Cambodia offers visitors a full range of exciting, historic sites that provide windows into the past. But, no other location offers as many vast landscapes and ornate structures as the ancient archaeological site of Angkor. Within the city’s limits lies numerous temples, lush jungle and a historic capital.
With the city spread out among hundreds of acres, you’ll likely need several days and a good tuk-tuk driver to see everything. If you’re traveling between November and March, be sure to wear breathable clothing and and bring plenty of water. It’s also important to make sure the clothes you wear inside the temple are appropriate. Your access to the temples might be limited if your legs and shoulders are bare.
Before you plan your trip, there are a few things you should know about the ancient city.
The History of Bayon Temple in Cambodia
From the end of the 9th century to the beginning of the 13th, a series of Kings ruled the Khmer Empire, the area now known as Cambodia. Each Khmer King used the city of Angkor as a royal center and left their distinctive mark on the historic site.
One king, named Suryavarman II, built the now-famous Angkor Wat. A century later, King Jayavarman VII ordered the construction of Angkor Thom, which features the Bayon Temple. He was the first and only king to build a temple dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism in Angkor.
Future Hindu and Theravada Buddhist monarchs eventually made changes to the temple, removing or altering several images of the Buddha.
Where Is Bayon Temple in Relation to Other Angkor Temples?
The Bayon is one of several temples in Angkor, an archaeological site just north of the town Siem Reap. There are multiple sectors of Angkor, but the two most popular among tourists and locals are Angkor Wat, a temple complex, and Angkor Thom, the former capital of the Khmer empire.
The site of Angkor Thom is surrounded by a square-shaped wall that stands 26 feet high. It sits on the west side of the Siem Reap River, just north of Angkor Wat and west of Ta Prohm, another popular temple.
At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon, the former state temple. The site has become a popular destination because of the multitude of smiling, serene faces carved into the stone.
How Old Is the Temple?
The Bayon was built at the request of King Jayavarman VII in approximately 1200, making the structure over 800 years old. Jayavarman VII ruled from 1181 to about 1220, and was one of the most productive Khmer Kings. He was responsible for not only expanding the Khmer Empire but also for constructing several highways, hospitals, rest houses and temples, like the Bayon.
Why Is the Temple Important?
The Bayon Temple is important because it allows us to better understand the beliefs, value and power of the Khmer Empire. The temple was built in the exact center of Angkor Thom, which translates to “Great City,” signifying its connection with heaven and earth. Both the architecture and the carvings inside provide future generations with insight into the Bayon Temple’s history.
Known as the “face temple,” the Bayon symbolized both the strength of the Khmer Empire and the king himself. The temple exudes both power and humanity, two essential qualities of any successful leader. As you walk through and around the temple, you begin to see more and more of the massive faces, both staring down from you from the towers and at eye-level.
How Many Faces Does the Temple Have?
There are 216 faces carved into the stones that make up the 54 towers of the Bayon Temple. Many compare the serene and happy look of the faces to the Mona Lisa.
Historians disagree on the identity of the faces — some believe they are the face of Jayavarman VII himself, while others believe they depict Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a significant Buddhist deity who signifies the virtue of compassion.
However, one Angkor scholar named George Coedès argued that the faces were both of a deity and of the king. He explains that it was a tradition for Khmer kings to regard themselves as a “devaraja,” or “god-king.”
Visiting Bayon Temple
Anytime you visit a foreign site or location, you’ll need to learn and follow the rules and customs of the area you’re visiting. Before you make your way over to Angkor and the Bayon Temple, review these tips:
Bayon Temple Entrance Fee
To visit any part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, you need to buy an admission pass, or Angkor Pass. You can purchase the passes at the main entrance, which sits on the road to Angkor Wat.
Be sure to carry your admission ticket with you at all times, as they are checked at the major temples and each park entryway. While the general admission tickets will grant you access to most of the park, be aware that Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker and Beng Melea charge separate entrance fees.
Visit in the Early Morning or Early Afternoon
Like many of the temples in Angkor, Bayon’s main gates face east. As the sun rises, light fills the temple, making it most beautiful in the early morning. However, if you’re unable to make it to the temple within the first few hours of it opening, visiting in the early afternoon is the next best time to go.
The Three Levels Correspond to Building Phases
Three main levels make up the Bayon Temple. They each correspond with three distinct phases of building:
- The first layer is a square space that contains galleries and four pavilions — one in each corner. Inside the galleries are a multitude of bas-reliefs, or carvings, which depict several historical events and scenes from everyday life in Angkor.
- The second layer is also a square space that contains both inner and outer galleries. The bas-reliefs in this gallery mostly consist of religious and mythological scenes. The inner galleries contained a significant amount of sculptures of the Buddha, though only a few remain today.
- The third layer consists mostly of a central, circular sanctuary. Around the central sanctuary are eight towers bearing the famous sculpted faces.
Inside each of the levels, the Bayon features a multitude of gallery mazes, passageways, and stairs. The various layers are intertwined so well that many people cannot distinguish where one level starts and another begins. The winding nature of the structure gives the Temple an ominous feeling, with its low ceilings, narrow walkways and dim lighting.
Inner and Outer Bas-Relief Galleries
Both the inner and outer galleries of the Bayon Temple feature over 11,000 carved figures, known as bas-reliefs. The carvings depict various historical figures and events of the Khmer empire, as well as religious and mythological imagery.
Some of the most famous bas-reliefs in the outer galleries show scenes of battles, the monarch and daily life in Angkor:
- The Khmer army marching towards a battlefield.
- Soldiers fighting with various weapons, like crossbows and catapults.
- The King in his palace with his Queen and servants.
- Scenes of citizens shopping in markets or women preparing food.
Alternatively, the inner galleries mainly depict religious figures and mythological stories:
- Priests in a temple
- The Hindu Gods Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu
- Garuda and Vishnu in a battle scene
- Ravana shaking Mt. Kailash
Visit Bayon Temple With Windstar Cruises
Learning Bayon Temple’s facts and history is only the beginning of a thrilling adventure. One exciting way to visit the Bayon Temple is with Windstar Cruises. Why embark on an adventure with only one destination, when you can visit several destinations in one trip?
With Windstar Cruises, our small ships allow us to visit ports that larger ships can’t. Our specialized and customized voyages are for travelers, not tourists, looking to have the best time possible in new and interesting places. Since our ships accommodate less than 310 travelers, we’re able to create a more welcoming and intimate ambiance for everyone on board.
Book a trip with Windstar Cruises to visit the Bayon Temple today!
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Bayon Temple in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!
Hans Birkholz, Windstar Cruises
Image by jdlasica
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