The Bayon temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. Though highly detailed and informative in themselves, the bas-reliefs are not accompanied by any sort of epigraphic text, and for that reason considerable uncertainty remains as to which historical events are portrayed and how, if at all, the different reliefs are related. From the east gopura clockwise, notable subjects are:
In the southern part of the eastern gallery, a marching Khmer army (including some Chinese soldiers), with musicians, horsemen, and officers mounted on elephants, followed by wagons of provisions.
In the eastern part of the southern gallery, a naval battle on the Tonle Sap between Khmer and Cham forces, underneath which are more scenes from civilian life depicting a market, open-air cooking, hunters, and women tending to children and an invalid
Still in the southern gallery, past the doorway leading to the courtyard, a scene with boats and fisherman, including a Chinese junk, below which is a depiction of a cockfight; then some palace scenes with princesses, servants, people engaged in conversations and games, wrestlers, and a wild boar fight; then a battle scene with Cham warriors disembarking from boats.
There are more bas-reliefs in the inner gallery that depict scenes from Hindu mythology. Some of the figures depicted are Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma and there is another depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk.
The Bayon was built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII and stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom. It was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only Angkorian state temple to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha.
The Bayon was revealed as a three-tiered pyramid temple after being cleared of overgrowth, with the central tower stretching to 45m in height. 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.
The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes.
After visiting Angkor Wat, you enter Angkor Thom via the southern gate. As with all five bridges, the bridge here is flanked by two sets of statues recreating a scene taken from the legend of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. To your left are gods and to the right demons, all dragging on massive naga balustrades. Some of the statues are replicas while others have been transported from the lesser used bridges. 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.
In order to visit all the Angkor monuments, including those further away such as Banteay Srei, all visitors must obtain the Angkor Pass at a ticket booth along the road from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat (or you can get them at the Sokha Angkor Resort if you are stay there). There are 3 types of passes as follows:
US$ 20 for one day
US$ 40 for three days
US$ 60 for one week (7 days)
Do note the following:
- This pass is important because there will be checks at the entrances of the monuments, especially the popular ones such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm etc. You will not be allowed to enter without the pass.
- All passes are issued with a picture. They are not transferable to another person.
- Fees must be paid in US dollars, Cambodian Riel, Thai Baht or Euro. Credit cards are not accepted for payment, but there is a bank counter at the ticket booth where visitors can get a cash advance on their credit card.
- Entry is free for children under 12 years old. Children 12 and above must pay full price.
- Entry is free for all Cambodian nationals.
- There are no discounts for groups.
- The Angkor Pass is not refundable.
- Validity of the Angkor Pass is between 5.30am and 5.30pm on the same day.
The south gate of Angkor Thom is the best preserved, with the road across the moat lined with statues - 54 of them on each. When the driver has told me that I had to get out of the car, my initial reaction was 'Oh, no! gonna have to walk in this heat'. However, it was just to see the figures. Which were, no doubt worth it.
The figures represent the Hindu myth of 'Churning of the Ocean. On the left side, 54 guardians pull the head of the snake while on the right side 54 demon gods pull the snake's tail in the opposite direction. This started to churn the ocean which, in turn, was the source of the creation of the cosmos. Here's batte of good and evil for you!
The stone gate has 3 towers with human faces on each of them - this is where you first see the likeness of the faces of Bayon. There are also statues of Indra on the elephants, with the god armed with his a lightning bolt.
The Bayon has both Buddhist and Hindu symbolism. The original builder, King Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181-1219) was Mahayana Buddhist. Later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings modified and added to the Bayon, so now you see a mix of religious symbols. Often a pedestal that once held a Hindu linga (you can tell by the drainage channel) was given a Buddha statue instead.
Outside the Bayon temple itself there are a couple of large gilded statues of Buddha that are more modern commemorative monuments for early French architects who worked for the EFEO (Ecole Francaise D’Extreme Orient). One is located between the Bayon and the Baphuon; it is for Charles Carpeaux. He was not officially in the EFEO but worked with Henri Dufour inspecting Angkor buildings and died in 1904 from the poor working conditions. The other is for Jean Commaille, who was in charge of the Angkor conservation project from 1908 until he was killed in 1916 by armed robbers.
There is not much left inside the Royal Enclosure walls except for Phimeanakas and the royal pools. Phimeanakas means "celestial palace" and was built between 1000 - 1025 by several kings. It was once the royal palace and is said to have had a golden spire. There is an interesting legend about Phimeanakas:
"......a golden tower, to the top of which the ruler ascends nightly. It is common belief that in the tower dwells a genie, formed like a serpent with nine heads, which is Lord of the entire Kingdom. Every night this genie appears in the shape of a woman, with whom the sovereign couples. Not even the wives of the King may enter here. At the second watch the King comes forth and is then free to sleep with his wives and concubines."
It looks like the two royal pools, one for women and one for men, were once quite nice; however, I want to know why the women's pool is way bigger than the men's pool! The main gate for the Royal Enclosure is on the east wall and connects to middle of the Central Square near the Terrace of the Elephants.
The Baphuon is a temple located inside Angkor Thom (northwest of the Bayon and west of the Central Square) at the former center of the city that predated Angkor Thom. It is said to represent the mythical Mount Meru and was originally dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Construction was started in the mid-11th century by Suryavarman I. The three-tiered temple mountain was completed by Udayadityavarman II, who ruled from 1049 to 1065, and was once 50 meters tall. However, the huge temple was built on a sand landfill, which caused large portions to collapse over time. The Baphuon has been only partially restored due to a 25 year delay during the Cambodian civil war. Restoration resumed in 1995 and some areas are presently (2009) not open to the public.
The Central Square of Angkor Thom was the place for many activities such as military parades, public ceremonies and what we would now call circus acts. It now has a much different role, i.e., it is a parking area for tourist buses and tuk tuks. The pictures here were taken from the Terrace of the Elephants near the east gate of the Royal Enclosure, so they also give views of the top of the 350 meter Terrace itself. See also a videoclip.
The east side of Angkor Thom's Central Square has two Kleangs and the 12 Towers of Prasat Suor Prat (temples of the tightrope dancers). The layouts north and south of the Avenue of Victory are similar with a Kleang and six towers, but the Kleangs are different and have different pools around them. The North Kleang was built by Jayavarman V, who ruled from 968 to 1001. The towers were built by Jayavarman VII (1181-1219). The king would be entertained while watching from the Terrace of the Elephants by dancers performing on ropes strung between the towers. See also a videoclip.
The Terrace of the Elephants is a 350 meter long terrace along the west side of the Central Square. It has five outworks where royals viewed activities in the Central Square. The center outwork is near the east gate of the Royal Enclosure. The northmost outwork is next to the Terrace of the Leper King. The southmost outwork is by what is now one of the carparks for Angkor Thom. The center part of the Terrace retaining wall has carvings of garudas and lions. The north and south ends have carved parades of elephants. See the tip on the Central Square for views of the top of the Terrace.
By the late 15th century, when the Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple, the tallest tower had collapsed and a 9 meter tall by 70 meter long statue of a reclining Buddha was built on the second level of the west side. I missed it because I did not read a small sign that was on the north side (even though I took a picture of it). One can go past the gate in the Royal Enclosure wall between the Baphuon and the Phimeanakas, and see the west side of the Baphuon with the giant reclining Buddha. The sign also shows you how to find the Buddha (in green) which is hard to discern.
The main entrance to the Baphuon is reached by an elevated sandstone causeway on the east side that is 200 meters long. The far east end of the causeway starts at the south end of Angkor Thom's Central Square. It is flanked by two oval pools and a rectangular reservoir.
The south gate is one of five gates in the wall around the city of Angkor Thom. There are also gates on the west and north sides, and two gates on the east side. The south gate is 7.2 km north of Siem Reap, and 1.7 km north of the main (west) entrance to Angkor Wat. This makes it a popular starting place for Angkor Thom tours. The gate itself is 20 m high and has four of the huge smiling faces discussed in the General tip. It also has carvings of three-headed elephants on four sides. The wall that connects all the gates is 8 m high and is surrounded by a moat that is 100 m wide. The moat once had crocodiles but they must be gone now since I saw people in the water.
There are over a kilometer of bas-relief carvings at the Bayon. The ones on the first level are about everyday life in Cambodia the late 1100's, and this includes land and naval battles with the Chams. The three-tiered bas-relief on the east wall south of the causeway is about the land battle. The Cambodians are aided by their historical allies, the Chinese. The carvings on the east end of the south gallery depict a naval battle with the Chams on Tonle Sap Lake.