The Bayon is justifiably one of the most popular sights of all the Angkor temples, with most of its thirty-seven towers adorned with four huge stone faces that seem to be a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Actually, there seems to be a lot of debate as to just who the faces represent, ranging from Loksvara, Bodhisattva, Buddha or builder Jayavarman. Dating back to the late 12th century, it is an architectural jumble due to its piecemeal construction, but the power of its many faces is lost on no one that ventures here despites the crowds. The red hues of late afternoon are special but it is also the most crowded time. We liked the temple so much that we went back a few times as it has a very convenient location to the food stalls. Early morning seemed the best combination of good light and not too many tourists.
One of my favorite temples in Siem Reap, the other being Angkor Wat. Angkor is good to look at from afar, once you're inside, apart from the brilliant Bas relief that spans almost 800m in length, there is nothing much to look at (The uppermost level is a good place to read in the morning, as I did on my intro page).
Bayon is totally different. You can't tell much when you are approaching Bayon from the road. In fact, it is almost like a pile of rubble. But once inside, you will be awed by the faces all over the temples. It's this surreal feeling, walking around and everywhere you turn, these faces looking at you, smilling gracefully.
I stopped by Bayon twice on different day but due to bad time management almost the same time in 2 days. I should have go to Bayon in the morning and see the sun lighting up the faces one by one as it moves higher up in the horizon.
The Terrace of the Elephants is hard to miss. You’ll likely be dropped off here right after you spend your first morning trying to capture Angkor Wat’s sunrise and romping around The Bayon in the early morning light. In midday, it’s a hot affair as there is little shade to protect you and for this reason as well as better photographic light, it’s best to time your visit before noon. To avoid the tour buses, one good strategy is to get dropped off at nearby Baphuon and walk there via Phimeanakas. You’re still likely to be gawking at the imposing two and a half meter wall of pachyderms with lots of new friends, but at least you have more a feeling that you “discovered” it all on your own.
Part of the appeal of the Angkor Thom complex is you can wander around from temple to temple without the aid of your driver. In the early morning, it wasn’t too hot and really not all that crowded. You have to remember, that many people only come for one day and they tend to investigate only the most popular temples. Even though Phimeanakas is right in the thick of things, we found it pretty much empty and the views from the top were quite remarkable. The early 11th century structure is a bit lackluster with few surviving carvings but its legend is interesting enough, having been inhabited by a serpent that routinely transformed into a woman that the kings were “required” to make love to every night!
Bayon has great Bas-reliefs. There are 2 galleries, the inner gallery and outter gallery. I missed the inner gallery on my 1st visit, went back there the following day for it. Reading Lonely Planet staring at the Bas-reliefs could take a good hour at the minimum. Plan your time wisely.
The outter wall depict scenes of everyday life in ancient Khmer.
The Terrace of the Lepers is nearly as impressive for the many debates about its name’s origin as it is for its many deeply carved mythological figures. Whether the name comes from the lichen-eaten condition of the statue atop it or it being of the leper king of Khmer legend, it is hard to argue with the elaborate detailed carvings that date back to the late 12th century.
Thommanon was built between the late 11th and early 12th centuries in much the same style as Angkor Wat and is generally in good condition. It is much visited due to its central location, but well worth a gander for its setting against a photogenic jungle backdrop. With a shortage of time, many people just pop in for a quick photo so if you want to linger a bit, you’re bound to get the place to yourself in no time at all. It’s an easy stop between the Angkor Thom and the remainder of the Grand Circuit as you exit the Victory Gate.
Angkor Thom was my favourite part of Angkor. It has an episodic history which seemed far more comprehensible to me than many of the other Angkor sites'.
Angkor Thom means Great City. It was built around 1200AD and at one time it enclosed an area of 9 square kilometres and had a population of 100,000. It originally consisted of the royal palace, the harem and the thousands of tiled and thatched citizens' houses which surrounded them, and beyond those, the paddy fields which supported the population.
Around Angkor Thom is a wall with five great entrance gates. Inside are the site of the royal palace, the great square, the Bayon, the Baphuon, Phimeanakas pyramid, the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King Terrace.
Preah Palilay is another nice temple to stumble upon as you walk around Angkor Thom and with its shady jungle setting, a cool place to while away some time in respite of the merciless Cambodian sun. A late 12th century temple in The Bayon style, it is surprisingly not so crowded despite its proximity to many must sees of Angkor.
The South Gate is probably where you will enter Angkor for the first time. It is one of the five gates to Angkor Thom. The road leading to the gate is lined with 108 stone statues, 54 on each side. 108 was a sacred number in Mahayana Buddhism. The 54 on the left side are heavenly devas, while the 54 on the right are underwold asuras. Many of these are originals, but some are copies.
The South Gate itself is a massive stone portal, 23 metres high. It was made this high to enable mounte elephants to pass through. There was once a golden head on top of the gate, but this was looted by Siamese invaders.