Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Bayon - Center of Heaven & Earth

The Bayon lies at the epicenter of the walled city of Angkor Thom, and represents the intersection of  heaven and earth for the people of ancient Cambodia.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Faces on Prasat Bayon
Built  in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII it served as the center of his empire. What makes the Bayon unique is the multitude of serene stone faces. The temple has many beautiful stone bas-reliefs which depict Khmer history, mythology and daily life, almost as if they were locked in a time capsule.

Along the south wall I came across some beautifully, detailed Devatas, the custodians from  Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Devata on the south wall of Bayon
Apsaras represent an important motif in the stone bas-reliefs of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia (8th–13th century AD), however all female images are not considered to be apsaras. Wikipedia
Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Dancing Apsaras
In harmony with the Indian association of dance with apsaras, Khmer female figures that are dancing or are poised to dance are considered apsaras; female figures, depicted individually or in groups, who are standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians or custodians are called devatas. Wikipedia

I have been fortunate to be able to visit the Bayon several times. During my latest visit  I took time to document some of the bas-reliefs depicting the daily lives of the Khmers. 

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Military Processions
My attempts to document this place have been not been systematic due to my own aversion to crowds.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Battle Scenes - The Khmer fought with the Cham (Vietnamese) to the west and the Thais to the east.
Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Khmer Bas Relief at Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Military Battle Scenes - The Khmer fought with the Cham
(Vietnamese) to the west and the Thais to the east.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Khmer Military Processions at Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Stone Bas-Reliefs at Bayon
Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Stone Bas-Reliefs at Bayon
Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Ancient Khmer Bas-Reliefs at Bayon


Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Ancient Khmer Bas-Reliefs at Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Ancient Khmer Bas-Reliefs at Bayon

Zhou Daguan's A Record of Cambodia: The Land and Its People

Little is known about Zhou, a Chinese visitor to the ancient Angkor and spent nearly a year living & documenting the Khmer "southern barbarians" before sailing back to China in 1297.

Zhou Daguan wrote that the city had five gates with multiple doorways, one in each compass direction, but in the east two. The city was surrounded by a wide moat crossed by bridges with sculptures of 54 figures pulling a nine-head nāga. On top of the city gate there were five Buddha heads, four of them facing four directions, the one at the centre was covered with gold. "The city is square in shas at each corner; the city gates are guarded, open during the day but closed at night. Dogs and convicts are barred from entering the city".


Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Faces at Bayon

The faces of Bayon, smiling in various states of disrepair and restoration. Visitors here may likely find ongoing restoration projects funded by various countries.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Faces on Prasat Bayon
The temple itself has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square kilometres, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²). Within the temple itself, there are two galleried enclosures (the third and second enclosures) and an upper terrace (the first enclosure). All of these elements are crowded against each other with little space between. Unlike Angkor Wat, which impresses with the grand scale of its architecture and open spaces, the Bayon "gives the impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it." - Wikipedia

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
A Devata & Faces at  Prasat Bayon


Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Ancient Khmer Bas-Reliefs at Bayon



Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Ancient Khmer Bas-Reliefs at Bayon

There are 51 towers surrounding Bayon, each of which depicts four serenely smiling faces. A couple of a hundred in total, give or take a few.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
 Dancing Apsaras
The city of Siem Reap is currently being developed at an incredible rate. Package tours brings thousands of people to the historical park every day. At peak times inside the ruins of Angkor the crowds of tourists almost resemble those at Disney World.

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Dancing Apsaras
Its best to come in the early morning or late afternoon when the weather is cooler and the light better for photography. 

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
Faces on Prasat Bayon
The best time of year for visiting the country is during the cool season (Dec - Feb). 

Bayon, Angkor Thom © 2012 Michael LaPalme
The View of the Bayon from the East Gate

Visitors during the hot and rainy season may find the weather a little extreme and or roads inaccessible due to flooding. Prepare yourself for the extreme weather typical of life in the tropics. Now that the paved road from Poipet to Siem Reap has been completed it only takes 2 1/2 hours over land from the border by private taxi. That same journey used to take 12 hours or more via a packed pickup. The best place to get the lowdown between Bangkok -> Poipet -> Siem Reap is over at Tales of Asia.

 Getting there



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