Behind the pool flanking the South Khleang is a long laterite terrace called Vihear Prampil Loveng. The 128 meters (420 feet) long Vihear Prampil Loveng is surrounded by a rectangular wall with entrance gateway in the north wall – can be accessed from Victory Way, the causeway connecting Victory Gate with the Royal Palace area.
Most visitors to Angkor Thom never make it to Vihear Prampil Loveng because it’s so insignificant and uninteresting however I thought that the fact that it houses the chief divinity of the original Bayon temple was rather fascinating.
3.5 meters tall statue of Buddha sitting on a serpent that coiled three times to serve as a throne and whose multi-head spreads into a hood to shelter the Enlightened One like a canopy was originally placed in the central sanctuary of the Bayon temple but when king Jayavarman VIII took over from Jayavarman VII, he went on a big mission to demolish all Buddhist relics and instil new religion which resulted in destruction of the Buddha statue installed in Bayon.
Strangely enough, all of the pieces of shattered statue were recovered in 1933 when archaeologists discovered it in the well of the central Bayon which allowed them to fully restore this historically important relic. It was removed from Bayon and placed in Vihear Prampil Loveng where it still sits today.
According to the Khmer legend, serpent Naga king Mucilinda emerged out of the roots of the tree under which Buddha was meditating to shelter him from the storm. This scene has become one of the most imitated artforms in which Buddha was depicted. Even though the original statue depicting the very motif was removed from Bayon, many smaller statues of the same can still be found at several spots throughout the big temple.
Vihear Prampil Loveng entrance stairs are decorated with Angkorian era lions and elephants but the overall ancient feel gets lost with the rather unfitting pavilion housing the statue. When I made my way all the way to the pavilion to take a picture of said Buddha, I disturbed a Cambodian nun who was sleeping at the foot of the statue. Upon noticing, she instantly rose and charged towards me to try to collect donations which as it goes with Angkor, are solely used for personal enrichment of a person who collected it. This prompted me to shoot off.
However since Vihear Prampil Loveng covers quite an area, I got out of her sight quickly and was able to spend a little more time taking pictures of what fascinates me about Angkor the most – trees growing over ancient stones.
I got to the Terrace of the Leper King by following the north wall of the Royal Palace area as I was running away from gnarly Cambodian males preying on foreigners who wander off the beaten track. The Terrace of the Leper King got its name from the genitals lacking statue of Yama – the God of Death, resembling king Jayavarman VII known to have suffered from leprosy (according to the legend, leprosy was the reason why this king built so many hospitals. Khmer people believe that he was not the only king suffering from this disease). Because some layers of the statue got eaten away by lichen, it created an illusion of a person affected by leprosy. The original statue which dates back to the 14th – 15th centuries is no longer on the terrace. It was removed to secure its preservation and is currently located at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. This was a good idea as the cement replica has already been decapitated.
Terrace of the Leper King contains extensive carvings on its walls depicting various divine and underworld characters. It is believed that the Terrace of the Leper King was used for cremations or other funerary purpose and was probably built by Jayavarman VIII who succeeded Jayavarman VII, the builder of Angkor Thom.
The walls of the Terrace of the Leper King are 6 meters (19 feet) high and have the carvings on them arranged in seven rows. The mythological scenes include five, seven and nine headed naga serpents accompanied by marine creatures (including mermaids) and several rows of gods often bearing rather ferocious looks on their faces.
Terrace of the Leper King is a standalone structure in a seemingly desolate state that’s easy to ignore so a visitor can move on to something more interesting, but there is more to the terrace than meets the eye – it’s the hidden wall. South west corner of the terrace contains narrow entrance to the trench that takes you through a zig-zag path containing its own bas reliefs. This secret passage is the collest thing about the Terrace of the Leper King and should not be missed by any visitor.
To the north-west of majestic Bayon temple is a small Buddhist shrine called Preah Ngok (sometimes spelled as Preah Ngoc). Even though small in overall size, it houses a rather large statue of Buddha sitting with his legs crossed and eyes only slightly open. The shrine appears to be reasonably modern, but the statue itself is believed to have come from late Angkorian era. Some say the statue has been there since the 13th century even though the chapel itself has been rebuilt several times over the centuries.
Because of its small size and apparent insignificance, the Preah Ngok shrine is missed by most visitors to Angkor. I had the whole thing for myself when I made my brief pause to take a few pictures of it, however a few Cambodian nuns sporting shaved heads and white robes kept me company. Through my own eyes, the most significant part of Preah Ngok appeared to be its similarity to more famous shrine called Tep Pranam which is located just north of the Terrace of the Leper King and aside from looking strikingly similar, it also houses a statue of Buddha that looks virtually identical to that of Preah Ngok.
I don’t know the reason behind such similarities and I’m quite likely the only person in the world who noticed that. None of the locals I spoke with seemed to have noticed or cared and none of the guide books to Angkor ever compared the two. But that’s probably because none of the guide books ever mentions Preah Ngok in the first place.
Exploring Bayon is a challenging but rewarding experience. The temple is very complex both in terms of architecture and symbolism and offers many an opportunity to theorize on its structure and meaning. King Jayavarman VII who had the temple built had it altered several times but the modifications continued even after his death. It is believed that when originally built, Bayon had 49 face towers – towers adorned with giant faces each facing one cardinal point. Even after extensive restoration works, only 37 of Bayon’s towers are still standing. Let’s take a look at some of Bayon’s facts. This guide will be accompanied with pictures.
Just as is the case with most Angkor temples, Bayon faces east. I approached Bayon from the south after crossing the South Gate of Angkor Thom and turned right on the T intersection which got me on the road encircling the temple. Turning right took me to the main entrance in front of which I parked my bicycle (at the elephant station).
Broad, two-levelled terrace serving as an approach to Bayon is guarded by stone lions and naga serpent as balustrades on far sides. Despite extensive restoration works, much of the terrace is in desolate state but the feel of walking on ancient stones is much stronger than any other structure at Angkor. The sun was frying me alive and was far more intense now as it got closer to noon, than it was during my exploration of Angkor Wat.
Entrance gopura (gate) consists mostly of collapsed stone frames serving as doors but there are no walls. Piles of giant stones lie scattered randomly around as archaeologists try to figure out which ones belong together so they can paste the whole temple together to its intended look.
Galleries within outer enclosure contain extensive carvings and bas reliefs. It comes as a striking contrast seeing fine work of artists who skilfully covered entire exterior wall with beautiful bas reliefs against the pile of disorganized, large rectangular stones laid piled up right opposite of it. Much work needs to be done to fully restore Bayon.
I turned left at the main entrance because the bas relief on this section of the outer wall seemed the most interesting. The carvings continue around the corner and throughout the south wall which has its own, collapsed gopura. There are several chapels within the exterior wall that can be entered as you’re exploring the bas reliefs. Because Bayon was a state temple, I think these chapels once house statues of divinities.
As I got within the outer enclosure, the face towers took more distinct shape. From the outside they appear as a disorganized pile of rocks sticking up. Countless hallways and wall-less corridors make navigation trickier as you get inside. Several flights of stairs are available to take to get to the second and third levels. Some are easy to climb, others downright dangerous, especially if you’re carrying a DSLR camera like I did.
Because Bayon was remodelled so many times after taking its original shape, exploring the interior of the temple is a bit confusing. The temple is large to begin with but oddly structured galleries and terraces which were added later made it difficult to set out on an obviously best way to explore it all. The best way for me to describe it is by thinking of it as a maze without walls. You can exit any corridor through the wall that is not there and get to another corridor through the wall it doesn’t have. It’s literally akin to cheating in a videogame. You are an explorer of an ancient temple on a mission to find holy grail, but you hacked the game and can just take shortcuts.
The face towers are clearly the most attractive and photogenic (picture friendly) part of Bayon. Aside from crowning the entrance gates (gopuras), the face towers can also be found at corner angles but also as free-standing pillars on upper level. Because many of these towers were added later, they don’t seem to be placed in any logical order and just give an impression of being there to rise up to the sky.
When I reached the upper terrace, I was offered several good opportunities to take pictures of the giant faces. The space on top seems more organized with fewer collapsed structures and it’s overall less tight (as far as breathing space is involved). From here you can get up close and personal with the free-standing face towers.
Historical inscriptions suggests that Jayavarman VIII, a rather insignificant Khmer king who took over the kingdom after Jayavarman VII has order a destruction of Buddhist symbols and initiated conversion to Hinduism. It was during his rule, when 3.6 meters tall statue of Buddha sitting on a body of a serpent whose multi-headed head shelters him was destroyed. Remarkably, all pieces of this statue, which was originally housed in the oval sanctuary at the heart of Bayon, were recovered enabling full restoration of the image. There are several smaller replicas of the same statue throughout Bayon, but the original, restored piece was relocated and is currently housed in Vihear Prampil Loveng – a small pavilion south of the Victory Way (road connecting Victory Gate with the Royal Palace area), next to South Khleang.
When you get to a sanctuary housing a statue of Buddha, there will likely be some locals inside as well. They sit and patiently wait inside with incense sticks at the ready and as soon as a foreigner enters the room, the sticks will be handed to them. It is a natural instinct of every person to take what is offered to them, especially if statue of a local divinity is present. This is exactly what these people are counting on because once you grab a hold of what is handed to you, they won’t be taking it back but will be insisting that you make a donation that as they claim, would go to the monks and to the preservation of the temple. None of the money provided will ever make it to any purpose other than personal enrichment of a person who gets the money from you. Just as almost everything else in Cambodia, this is a scam. The best way to protect yourself is to never ever impulsively take anything that is handed to you. No matter whether the person handing you stuff is a kid, or a nun with shaved head and robe draped around her body – the purpose is to abuse the presence of the divinity and scam you out of money. Don’t be surprised if you get told to “f%$k off” or called “stingy” or “a$$hole” by a kid whom you didn’t give any money. You may not see this anywhere else in the world, but in Cambodia, touts will not hesitate to call you names and swear straight in your face if they fail at scamming you of money.
Once I got the layout of Bayon more or less figured out, I saw it as a structure consisting out of three main sections. Starting from top middle, there is an oval sanctuary that is the center of the temple originally assigned to house the large statue of Buddha which was later destroyed as described above. The oval sanctuary is surrounded by four corridors creating an orthodox cross around it. These serve as access points to the sanctuary with east entrance being the largest. This is the third, top tier of Bayon.
Second tier consists of rectangular inner galleries (second enclosure) encircling the orthodox cross with the circular sanctuary in the middle of it. First tier consists of outer galleries (exterior enclosure). Passages at each cardinal point connect outer galleries with the inner ones.
Bayon is covered with extensive bas reliefs. Earlier carvings mostly contain scenes from every day life at Angkor Thom as well as the battles with Champa armies on the great lake whereas later carvings contain scenes from Hindu mythology, signifying the conversion of the religion during the reign of Jayavarman VIII.
Bayon was a temple honouring a host of gods which gave it the name of “Tevea Vinichay”, which loosely translates as “Assembly of the Gods”. Its principal sanctuary housed an image of Buddha, but dozens of other sanctuaries housed various provincial and local Khmer gods. Inscriptions on door jabs of these small sanctuaries tell us about the many gods housed by them during the reign of Jayavarman VII.
North East corner of Bayon has a small, stand alone gallery with many people inside. There was another such gallery at the south-east corner but because that part of Bayon is in much ruin, there was nobody there. I thought something interesting must surely be within the gallery given the number of people inside and around it so I went to take a climb. The access was extremely difficult as stone steps are high and steep, much steeper than I had seen anywhere before. To my disappointment, there was absolutely nothing inside. I think people were just hanging in there, killing time. Some interesting bas reliefs could be found on the outer wall of the gallery, otherwise nothing excessively special about it.
I spent several hours exploring Bayon. I started in late morning and wasn’t done until early afternoon. This basically means that I spent the hottest part of the day marking the ancient stones of the temple with my sweat. As I found out later, this was a great idea. Vast majority of organized tours take their high paying customers back to Siem Reap during noon hours so they can have lunch in one of the air-conditioned restaurants. The number of tourists at Angkor drops significantly during that time. As such, it is advisable for solo explorers to brave the midday heat and continue exploring the temples during lunch hours despite intense sun.
Because Bayon is the second most famous temple of Angkor (second only to Angkor Wat) and is a must-see for everyone coming to Angkor Archaeological Park, there were a few dozen people sharing the temple with me despite scorching midday sun. However it is better to have to share it with a few dozen people, than with hundreds, who on top of it all have an escort with an umbrella to shelter them from the sun and oftentimes a guide as well.
The best time to visit Bayon would be either very early in the morning (when all organized tours are at Angkor Wat), during noon (when all organized tours are back in Siem Reap for lunch) or in late afternoon (after 4pm, when all organized tours are either in Banteay Srei or already lining people up to go on Phnom Bakheng to watch sunset from the hill). The worst time of the day would be between 8am and 10.30am when dozens of buses full of rich tourists park it next to the temple and release hundreds of people to swarm the temple, turning it into an anthill full of crawling creatures.
Even though already completely devastated from exposure to extreme sun, after I was done exploring Bayon, I was still determined to complete the small circuit the same day. I was done with two of the largest structures to explore, but many more to go. Angkor Thom itself had several more iconic pieces nearby. I made an attempt to stop at one of the food stalls north west of the temple but touts were so aggressive, I opted for a swift dart off. The temple of Baphuon, which is 200 years older than Bayon was next.
Bayon was built by king Jayavarman VII as his state temple at the end of 12th century, after he drove out the Chams who sacked the place. Today, Bayon is best known for its iconic towers crowned with four giant faces, each looking out to a respective cardinal point. Bayon is the center of Angkor Thom and symbolizes Mount Meru, sacred mountain in the center of the universe (inspired from Hindu cosmology). This photo gallery is a collection of photographs I took of Bayon temple when I was exploring it.
Bayon has a multitude of symbolic functions. Outer walls of Angkor Thom constitute its outermost enclosure within which Bayon stands as the pivotal mountain in the Churning of the Sea of Milk. Protected at each entrance by Hindu serpent Vasuki, the gods and demons who rotate it exert the “Elixir of Immortality” from the depths of the water that surrounds it.
Bayon was built to be a Mahayana Buddhist temple. Statue of Buddha seated on and sheltered by a multi-headed serpent Mucilinda was originally housed in the central prasat but was later smashed and thrown into the foundation well after death of Jayavarman VII, indicating change in religion (revival of Brahmanism). The statue went out of knowledge until it was re-discovered by archaeologists in 1933.
Bayon’s exterior galleries have walls covered in bas reliefs but aside from a few passages, lack roofs. Many bas relief characters are Chinese, who are seen as both soldiers and businessmen, often with Khmer women, sometimes with friends drinking and dancing. Random scenes from daily life of people occupying the Angkor Thom city compound are portrayed in bas reliefs of exterior galleries. I’ll let the pictures introduce you to the beauty of the Bayon temple:
The Ya-Tep Shrine is unique in a way that it’s built right in the middle of a major road passing through Siem Reap (National Highway #6) so the road splits to go around it. Since Ya-Tep Shrine is a small structure, it only creates an effect of a traffic circle, not any major detours. Despite its small size, it’s a busy shrine that enjoys immense popularity among local Khmer people. It is said that the statue of Ya Tep that is housed within the shrine is a powerful spirit locally known as Neak-Ta. Neat-Ka spirits are localized, meaning that they protect the land where they are located and the people who live in the area. Ya Tep spirit is also believed to bring good luck to people playing the lottery so the shrine gets particularly busy on days of the draw.
While Ya-Tep Shrine is a standalone unit that’s not part of anything bigger, it is located right between two important landmarks of Siem Reap – Royal Residence is to the south of the shrine and Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine to the north. Ya-Tep Shrine is basically right in the middle of the road that separates these two.
The night when I discovered majestic Flying Foxes in the Royal Independence Garden and stayed to take pictures of people bringing offerings for the dead, the Buddha and the Monks since it was the beginning of Pchum Ben Festival was also the night I first saw Ya-Tep Shrine. Well, no kidding since it’s only half the road across. Local Buddhists who paid a visit to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine also stayed for a player and burned incense sticks before the statue of Ya-Tep.
The popularity and high regard of Ya-Tep Shrine was truly evident. Each time I would be passing by on my bad ass bicycle, whether it was during the day or after dark there would be people kneeling and praying before the statue of their local protector. Speed bumps to the west of the shrine slowed down the traffic so vehicles don’t run into the island housing the shine or people who frequently come to the shrine to pray. Sadly, because of close proximity of several major landmarks, poshy hotels (Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor and Victoria Angkor Hotel) and Angkor Shopping Center, the area is overrun with Tuk Tuk drivers who will do their best to annoy the heck out of you while you are enjoying the sweet shriek of gianormous Fruit Bats. Ahh well… Tuk Tuk drivers, the plague of Cambodia.
When I was taken to the back of the Temple, I was offered a sight of large Reclining Buddha. The statue of Reclining Buddha is about 4 or 5 meters long. In other words it’s impressively massive. I would not have seen it had that guy not taken me there. I thought the statue of sitting Buddha in the middle of temple was like an altar in Catholic churches. And most of the time it truly is that way. Large statue of Buddha is situation center stage within a temple, surrounded by various decoration pieces, often times including smaller statues of Buddha, candles, and other religious items. It was no different in Wat Preah Prom Rath Temple, but there was yet another Buddha inside there – a Reclining one.
I have quietly snapped a few pictures of difficult to photograph Reclining Buddha (because of low light and large size). After I have walked out of the temple, I got a chance to read an information panel which explains the history behind Preah Ang Chong-han Hoy Temple (it’s what Wat Preah Prom Rath was once called) and Reclining Buddha. The sign reads the following:
History of Preah Ang Chong-han Hoy
BE 1900 – BE 2000 (1358 – 1456)
Replica of the boat and Preah Ang Chong-han Hoy (being warmed rice). This caused us to build this temple (Wat Preah Phrom Rath).
Upon times ago there was a monk named Preah Ang Chang-han Hoy who lived in a temple in Siem Reap city approximately in the late BE 1900 to the early BE 2000, Every morning he always travelled by boat crossing the Tonle-sap Lake to collect alms from Buddhists at Longwek Capital and returned to have lunch at his temple in Siem Reap city.
One day while he was travelling in the middle of the lake his boat was cut by shark: fortunately, it was not sunk but separated into two parts. One part was at Wat Boribo in Boribo District, Kampong Chnang Province, other part was in Siem Reap province, now is at Wat Preah Prohm Rath. To learn that both pieces of boat were replaced the Buddhist statues, at Wat Boribo in Boribo District, Kampong Chnang Province is the standing Buddha, at Wat Preah Prohm Rath is the reclining Buddha. So far we still see them remain perfectly.
In the reign of king Ang Chan in the late 16 and the early 16 century initiated shrine hall and temple dedicating to Preah Ang Chang-han Hoy while he prayed for victory of the country in return.
A replica of his boat built in year 2007 by Most Ven, Tong Ton, Samanera Tong Teuom, fellow-monks and Buddhist laymen to reserve as the knowledge of culture, history and heritage for Khmer generations.
Even though English in this scripture is not perfect, sense can be made from what it’s meant to say. Afterall, my English sucks just as much and so far people have been able to make sense of my blabber. This was my encounter with Reclining Buddha of Wat Preah Ang Chong-han Hoy Temple. Spiritually uplifted, I was ready to leave the temple and face the heat of late afternoon sun.