Bayon Temple

The Bayon temple features a sea of over 200 massive stone faces looking in all direction. Each face has an enigmatic smile, an instantly recognizable image of Angkor, as familiar as Angkor Wat itself. In fact, many people assume that the faces are an integral part of Angkor Wat but it stands in fact at the center of Angkor Thom.

History

Built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII as part of a massive expansion of his capital Angkor Thom, the Bayon is deliberately built at the exact center of the royal city. The Bayon is the only state temple at Angkor built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha. Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious beliefs.

Layout

The Bayon temple rises through three levels to a height of around 43 meters (140 feet). The outer gallery on the first level depicts scenes from everyday life and historical events, while the inner gallery on the next higher level depicts mythical figures and stories. Some of the figures depicted are Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma. The third level is where you will encounter many of the famous faces (and tourists).

Closeup of the Stone face of ancient Bayon

Closeup of the Stone face of ancient Bayon

Faces

There is still a debate as to who is being depicted in the faces. One school of thought says they represent Avalokitesvara, Mahayana Buddhism’s compassionate Bodh. Other think they are a likenesses Jayavarman VII himself or a combination of him and Buddha.

First-hand account

Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who stayed at Angkor in 1296-1297, provides the only first-hand account of the splendor of Angkor Thom and the Bayon. He wrote: “At the center of the Khmer kingdom rises a golden tower, the Bayon, flanked by more than 20 smaller towers and several 100 stone chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with 8 golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers.”. Obviously impressed, Zhou makes no attempt to conceal the sense of awe that he felt even though he would have been used to grandeur as an official of the Chinese court.