Angkor Thom’s Bayon is Asia’s happiest temple

Welcome to the happiest temple in Asia. Hundreds of huge faces smile down from Bayon, at the heart of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. STEPHEN SCOURFIELD reports.

While there are 72 major temples in the area and Angkor Wat, 2.5km away through the Cambodian jungle, is the biggest religious monument in the world and Siem Reap’s best-known drawcard, I think Angkor Thom, and Bayon in particular, have an even greater charm.

Angkor is a local term for “city”, and “thom” means big. Angkor Thom, which was used as a location in the movie Tomb Raider, covers 10sqkm.

The Bayon temple is the precise centre of Angkor Thom and its architectural style is very different to the other great temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park.

The main features of most temples here are laid out on a grid. They point north, south, east and west. But there is no set pattern to the positioning of the towers of Bayon. The faces look out almost haphazardly, in every direction. Most of the big towers have four faces, but some only three.

Only 37 towers stand today, one to 43m, but some archaeologists believe there might once have been 54; one for every province of the Khmer empire.

For Angkor Thom was the last temple to be built in the Angkor archaeological complex. It was built under Buddhist King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century, near the end of his life. He had resurrected the Khmer empire after defeating the Cham people, who had invaded and occupied Angkor, and he built this new city as the focal point for a population of a million people.

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