whether you are riding a tuk tuk, private car, tour van, bicycle or tour bus, all of you must go down and have your picture taken at the ticket booth for your entrance pass to the Angkor Archeological Park (if you are in a tour package, no extra charge but if you are back packing then you will pay at the ticket counters). You must possess an admission pass (an 'Angkor Pass') to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes may be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat.
Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days.
Visiting hours are 5:00AM - 6:00PM. Angkor Wat closes at 6:00PM, Banteay Srey closes at 5:00PM and Kbal Spean at 3:00PM. Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples. There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park (one day entry as fine or 20 US Dollars!).
The 200 (my guidebook had the 126 number, but you can't really count them all - some are barely preserved) faces of the the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara - though bearing a noticeable resemblance to the temple's founder, King Jayavarman VII - is what Bayon is most famous for
Where are they?
You can see them from pretty much any angle, for for a really impressive, face-to-face view, go to the upper terrace of the temple, to what is known as the first enclosure. The faces are mostly featured on the towers rising from the upper terrace itself - each featuring typically 4, but sometimes fewer, faces.
What about the towers?
According to historians and archaologists, there were 49 of them originally, with 37 remaining now
When is the best time to see them?
Either early morning (not necessarily coming right before dawn though, as it would be difficult to climb to the upper terrace in darkness - the stairs are quite steep), or afternoon as the light falls at an angle and creates the golden tones that can be seen on some of the best photographs of the place.
And here I've really did myself no favours with the rather cramped schedule for my 3-day stay in Siem Reap - hence, I've had to visit the Bayon in a rather flat light at about 2pm during the day. And it was - as you might well guess - very hot... But - back to business...
First, some background information:
Builder: King Jayavarman VII
Era: late 12th century/early 13th century
Religion: as with many Angkor temples, a mix of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism and Hindiusm to match the faiths of its builder kings
Structure: The structure is that of the two richly decorated galleries (second and third enclosures), complete with bas-reliefs of a mixture of everyday life and historical scenes, topped off with the first enclosure, or the upper terrance - where one comes face to face with the bodhisattva images
What is the temple most famous for?
The 216 gigantic faces decorating the temple, which represent the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara - and a strikingly similar to King Jayavarman VII himself (but more on that below)
That the temple does not really look too large - although this is more of an optical illusion, as one discovers wondering around. It is still substantial - but there are no open spaces with lakes, moats, additional constructions as one would find in the Angkor Wat itself.
The Victory Gate is one of two gates located on the eastern side of the wall that surrounds Angkor Thom. It provides access to the Royal Square and the Palace and, like other gates, is 75ft (25m) tall and surrounded by a turreted structure consisting of four faces of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara.
After visiting Angkor Thom, you can exit via the northern gate in order to visit Preah Khan. Like the South Gate it features a bridge which is flanked by two sets of statues recreating a scene taken from the legend of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. As for the gate itself, like all five, it is 75ft (25m) tall and surrounded by a turreted structure consisting of four faces of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara.
Commencing where the Elephant Terrace left off, and believed to date to the 13th century, the 6m-high Terrace of the Leper King is so named for the statue of Yama, the God of the Underworld, atop it. Stark naked, Yama sits with one knee raised, surveying the Royal Square. Because it is tainted by discolouration and lichen, the statue was believed to be one of a leper, and the name stuck. The statue is a replica, with the original now held in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The terrace is decorated with seven levels (the top level is almost all gone) of bas relief carvings. Three of the four walls (east, north and south) are carved with very deep bas reliefs.
In the centre of the Royal Palace compound stands the Phimeanakas (described as a "Tower of Gold") which rises on three levels to over 30m high. Legend has it that King Suryavarman used to sleep here with his lover, a serpent woman.
The construction of the Royal Palace was probably begun by Rajendravarman in the 10th century, enlarged by Suryavarman I in the 11th century and totally rebuilt by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century-13th century. This 34-acre area is bounded by a laterite wall - 16ft (5m) high, 807ft (246m) long from north to south and 1920ft (585m) from east to west - that in turn is surrounded by a moat. The main east entrance is from the Terrace of the Elephants from a gopuram (gateway). In the centre of the compound stands the Phimeanakas (described as a "Tower of Gold") which rises on three levels to over 30m high. Legend has it that King Suryavarman used to sleep here with his lover, a serpent woman.
Sitting to the north of Phimeanakas is Srah Srei (Women's Bath), a large pond worth more than a cursory glance. Look for the detailed sea life carved into the walls of sandstone that form the edge of the pond. Creatures include crabs, giant lizards and fish, along with the mandatory crocodiles.
The Khleangs are two buildings of unknown purpose on the east side of the Royal Square in Angkor Thom, located just behind the twelve towers of Prasat Suor Prat and separated by the royal route that leads from the Royal Palace to the Victory Gate. While the two appear to have been constructed as a set, that isn't the case. The northern Khleang was built first, by Jayaviravarman, with the southern following later during the reign of Suryavarman I, but was never finished.
Their actual purpose is a bit of a mystery, though given the name means "storeroom" it has been suggested that they were used to, well, store things — perhaps even people in the form of visiting foreign dignitaries.
The dozen Suor Prat towers stand directly opposite the Royal Palace enclosure and are placed symmetrically on either side of the royal road leading from the Victory gate to the Elephant Terrace.
Suor Prat is believed to date to the early 13th century during the reign of Indravarman II. The purpose of the towers remains unknown. The name Prasat Suor Prat means "temple of the tightrope walkers" and one story suggests that the towers were used for conflict mediation. Squabbling parties were required to sit in separate towers, apparently for days, until whichever party was in the wrong got sick, while the party in the right would display no signs of sickness. Another story suggests the towers were used as anchors for tightrope artists and other performers, though building a dozen brick towers to support a tightrope performance seems excessive — even by Angkorian standards!
Stretching for a full 300m from the Baphuon all the way to the Terrace of the Leper King, the photogenic Terrace of the Elephants surveys the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. As the name suggests, it's carved with lots of elephants and was used by Angkor's king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army.
The 3m-high terrace includes five staircases — one at the north and south end and three running along its length, with the central set of stairs being the largest. In between the staircases, the wall is decorated with elephants and their mahouts in hunting scenes, along with a generous sprinkling of garudas and lion-like creatures.
The Elephant Terrace once supported the royal reception area and the many garudas and lion-like figures were intended to give the impression that the royal entourage, shaded by their parasols and gold-topped pavilions, were being held aloft in the heavens.
Erected around 1060 during the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, the Baphuon was situated just to the south of the Royal enclosure and was easily the largest temple of its time. It consists of a long, narrow entry path boosted by columns. The main structure would have been the tallest of the monuments at Angkor and is a three-tiered temple mountain built as the state temple of Udayadityavarman II dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva.
Work to repair the Baphuon started in the 1960s when the monument's 300,000 stones were dismantled and each one's unique position meticulously recorded by the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO). Then the 70s — war and the Khmer Rouge — descended and for more than two decades work was suspended. During this hiatus, virtually all the supporting paperwork save some photos of the temple were lost, leaving the restorers in the unenviable situation of trying to assemble possibly the world's largest jigsaw puzzle. Work was still being carried out when I visited in December 2008.
These are the "libraries", a common feature of Khmer temple architecture, but their true purpose remains unknown. Most likely they functioned broadly as religious shrines rather than strictly as repositories of manuscripts. Freestanding buildings, they were normally placed in pairs on either side of the entrance to an enclosure, opening to the west.
The Bayon was revealed as a three-tiered pyramid temple after being cleared of overgrowth, with the central tower stretching to 45m in height and 25m in diameter. This central tower is topped with the largest examples of the all-facing, all-seeing enigmatic faces that litter the temple throughout.
Originally the Bayon was comprised of 54 towers, each of which supported four faces — one looking to each point of the compass. Today, 49 towers remain. Theories behind the meaning of the faces have surmised that the sculptures represented King Jayavarman VII as a god-king and suggest that the 54 towers represent the 54 provinces of the realm, with the king's face looking over the entire country.