Angkor Thom (not to be confused with the more famous Angkor Wat) was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. It captures Angkor at the period when Jayavarman VII reclaimed the empire from Cham invaders in 1181, which resulted with a massive building campaign for his new Royal Palace.
Angkor Thom is a big complex of many, many temples. It is walled and moated royal city with five different gates to the city.
Angkor Thom is unique in that the buildings here are decorated with carvings that draw from Buddhist influences, instead of the Hinduism influence which dominate the other temples. Indeed, the civilization during that period was in gradual transition towards Buddhism, which has since become Cambodia’s major religion up to today.
Among the many temples in Angkor Thom, the most famous one is Bayon. The giant stone faces of Bayon has become one of the most recognizable image of classic Khmer art. Bayon has 37 standing towers, most of which are carved with smiling faces facing towards four different directions.
Historians believe that these faces are representation of Jayavarman VII himself. Other historians hypothesized that these are faces of the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara. Some others argued it was deliberately crafted to be a combination of both Jayavarman VII and the bodhisattva.
Debates aside, Bayon’s smiling faces are easily one of the most intriguing and memorable thing we’ve seen all day (despite the peak afternoon heat when we visited).
Have you been to Bayon before? How does Bayon compare to other major temples that you’ve visited around the world?