Bayon

Bayon is a temple at the center of the walled city of Angkor Thom in the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temple was built sometime in the late 12th century or early 13th century by King Jayawarman VII, who also built the capital city of Angkor Thom as well as some other temples like Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and Banteay Kdei. The temple is known for its 216 stone faces that adorned 54 towers, and a couple of elaborate bas-relief galleries depicting mythological, historical, and day-to-day scenes from that era. Since it’s one of the last temples built in Angkor, it was also the only temple built primarily as a Buddhist shrine, as compared to most other Angkor temples that started as Hindu temples but then converted into Buddhist temples.

We visited Bayon after we’re done visiting the Elephant Terrace inside Angkor Thom. As we’re entering the temple, we immediately saw the stone faces. Our guide Vanna explained how it’s still debated among historians about whose face that was depicted on these towers. It could be the face of Buddha, but some said it could also be the face of King Jayawarman VII, or it could be both as in the tradition in the Khmer Empire some kings considered themselves as devaraja (god-king). Vanna also noted something interesting in terms of the numbers. There are 216 stone faces on 54 towers, and Angkor Thom is 3 km x 3 km (9 km2 in area). Notice that the digit in the numbers (2+1+6 = 5+4 = 9) all add up to 9. Not quite sure what the significance of the numbers, but it’s pretty neat to see how symmetrical and precise the measurements are.

The other interesting thing to note was the bas-relief galleries that we saw at Bayon. It clearly depicted the life in Angkor at that era, and also commemorating events that happened that represented the high points of the Khmer Empire (e.g., scenes showing the defeat of the Chams by the Khmers).

The photo below was taken as we climbed up the stairs of the temple. It was one of the 54 towers with the four faces on. Along with the towers of Angkor Wat and the forest-consumed Ta Prohm, Bayon is among the most recognizable sights in the Angkor Archaeological Park especially due to these stone faces on its towers.

Bayon

The Elephant Terrace

The Elephant Terrace is an area inside the walled city of Angkor Thom in the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The terrace is a raised platform at the end of the Victory Lane (coming into the city through the Victory Gate in the east side). This was where King Jayawarman VII would be standing to view his victorious army marching in through the gate returning from battle. It is called the Elephant Terrace for the carvings of elephant heads on its east face. Today what remains is just the ruins of the platform, but you can still go up there and stand in the middle of the platform and see the panoramic view of the surrounding open field and the present highway going through the Victory Lane.

We stopped at the Elephant Terrace area as the next stop in Angkor Thom after the Victory Gate. Our tour guide Vanna gave an overview of the area and some of the carvings that we saw. What I remember most however was standing in the middle of the Elephant Terrace, looking around, and imagined in my head what it might’ve been standing there near the King welcoming the troops marching into the city after a victorious campaign, and having the open field in front of the terrace filled with residents of the city. That must’ve been quite a sight…

We also walked around a little bit to a nearby area called the Terrace of the Leper King (named for a sculpture found nearby that had moss and discoloration on it, looking like someone with leprosy). By then honestly I was quite tired after walking around under the heat for a while, and I was ready to take a break. What’s interesting I remembered was the walking path nearby to continue to other sights in Angkor Thom went through a cluster of stores and restaurants — very strategically located to cater tourists needing a break from walking around in the area. We ended up continuing our walk towards where our van was parked, but we saw many other tourists stopping by there to take a break. So that was a successful strategy from the tourism planner I suppose.

The photo below was taken from the Elephant Terrace. I used my wide angle lens to capture the expanse of the view. You can see the Victory Lane right in front in the middle.

Elephant Terrace

Victory Gate

The Victory Gate is one of the five entrance gates into the ancient fortified city of Angkor Thom in the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Four gates, one for each cardinal point, lead to the temple of Bayon at the center of Angkor Thom. There is another gate on the east side that leads toward the royal palace. The East Gate from Bayon is also known as the Gate of the Dead, as it was used as the gate where the body of the dead kings were taken out from the city for the last time. The East Gate towards the palace is also known as the Victory Gate, as it was the gate used by the Khmer army to enter the city after a victorious battle campaign.

Each gate has similar architecture design. There is a causeway across the moat that surrounds the wall of the city. On the sides of the causeway you can see a row of devas (demi-gods) on one side and asuras (demon / giants) on the other side, each holding the body of a naga (serpent). This represents the scene from the Hindu myth the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Above the entrance gate, there is a 23 m high tower with faces similar to those seen at Bayon.

We stopped at the Victory Gate before entering and exploring Angkor Thom. Our guide Vanna pointed out the devas and the asuras from the myth. The day before he actually told us the story of that myth when we saw the bas reliefs at Angkor Wat. Honestly I couldn’t follow the story as there were many turns in it, and there were so many names mentioned that I couldn’t keep up on who’s who. Later on I found an online text retelling the story (as well as the explanation on the symbolism behind it), and after reading it slowly, now I think I kind of get it. The main scene of the story was the tug of war between the devas on one side and the asuras on the other, both holding the long serpent, and in the middle there is a mountain that serves as the churning rod to churn the ocean. At the Angkor Thom gate, it’s like this scene was depicted in quite large scale; you have the large devas and asuras on both sides of the causeway, and the gate’s tower in the middle in a way is like the mountain at the center of the churning scene. Another interesting observation was that there were many names in the story that sounded familiar to me: Indra, Candra, Vasuki, Vishnu, etc. These are names of Hindu gods that were adapted into common people’s names in Indonesia back when the Hindu influence was strong there.

The photo below was taken from the causeway leading into the Victory Gate. You can see the row of devas on the left side of the road, and the tall tower / gate in the middle. As size comparison, you can compare them with the tuk-tuk that was about to go through the gate.

Victory Gate

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is a walled city complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The city was built by King Jayawarman VII in the 12th century, and the city was the capital of the Khmer Empire for several hundred years until it was abandoned sometime before year 1609. It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000 – 150,000 people. The complex is about 9 km2, shaped in a square (3 km x 3 km), with five gates (one in the north, west, and south sides, and two in the east side). The surrounding wall is about 8 m high and flanked by a moat. Inside the complex, today visitors can find ruins of several temples and the royal palace and terrace. At the center of the city is the temple of Bayon, famous for its towers with their stone faces.

Our first encounter with Angkor Thom was during the drive from Angkor Wat to Banteay Srei. The modern highway actually goes through Angkor Thom. We entered through the South Gate, drove to the center past Bayon, and continued through one of the East Gates knows as the Victory Gate. We came back again and stopped at several parts of Angkor Thom on the way back after we visited Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm earlier in the day.

The photo below was taken as we drove throught the East Gate known as the Victory Lane. It was the entrance where the victorious Khmer army would march into the city after winning battles against their neighboring enemies (like the Chams). As we drove through the Victory Lane, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it would like with thousands of people lining the entrance welcoming their victorious troops.

Victory Lane

Angkor Archaeological Park

The Angkor Archaeological Park is an area stretching over 400 square kilometres near Siem Reap, Cambodia, that contains many remains of what was the capital area of the Khmer Empire during the 9th to 15th century. It included one of the largest pre-industrial city in the world (the ancient city at its height was more than ten times the size of modern-day Manhattan borough of New York City). Today visitors come to the area especially to visit one of the finest ancient monuments in the world, Angkor Wat.

To visit the Angkor Archaeological Park area, if you’re not a local Cambodian, you would need to get a visitor pass that is valid for either one day, three days, or the whole week (we got the three-day pass, which cost USD$40 per person). You need to stop at the front gate, pay the fee, and get your photograph taken to get the pass. You will then need to carry the pass with you at all times. At the entrance of the temples, typically there is someone checking for the pass before you can enter. The pass has your photo on it, so you would have to carry your own to enter the temples.

Angkor Wat is the most popular temple in the Park, but there are others that are equally unique and worth visiting. There is Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill that provides a nice vantage point of the surrounding area especially around sunset time. You can also visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom with its temples inside. Or you can go to Ta Prohm, a temple ruin consumed by the forest trees that was made famous by the movie Tomb Raider.

The French did a lot to preserve the Angkor temples when they colonized Cambodia. Today two of the main routes for visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, known as the Little Circuit and the Big Circuit, were routes that were established by the French to visit these temples.

The photo below was taken near the entrance gate while I was waiting to get my entrance pass processed. It’s an illustrated map of the Angkor region, showing the landmarks around that one can explore while visiting the Park.

Angkor map