Entering the Great City at Angkor Thom’s South Gate

Entering the Great City at Angkor Thom’s South Gate

We started our first day as early as 5am in the morning. Since Angkor Wat has been getting a lot of tourist lately, I thought that we should avoid the crowds as much as possible. Especially those bus loads of tourist that can easily block your composition view. In this series, I won’t be delving much on the history of each temple as there are a lot of resources in the internet which has detailed information on each temple. What I would focus on more are my favorite temples and my impressions of them. And more importantly the photos. So here we go.

My 3 day pass at the Archaeological Park

My 3 day pass at the Archaeological Park

The first step into our exploration is to acquire an Admission Pass. In each temple there are security points and they are very strict on inspecting these passes. If you don’t posses one you will have to get back to the main entrance toll gate where you can acquire a pass. The price is quite hefty but I assure you it’ll be worth it, US$20 for a day pass, US$40 for a three day pass and US$60 for for days to a week’s Pass. For a three day passes or more, a photo is required. If you are acquiring a ticket at a peak hour, it’s better if you have a passport ID picture with you. Fortunately we were early and we manage to get a pass easily. I don’t have a photo so they just took a quick camera snap at the counter. Getting a pass doesn’t take more than 5 minutes in all. Don’t forget to smile.

Entering the East Hallway of Bayon

Entering the North Hallway of Bayon

Once we got our pass, our Tuk-tuk went on rolling and off we go to see our first temple at Angkor Thom also known as the “Great City“. On the way though, we passed by Angkor Wat, although it’s tempting to see it early at that time we sped past it and headed north by the west road until we were greeted by a gopura at the South Gate. We decided to leave Angkor Wat for the moment and just build on the momentum by visiting the other minor temples first. Hell, from the South Gate itself I think we spent more than 30 minutes of photo frenzy and we haven’t got into the city yet and our driver is waiting on the other side of the wall, sleeping.

Top level Towers reaching for the sky

Top level Towers reaching for the sky

After pulling ourselves from the gate we rode the Tuk-tuk again for quite a distance, about 1.5 km from the gate to the heart of the city where we can find the temple of Bayon. And yey, there’s no people yet. Initially I had the idea that the temples here are walking distance from each other, I was so wrong. The whole Angkor Archaeological Park is so vast that you couldn’t cover much just by walking. Biking probably may. We ate a quick breakfast at one of the stalls there and waited for some morning light to hit the structure and off we go exploring the temple.

The Bayon temple symbolizes a mountain

The Bayon temple symbolizes a mountain

Among all the structures in the park, Bayon seems to be the most enigmatic and puzzling in Angkor. The main foundation of the temple is certainly Hindu in origin which post dates Angkor Wat by a century. But during King Jayavarman VII time, he built structures on top of it representing symbols of Buddhism. There are 54 towers there with 200 serene stone faces on every side of the tower. It was believed that these stone faces represents Bodhisattva, but further research and comparison, the stone faces is closer to the image of the one who ordered its construction, King Jayavarman VII.

The image of King Javayarman VII

The image of King Javayarman VII

Don’t you think that King Jayavarman VII is one vain king to have his image carved in all sides of the temple? Hehe. Anyways, kidding aside, walking along the top level where these towers are located, you can’t help but feel an eerie omnipresence watching you from all sides which is very interesting. Aside from the stone faces, the hallways and the door entrances are adorned with designs.

Chilling out with the Monks

Chilling out with the Monks

At the center of the top level of the temple, you’ll find a large structure which resembles a mountain which the temple was said to symbolize. I wanted to find a door or stairway up to the upper levels of the structure but I can’t seem to find one. The woman by the door, seems to be a Buddhist standing by an altar. She would constantly hail visitors to light up an incense at the altar. I don’t know if you have to pay for those incense since I didn’t try it. There are lots of these Buddhist altars spread through out the temples. Not only in Bayon but in all the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park as well.

One of the 54 towers of Bayon

One of the 54 towers of Bayon

In every temple you’ll usually see a lot of monks doing their rounds in the altars. Their bright red-orange robes indeed seems to stand out among the ruins and is a perfect subject to any photography. These guys also seems to be used to these kind of things. They don’t mind being photographed and won’t ask for a donation or money.

Bayon from the ground facing the East side

Bayon from the ground facing the East side

As the first temple we visited, Bayon was a great start. It’s not a huge temple and can be explored in less then two hours. I enjoyed walking along the grounds surrounded by these impressive stone faced towers. It literally represents the saying “I am watching you” and you could certainly feel that mighty presence here along with that monumental mountain like structures representing power and might. Among all the temples we visited, Bayon is one my faves here.

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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

37 Responses to “Cambodia: Angkor Thom’s Bayon”

  1. vainest king huh ? yeah two sides pa talaga ang pinagaya. 😛 well wala naman kasing pictures noon eh.. kaya sa stone na lng..

    sounds like an enchanting place… ha… lovely place with culture to visit

  2. lagal[og]

    @ferdz, hahaha, very funny. anyway, sana matuloy ka nga sa bohol. if you need a guide, i can refer some people you can rely on 🙂 will await ur captures. i’m sure mas magaganda un 🙂 btw, love the captures. alam mo naman, weakness ko yang ruins. looking fwd 2 more.

  3. Shoshana

    WOW! Wow!

    I love these pictures. No wonder National Geographic picked you…they’ll be fortunate to have you.

    In Isreal, they have King David’s temple, (the Weeping Wall) in which a Mosque now stood. Interesting story that…if you ever go there, I’d be curious what you’re take on the city.

  4. asteeeeeg! ganda ng mga kuha mo Ferdz. photos mo pa lang na-excite na ko. alam mo, natumbok mo yung eksaktong pakiramdam kaya excited akong pumunta sa Cambodia at makita ang mga temples dun: yung eerie feeling na someone is watching you. na parang buhay pa rin yung mga sinaunang Khmer na gumawa neto. i saw one magazine that featured his adventures in Angkor…mas hamak namang magaganda ang kuha mo. Tapos yung National Geographic feature nila on the mysteries of Angkor Wat, ang galing din ng mga paliwanag doon. haneps. isa pang nagpakumbinsi sa akin ng kagandahan ng lugar na ito ay yung movies ni Wong Kar Wai, yung In the Mood for Love saka yung 2046…si Tony Leung, pumunta siya ng Angkor Wat para lang ibulong ang kanyang mga pinakatatagong sikreto sa mga butas at gaps ng templo tapos pinasakan niya ng tuyong damo. Asteeg talaga.

    excited ako sa mga susunod mo pang serye ng kuha.

  5. Very smart of you to set out early before the crowds arrive. Hahaha… South Gate pa lang, nakakaloka na. 🙂 Yeah, smart of you to go to Angkor Thom first because I read that the lighting at the Angkor Wat is better in the afternoon. Though isn’t it just tempting to go to Angkor Wat straight the first time you see it?

    Ibang klase ka talaga mag take ng photos Ferdz… really amazing!


    I agree with Tina. Wala pa kasing way of being remembered before like photos or portraitures kaya sa stone na lang. Parang tayo rin yan eh. I bet ang daming nating self pics sa mga phones natin.

    Fantastic trip report! Good for you to be able to go and see these places while we poor mortals settle with Manila!

  7. Eric baroy Mahinay

    This guy is not just a good prolific writer but a professional photographer as well, yet, a Globe trekker….thanks for the kind comment on my template…just changed it again…..

  8. totoong mga monks ba yun? hanap ko sa post mo di ko makita hirap talaga di makaintindi ng ingles lol!!!hahahaha yun nakit ako na … mga totoo palang tao mga yun 😉 kala ko katulad sa singapore na mga candle images e 🙂

  9. Alternati

    The pictures are amazing! I’ve just seen a few close up photos of Angkor Thom but yours are really good.

    Did you engage in conversation with the monks? hehehe… or do they have a vow of silence?

  10. eric aka senor enrique

    Wonderful, wonderful pictures, Ferdz!

    “Chilling out with the monks” is worthy of submitting to any nternational photo contest like InterContinental Insight.

  11. Those monks must feel weird to be praying, chanting, etc. while tourists are walking about taking pictures or what have you. 😀 I wonder how old these structures are. Matibay! 🙂

  12. Awesome photos!! The monk photo touched me the most though. Great composition and lighting! Oh, and I love that you went early in the morning. The overall feel is really different. Not sure what it is, basta ang ganda 🙂

  13. outdoorexposure

    one of my favorite place in cambodia……u will see the faces everywhere u walk in this temple….really cool and kinda scared…i don’t like their eyes look like they stared or watching me all the time:-P btw awesome story and photos.

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