The temples of Siem Reap have to be one of the best temple clusters in the world. There is the world famous Angkor Wat, there is the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, there is the serene and beautifully carved Banteay Srei, there is the beautiful temples in the Angkor Thom complex. Amongst all of these, my personal favorite is Prasat Bayon or popularly known as Bayon Temple.
This Buddhist temple, built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII stands right in the middle of the Angkor Thom complex and is special because of its massive size and the 216 faces depicted on its 54 towers. It is believed that this temple was originally a temple mountain conforming to the symbolism of Mount Meru.
The best time to visit this temple is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. That is when the light is good and you can climb and explore this mighty temple without breaking a sweat. This also allows you to couple a Bayon visit with a Angkor Wat visit as Angkor Wat is best seen during sunrise and sunset.
The majestic faces of the Bayon temple can make you go around in circles. Some faces have curving lips, some have a smile, some have serene expressions, etc. and this makes you imagine the true meaning of these faces.
It is believed that these faces are images of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and that they signify the omnipresence of the king. The characteristics of these faces – a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends combine to reflect the famous ‘Smile of Angkor’.
There are different levels in the Bayon temple. The ground level is full of intricately carved bas reliefs that show fights with Cham warriors and other warriors. festivals with cocokfights, everyday market scenes and more. There are a total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2 kilometres of temple wall. As you climb up to the 3rd level, you will see a lot of apsaras, more bas reliefs and finally the faces of the Avalokitesvara.
Go on and explore the Bayon temple, the most striking expression of the baroque style of Khmer architecture.