After another fine lunch at a restaurant near Angkor Wat temple, we returned to Angkor Tom, to visit the last temple within that complex, the Bayon. I had seen it from afar, a great temple mountain, but appearing even more complicated than other structures there. I had no idea.
The Bayon is perhaps best described as temples within temples, with later renovations simply added on top of previous structures. There are 37 remaining towers, with Buddha heads on most sides. The effect, once you get inside, is dizzying and just stupendous.
It’s also a wee bit claustrophobic. But even when you looked down, there was beautiful craftsmanship on display.
The Buddha heads at every turn can lead to having a little fun.
It’s not everyday one goes nose to nose with Buddha.
No, we were not the first tourists to do this, nor will we be the last. I’m sure Buddha understands and is at peace with it.
The Bayon is, like many of the other temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, still an active shrine, where visitors are welcome to pay their respects and meditate for a few moments. I was instructed to remove both my hat and shoes prior to entering. It was a quiet, peaceful space, scented with burning incense.
We made our way around and through this amazing structure, ending our tour at the lower level where our guide, Thearith Moeun (John), showed us the extraordinary bas-relief carvings on the lower enclosure. Here, a woman is being assisted as she gives birth.
All of the professional Cambodian guides receive a university education, and are well-versed in the history of the temples. However, John charmed us both, and we were a little sad to part company.
After a day of rest, and a brief introduction to Cambodian cuisine via a cooking class, we were ready to resume our wandering. We were introduced to our new guide, Mr. Hem Sothea, a soft-spoken former monk, who would provide us with thorough and detailed explanations for all that we would see.
And like at Ta Prohm, nature is taking back its’ own.
There were narrow interior and exterior passageways,
and intriguing sculptures.
There was also this graceful columned structure apart from the temple, a two-storied building with no trace of a stair inside. Experts say it may have been a granary, but I wonder, just because I can’t imagine using such a treasure for such a mundane purpose.
We left Preah Khan’s disintegrating splendor, and settled in for a 45-minute ride through the countryside to the north of the main park. There we would explore the delicate gem that is Banteay Srei temple. This temple is a small treasure, ariot with detail, made of pink sandstone. It must have been a brilliant sight when it was built.
This is a closeup of one of the towers. Intricate does not begin to describe it.
There was more elaborate carving at every turn.
And then there were these guys. I love these guys, guarding Banteay Srei for all eternity.
There was also drama. I am not sure quite what’s going on here, but it is fraught.
We took some time here after touring the temple to listen to a traditional Khmer band. All of the members had been injured by landmines. We saw a number of these musical groups outside various temples. Unexploded landmines remain a plague upon the country.
Our final temple was Pre Rup, from the mid-10th century. It’s an imposing group of towers, on the east side of the park, with beautiful views.
The sculptures here were faded by time, but still possessed a majesty and grace that cannot be erased.
Awe. Admiration. Respect. Joy. Peace. Wonder. Serenity. In the course of three days, walking around these ancient, glorious, fantastic structures, I felt all of those things, and more. In immersing myself in this ancient past, I felt restored. A world that holds these things in it is a world worth preserving and protecting. It was a privilege I will not soon forget, to have seen the wonders of Angkor with my own eyes.