The Bayon Temple is found at the center of the famous Angkor Thom and is one of the most admired sites in the Angkor complex. The temple is best known today for its huge face sculptures that adorn its 34 surviving towers that were originally 54 in number.
Built during the late 12th and early 13th Century by King Jayavarman, the architectural structure of the Bayon exudes grandeur in every aspect. Over 200 huge faces are carved in the 54 towers that give the temple its imposing character. The 54 towers are said to represent the 54 provinces at the time. Some think that the 54 towers symbolize the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in keeping with the Buddhist character of the temple, which means there should be at least four faces on each of the towers. The faces are also said to be images of King Jayavarman VII, signifying his ultimate omnipresence. Truth is, the reason for the considerable number of faces remains a mystery. Some have tried to put some significance into the faces but many parts of the temple that remain in disrepair have made the precise reasons rather difficult to determine.
The floor plan of the Bayon Temple is presented in three separate levels. The first and second levels contain galleries that feature bas-reliefs. The third level on the other hand is dominated by a 16-sided central sanctuary. Despite a seemingly basic plan, the layout of the Bayon gets extremely complex later on because of the addition of a maze. The maze is made up of galleries, steps and passages in a way that makes the levels practically undistinguishable from one another. Add dim lights, narrow walkways and a low ceiling and you have a challenging yet astonishing labyrinth in a temple.
The highlight of the Bayon Temple is undoubtedly its bas-reliefs. The bas-relief found at the inner gallery are basically mythical scenes while those found at the outer gallery are mostly creatures of anything previously seen in Angkor. These scenes are mostly unique and generic scenes of everyday life of the people. From going to the market, fishing, cockfights, juggling, festivals as well as historical scenes of processions and battles. These bas-reliefs at the temple are more profoundly carved than those found at Angkor Wat. Most scenes are presented in 2-3 horizontal panels in which the lower one creates an awareness of the law while the upper scene presents the horizon. This alone creates a unique form of creativity that remains amazing to many people.
Any time of the day will be a good time to visit the Bayon Temple. At early morning, see the sight of the rising sun as they slowly reveal the many eerie smiles and faces of the temple. By afternoon, take a look at the many galleries of the bas-reliefs. Make sure to view the bas-reliefs from left to right as opposed to how you should see the ones at Angkor Wat. By sunset, see the majestic temple turn into an ancient golden architecture that provides great photo opportunities. The Bayon Temple is certainly worth the trip as these moments reveal the true magic of the temples of Angkor.