I was in Cambodia last month, which has been on my travel radar for years.. so it was really a culmination of a long cherished desire. Angkor Wat was an amazing experience and the symbolism, architecture and the symmetry is mind-boggling but my high points were the two temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm. Bayon is at the centre of the Angkor Thom or the Great City. Bayon is a surreal mass of stone faces with an enigmatic expression and downcast lids. A kind of Cambodian Mona Lisa! They say that the faces represent the compassionate Buddha but have a startling resemblance to the visage of the king- Jayavarman VII. Did the egoistic king want his face to be imprinted forever? This was the last official state temple to be built.
What’s very interesting is that the Bayon started out as a Buddhist temple. Later on when the Khmers reverted to Hinduism in the 13th Century, the Buddhas were defaced and converted to Hindu gods and a few centuries later the reverse happened. Our guide, Vin, showed us several places where you can see these changes! Also because of re-building in various stages, sometimes they discover hidden statues like this one of the king with a serpent!
The temple has bas reliefs inside and outside. Our guide explained the bas reliefs on the outer walls which are great for a quick history lesson. There are scenes of battle between the Khmers and the Chams (the Vietnamese)-this was a naval battle on the Tonle sap (which I visited...more about it later), and some grisly images of the dead being devoured by the crocodiles… there are scenes of daily life- cock fights, jugglers and wrestlers, a wild boar fight, women tending to their children, one woman even blowing a kitchen fire and a man handing a turtle to a chef.. I was fascinated by the myriad images – the sandstone like a canvas preserving these images for posterity.. there are numerous images of dancing Apsaras all over- usually Apsaras dance alone, but here you find them in pairs.
We walked through a maze of galleries, passages and towers. As you climb the Bayon towers, on the upper levels are free standing face towers… you come across some smiling faces too! And there’s a troupe of traditional dancers that stand there waiting to perform for a fee of course, and you can even pose with them for a picture!