scene in Siem Reap is much sleepier than before COVID. How long will you be in SR for? For the temples all you need is a tuk tuk driver, preferably one that speaks good English and has a bit of knowledge. Usually your hotel will hook you up with someone trustworthy. Private drivers are more preferable to a group tour where time is limited in my book. What other tours are you considering?
Thanks for your reply Leighton! Got 4 whole days in SR, was just planning on temples and maybe the lake villages for an excursion. Thanks so much.
Fun post! I got a kick out of your nose to nose photo and comment. 😊
Thanks Tricia, you know that king never stood a chance! 😉
Enjoyed reading your post as Cambodia was one of the countries we visited on our first overseas trips together way back in 2013. We’d planned on spending about 4 days at Angkor Wat but ended up getting the week pass so we could explore far and wide. Love the nose shot!
Thanks for checking in Annie. Glad you have also enjoyed the wonders of Angkor, I’m sure you’ll recognise quite a lot from my upcoming posts.
Such great art created for the vanity of one man. The craftsmen were certainly skilled, but your nose off was more skilled Leighton. Cheers and Happy Wednesday. Allan
Well thankee Allan, I fully expect my own face to be carved in there somewhere the next time I visit. Hm, I may be disappointed.
Very cool! Love the nose to nose pic, that made me chuckle. Kind of reminds me of the picture with the Louvre pyramid, you just have to do it!
Yeah, a bit cheesy but too good to turn down. Thanks for stopping by Lyssy!
This looks like an amazing place to explore. I want to just mill about with a sketchbook and soak it all in. Your photos are fantastic and the nose to nose is so fun!
Thanks Holly, I only wish I had taken more photos. This was in the very early days of the blog and I was a little lax with photography. I actually remember seeing someone in one of the temples sketching and another guy painting. Thanks for reading!
I know exactly what you mean with the photographs thing. I didn’t take enough on my first Japan trip. But there is something to be said for experiencing things without them always being through a lens
Hard to hear for a photo junkie like myself 😉 But yes, there is definitely some truth in that.
I like how each head is unique. Maybe they were intended to feed the king’s ego but each artist was given the freedom to craft his own look. Still 200 tributes to one’s self is a bit beyond a selfie now and then. Win by a nose means it was close. This wasn’t close.
Nicely done Memo. Thanks for checking out these old pieces again, I’m glad I had just enough images to add them to the travel report library.
Amazing how they carved the temple and carved the faces. The expressions on some of the faces made me laugh. One day we would love to see these places in person, however, your posts are so great that I (Kellye) feel like I’ve really “seen” it.
Cheers Kellye! Yes, some of the faces are very silly and slapstick. Bayon is definitely one of the more unique and instantly recognisable Angkor temples, thanks for taking a look.
I always enjoy your posts, Leighton!
The carved faces on the temple are very impressive!
Thanks for reading and commenting Allie.
As I’ve never been to Cambodia yet, I very much enjoy reading about it through your travel posts, especially about all the beautiful temples! Bayon is just incredible with its many towers and the smiling faces and you can clearly see that the attention to detail that was put into this temple is amazing. I’d say that exploring the wonderful temples will test your leg muscles if you intend to scale up every single set of stairs. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx
Thanks Aiva, I’m glad you like the look of Bayon Temple. Each of the temple visits I’m publishing has a distinct feel I think, would be interested to hear which one most captures your imagination.
Thank you for your posts on Angkor which allow me to brush up on my memories. After the complexity of Ankor Wat, I found the Bayon temple relaxing as it was easy to approach. There too I liked to come back at different times of the day to play with the sunshine.
Thanks for reading! There will be plenty more coming over the next few weeks.
This a very cool area we saw. So creative in this historical site. These carvings are so amazing… love all of these… makes want to visit again.
Thanks for stopping by Anita.
This is so cool! So many faces, so little time to take them all in! And I agree: you won the nose-off! XD
Thanks for dropping by Rebecca. After the so-called ‘Big 3’, I’m really looking forward to sharing those lesser celebrated Angkor temples.
This interesting temple deserves more visitors — like me.😊 It is good that the statues survived the centuries. The king never had a chance in the face off with you, Leighton.
Cheers John, look out for plenty more Angkor temples soon on these pages!
So many faces … and not one with the same expression! Ha, I like the ‘nose to nose’ picture (I wonder what the king’s thoughts are on this)?
Hey Corna, I have heard (through the grapevine) that the king is not happy and plans to exact revenge from beyond the grave. I will have to stay alert!
When we visited Bayon I tried to imagine the poor peasants of the village being in awe of seeing their god-like king looking at them from every angle. Chances are those people never entered Bayon but it is an awesome site.
Good point Maggie. What a fearsome sight it must have been and a sobering reminder of who was boss and of their place in society.
I find the faces in equal part amazing for their unique craftsmanship, and an utterly creepy representation of an overly egotistic man
Absolutely both things Hannah! Thanks for checking in 🙂
Those carved faces are truly impressive. Lovely pictures.
Thanks for popping in!
It’s like the 12th century version of a photo booth. Both impressive and incredible for those who see it today, but I can see where it would feel imposing and threatening to the people who lived with it.
“12th century photo booth” ha ha. If Mr. King were around today I reckon he’d be selfie-ing up a storm on Instagram.
Talk about vanity! But then, as supreme leader, why not. Actually some of the images captured here are on the spooky side, did it feel like that in the flesh, as it were?
Missed this comment Phil, that’s my bad, can’t be blamed on WP skullduggery. Yes, there was a slightly spooky feel to Bayon Temple, but pleasingly so, if you know what I mean. Right up my street.
Love the picture of you nose-to-nose with the king! Sounds like a fun outing.
Thanks for reading!
Just love those rock carvings in Bayon Temple Leighton. Another great review and yet somewhere else to add to our list of places to visit in Cambodia. Have a good weekend.
Thanks for reading Marion.
The many faces of the king is a bit amusing, but not when you think of the ego that must have ordered them created! Had to laugh at your nose-to-nose shot. Wish I had more than one day at Ankhor Wat when I went. So much more to explore
Indeed, it’s such a sprawling site. Personally some of the lesser known temples were my favourites and I too wish I had taken the time to cross off a few more. Thanks for reading Ruth!
While Angkor Wat was truly spectacular, if I had to pick one, my favorite temple in the entire Angkor Archaeological Park would be Bayon. I left Siem Reap early in the morning so by the time I arrived at Bayon there were only a handful of other tourists there. At one point I felt like Indiana Jones, exploring some mysterious temple in one of his adventures! I’d definitely go back to Cambodia because in my visit 11 years ago I had to skip some sites, including Banteay Srei, due to time constraints.
Hey Bama, thanks for stopping by and having a read. I relate to the Indiana Jones thing ha ha, the whole of Angkor has that kind of vibe. I’ll be putting out my article on Banteay Srei this Sunday, thanks for contributing to the comment thread.
Wow, looks like an incredible place! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Gregg, appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Never thought of doing that nose to nose shot and didn’t spot anyone else doing it – but it was fairly quiet when we visited as Covid was already keeping the Chinese and some other travellers away. I loved Bayon even though some parts were closed off because of repair work.
How lovely that you got to see Bayon Temple without the masses. Less lovely that bits were sealed off. As for the cheesy photo, you “nose” it makes sense. (Sorry).
I was truly amazed seeing the Bayon temple the first time. It’s definitely one of those that stick to my mind for a long, long time! 🙂
It really is a unique, fascinating and even quirky compound. Thanks for working your way through these old reports, much appreciated!
It’s my pleasure!
I loved your witty lines “ Don’t worry about finding him. Many people will be waiting to get their own profile of him beside them”🤪
Ha, thank you Sahana. Glad you enjoyed the article, thanks for leaving a comment!
Bayon was one of my favourite temples, too. I love your likening of the temple to explorations of your great grandfathers basement. That cobweb certainly belongs in a basement. Your writing, as indeed the way you approach investigating the site, is very creative and playful.
Very kind words Anoush, thank you. Bayon is such a treasure trove, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it.