Baphuon – Located to the northwest of the Bayon, the Baphuon is supposed to represent Mount Meru (sacred to Hinduism), and was one of the largest and grandest structures in Angkor. Built into the western face of the Baphuon is a giant reclining Buddha, added in the 16th century after the region converted from Hinduism to Buddhism.

Archaeologists had dismantled the Baphuon to perform renovation when they were interrupted by the civil war; the records for piecing the temple back together were subsequently lost or destroyed. Today the reconstruction work is done, so visitors can nowwalk up to the topmost tier.

Motifs – As you tour the temples, you will see certain mythical figures and other motifs cropping up repeatedly.

Other Angkor Thom sights – The Bayon and Baphuon temples form only part of what was formerly the giant city of Angkor Thom, once thought to hold a population of one million.

In addition to the Bayon and Baphuon temples, the ancient city of Angkor Thom holds a number of other sites of interest:

  • The Elephant Terrace.
  • The Terrace of the Leper King.
  • Five entrance gates, one at each ordinal compass point and the Victory Gate in the east wall. The western and the northern gate are free from tourists, and climatic. Each of the gates is topped by the face of Avalokitesvara. There is a path on top of the walls, and one along the outside wall, that can be followed to walk from gate to gate. The total walk is around 13km, about 3.5 hours long. As of March 2012, the path has been closed due to collapses in the walls.

How to explore – Bayon’s plan can be divided into three levels — the first two are bas-reliefs and the uppermost consists of the central sanctuary. The outer gallery depicts scenes from everyday life and historical events, while the second inner gallery depicts mythical figures and stories. In total, there are more than 1km of bas-reliefs to be viewed in the Bayon.

Enter Bayon from the east. The outer gallery comes into view first. The second gallery is on the next higher level. The third level is where you will encounter many of the famous faces (and tourists). The fact that these stones are exposed to direct light makes it easy to shoot pictures throughout the day, though mid-day sun eliminates shadows. You will find fewer tourists too during this time of day. Elephants are also available to take you from the gate into Bayon for $10 per person (seats are limited and often already pre-booked by the tour groups, but still worth checking out!)

When to visit – The surrounding and the tall towers makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for study and photography near sunrise and sunset. Hence, it is best to visit Bayon when there is plenty of light. 10AM in the morning to around 4 PM in the evening is the stretch most people prefer.

The Elephant Terrace

  • Phnom Bakheng. The first temple-mountain constructed in Angkor, with a commanding hilltop location, presently under renovation as shown by the cranes hauling piece by piece the stones out from the structure. Extremely popular (and crowded) spot for sunsets: allow half an hour for the sweaty hike to the top, and leave early or bring a flashlight for the way back. The final climb to the top of the temple is steep and dangerous at dark. Elephants will carry you to the hilltop for $20 per person (as of 2008-11-08), but you still have to climb the temple stairs on your own. Note that the sun does not set over Angkor if seen from here, and any visible temples are in fact quite far away. Also note that you are NOT allowed to climb Phnom Bakheng after 17.30 – hence make sure you arrive earlier. An elephant ride back down the hill will cost $15 per person.

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