Faces of Bodhisattva




December 2014 • Canon 60D camera

UNESCO World Heritage site

After visiting Angkor Wat this morning and Banteay Srei this afternoon, our final temple of the day was Bayon ប្រាសាទបាយ័ន. The sun was beginning to set as we briefly stopped at Victory Gate to take some photos. One of five gates, this is the second most visited and most interesting of the gates around Angkor. It was the first glimpse of what would come at Bayon temple: giant stone faces. When we arrived at Bayon, it was almost empty of tourists.

From a distance, it looked like a pile of bricks. As I got closer, I could start to make out one or two giant faces on the towers, along with the intricate details on the walls. Bayon is famous for the architectural display of giant stone carvings of faces which dominate the temple skyline. It was built by King Jayavarman VII, the last of the great Khmer Kings in the 12th Century, some 100 years after Angkor Wat.

The temple has three levels. The ground level is mostly pillars and bas–reliefs carvings on the walls depicting historical events. The second level has more bas–reliefs but this time depicting mythological events. The third level is home to the famous stone face towers. With 200 faces staring at you, it is thought that the faces were a depiction of either King Jayavarman VII or the Bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara. The latter being the most frequently cited.

The sun was now setting and so the orange of the sun was hitting the temple, creating some wonderful shadows and colours on the faces. Channy, our tour guide, had saved this temple for the end of the day—exactly for the opportunity to take photos of the sunset at the temple.

Did you know...

Bayon was originally built as a Buddhist temple. It was changed to a Hindu temple when King Jayavarman VIII reverted the official Khmer religion, back to Hinduism in the 13th Century.

In the center of the temple is a circular sanctuary. Originally it had a Buddha statue, that has since been removed and restored away from the temple. Surrounding the central sanctuary are the famous face towers. Each tower has four faces pointing to the four cardinal points. We were lucky that there were barely any other tourists around.

The third level is compact and if there was a lot of people here, it would have ruined our photos. I know how annoying it would be to have so many tourists packed in one place like this, having experienced it while visiting the Forbidden City in China.

The temple originally had 49 face towers, but only 37 remain. It sometimes felt like a maze walking around. With the towers looking similar, it felt like I was going around the same one or two towers. We did not get to spend too much time here as the temple was closing.

While it was a good idea to come at sunset to get photos, it did not leave us much time to explore the temple fully. Nevertheless, it was nice to have Bayon to ourselves and wander around with the birds chirping away due to the setting of the sun.

Final thoughts

I was always fascinated with ancient cultures growing up. Along with Angkor Wat, Bayon was the main reason I came to Cambodia. With so many temples to visit at Angkor អង្គរ you should make Bayon a priority. The stone face towers was like nothing I have seen before—adding some mysticism to the temple. There is a sense of calmness and serenity in the stone faces, which will make you forget the jumbled confusion of bricks around the temple.

Aim to come here early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the mass of tourists. That way you can take photos without tourists and avoid the heat of the sun. Since the third level is quite compact it would help to have a wide angle lens for your camera.

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