DAY ONE 19 Nov ’08 (Wed) – contd. (previous)
There are two temples which are must-see if you are in Angkor. The first obviously is Angkor Wat, the other is the royal temple inside Angkor Thom ie. Bayon. This temple dated back to the 12th century when it was designated as the State temple to King Jayavarman VII.
I’d blogged about our visit to the South Gate of Angkor Thom which is usually the first port of visit for most tourists. Once you are done with the South Gate, you’ll then be taken on a straight path… with trees to your left and right where I presumed in the prime of Angkor would have been filled with people and their homes.
The path towards Bayon is through a rather long but very straight road (see above)… about 1.5 km stretch … before you reached the southern entrance to the Bayon. As you can see from the map above, the Bayon temple lies right in the middle of Angkor Thom and accessible from all four sides via the South, East, North and West Gates of Angkor Thom.
The best entrance to the Bayon is from its eastern site hence our tuk-tuk driver had to take a right turn from the South Gate approach road in order to get us to the eastern side.
When you are afar, you seem to see the temple as a mass of rock structures protruding upwards.. as you move closer to it, you realized you are looking at carvings of the face of Jayavarman made on each cardinal point of those “protruding rock structures” (the politically correct name to call these are “towers”). 😛
Some of our frens who went to Angkor many years ago actually took photos at the Bayon without actually realizing there were faces carved into the towers. Only when they were back at their hotel and processed their photos (digicams) did they realize those “rock shapes” are actually faces of Jayavarman! They then made another visit back to the Bayon to study the faces in more details.
We were informed there are 54 towers and with 4 faces on each tower, you are looking at 216 unique and different faces of Jayavarman within the Bayon!
Note: Having 54 towers is consistent with the 54 devas (god) and 54 asuras (demons) guarding each flank of the South Gate.
As you wander around the Bayon, you’ll notice that it’s architecture seems messy… as if someone was building one section of it, stopped, changed their minds and started off in another section. The reason for this is that the Bayon had indeed undergone a few major changes & additions as it changed hands from one king to the next.
A temple plan for the Bayon. On the right is the long passage way from the eastern entrance where we approached the temple from.
What does not change however is the Bayon remains in the center of the city (ie Angkor Thom) as should all state temples in the Khmer era. The Bayon is 3-level high and is enclosed in a square enclosures that’s about 70 meter in length. It has its central sanctuary at the highest level.
Our entrance to the Bayon was via the (official?) eastern side.. which has a long terrace with steps leading to the Bayon’s gopuras (arched doorway) on which there are two guardian lions and naga ballustrades on either side of the terrace.
Once you got past the gopuras, you will see some intricately carved drawings along the walls of the lower terrace. These are the famous bas-reliefs! Some tourists have been know to spend days just studying the bas-reliefs and the messages or stories they communicate about the daily life in Angkor back then..
Note: You can view more pictures of the bas relief at the Bayon from my Flickr photoset.
I did miss taking pictures of the bas relief that depicts the famous Tonle Sap battle in 1177 between the Khmer and the Cham, where the Cham successfully invaded Kambujia (during the reign of King Suryavarman II) and became a province of Champa. Kambujia was later liberated by King Jayavarman VII in 1203.
Once you’ve done with the bas-reliefs, you’ll approached the upper terraces (ie middle level) of the temple where you’ll find yourselves surrounded by all those towers with faces carved in it. There is no known documentary as to what exactly were the faces meant to represent; with some suggesting they were the faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, and others thinking they represent the faces of King Jayavarman VII.
“It is these faces that have such appeal to visitors and reflect the famous ‘smile of Angkor’.”
– P. Jennerat de Beerski 1920
Not all the faces are “smiling” (the one above looks unhappy) or that well preserved… after all, they’ve withstood close to a thousand years of wear-n-tear from the sun and rain.
The faces of Jayarman are carved in various expressions; some smiling, some laughing, some seems sad or forlorn. I’d a great time trying to capture the various expressions on each of the carved faces. However I did not count to see if there are indeed 200+ faces or perhaps some have been worn by the many years of harsh weather.
“Godliness in the majesty and the size; mystery in the expression”
– P. Jennerat de Beerski 1920
The 2nd level of the Bayon is linked by a series of interlocking galleries… creating some interesting photo opportunities along the corridors.
The 54 face towers are built on the 2nd and 3rd levels of the temple. To get to the 3rd level you do need to climb a rather steep stairways. Thankfully the Angkor Authorities have seen it useful to build a more “tourist-friendly” ladder for us to get to the 3rd level.
There seems to be a certain calmness while you walk leisurely around the upper terraces… perhaps it’s because the central sanctuary is located just one level about the 3rd level. Here the face towers are so near you could literally touch them!
The highlight of the Bayon; this houses about 16 shrines from which we gathered the Khmer
people paid their homage to Buddha.
THE WESTERN EXIT
We exited our Bayon visit from the western entrance, where we can see a Buddha statue sitting in the doorways (see picture below). This alley seems very busy… must have took me a good 20-min wait before it’s cleared of either devotees offering prayers or tourists taking photos.
Outside this exit (entrance), on the opposite side of the road, there’s large statue of Buddha where we do see monks doing prayers and making offerings. Not sure if this Buddha was erected in recent times but the picture below illustrated its size in relative to the people around it.
THE SOUTH-WESTERN VIEW
The group of three – shrapnel, cmun and chengyee – discovered a beautiful view of the Bayon, taken in front of a what I initially thought was a moat or small lake but later realized it’s just “flooded land”. The reflections of the face towers of Bayon on the water makes for a very beautiful postcard picture!
Interestingly if you come to visit Angkor during it’s driest months ie. Mar/Apr, this place won’t be flooded with any water and hence you won’t be able to take this photo-view.
LUNCH AT ANGKOR THOM
After our exhaustive visit at the Bayon – where we must have spent close to 2 1/2 hrs? – it was lunch time and we need to add some “fuel” back to our stomach. Man, our tuk-tuk driver, suggested a friend’s shop in Angkor Thom.
We’ve had our first sampling of local Cambodian food last nite – when we dined at the Jasmine Restaurant – but that was buffet style. This time we ordered a la carte.
Seems like all the food stalls here sell at two categories; a local pricing (which we probably won’t get to find out) and a tourist-level price where each main course is about USD3 and drinks at around USD1.50. This means each meal would set us back about USD5 per person which is considered pricey if you think about the purchasing power parity of Cambodian dollars.
But we’ve to admit the local food here is delicious, in particular this food stall and the way they cooked their mee sua, fried yellow mee or just simply fried rice. With just the right amount of oil, and fresh vegetables & meat, the dishes looked and tasted superb! Two thumbs up!!
Note: We did come back here for another meal, but that’s just breakfast (in Day Two) and we didn’t get to return here to try their mee sua again, and to our dismay we found not all food stalls here have mee sua. 😦
It was already 3pm+ by the time we finished our sumptuous lunch… how many more temples can we still visit for Day One? Read my next blog entry to find out… 🙂
Stay tune for the next installment of the Angkor ’08 trip – Day One of Temple Visits to find out how many more temples we can complete in our 1st day.
PHOTO SETS of Day One at Flickr:
Angkor ’08 collection of over 2,300 photos at Flickr.