Bayon Temple is the spectacular central temple of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. This monument has a very unique architecture that displays stone carvings of slightly smiling faces.
Built around 1190 AD by King Jayavarman VII, Bayon is a Buddhist temple but it incorporates elements of Hindu cosmology. The actual Temple is part of a recognized UNESCO archaeological park and located 10 km from Siem Reap. It has a privileged location that is right in the middle of the town of Angkor Thom. The temple is relatively camouflaged and situated in dense jungle that is surrounded by a variety of objects that depict historical events and legends. It is also bordered by two very long walls. Each of the 1.2 km long walls has thousands of individual carvings that were likely to be originally painted, but have now started to fade noticeably.
What to see
Angkor Thom was built as a square, the sides of which run exactly north to south and east to west. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, Bayon Temple represents the intersection of heaven and earth.
Bayon is known for its huge stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with one facing outward and keeping watch at each compass point. The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been dubbed by some the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia. “There are 51 smaller towers surrounding Bayon, each with four faces of its own.
Bayon Temple is surrounded by two long walls bearing an extraordinary collection of relief scenes of legendary and historical events. In all, there are are total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2km of wall. They were probably originally painted and gilded, but this has long since faded. If you enter Bayon by the east gate and view the reliefs in a clockwise direction, here’s what you’ll see.