At the heart of Angkor Thom is the 12th-century Bayon, the mesmerizing, if slightly mind-bending, state temple of Jayavarman VII. It epitomizes the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king. 

Its 54 Gothic towers are decorated with 216 gargantuan smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara. Each face is 4 metres high and is facing one of the cardinal directions of the compass. They all have the same serene smile, with eyes closed, representing the all-knowing state of inner peace, and perhaps even a state of Nirvana. 

There are also many complicated and exquisite bas-reliefs around the temple, with scenes depicting land and naval warfare, market scenes and even the construction of the temple itself.

What does Bayon mean?

The original name for the Bayon is Jayagiri (or "Victory Mountain"), with Sanskrit roots similar to Sīnhāgiri ("Lion Rock"). After French occupancy, it was later named Banyan Temple due to its religious significance and Buddhist imagery (the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under the Banyan tree). When the local Khmer came to work at renovating Banyan Temple, there was a mispronunciation in Banyan, which was pronounced Bayon. The name then stuck.

Overview of Bayon Temple

The Bayon vies with Angkor Wat the favorite monument of visitors. the two evoke similar aesthetic responses yet are different in purpose, design, architecture, and decoration. The dense jungle surround the temple camouflaged its position in relation to other structures at Angkor so it was not known for some time that the Bayon stands in the exact centre of the city of Angkor Thom.

Even after this was known, the Bayon was erroneously connected with the city of Yasovarman I and thus dated to the ninth century. A pediment found in 1925 depicting an Avalokitesvara identified the Bayon as a Buddhist temple

This discovery moved the date of the monument ahead some 300 years to the late twelfth century. Even though the date is firmly implanted and supported by archaeological evidence, the Bayon remains one of the most enigmatic temples of the Angkor group. Its symbolism, original form and subsequent changes and constructions have not yet been untangled.

The Bayon was built nearly 100 years after Angkor Wat. The basic structure and earliest part of the temple ate not known. Since it was located at the center of a royal city it seems possible that the Bayon would have originally been a temple-mountain conforming to the symbolism of a microcosm of Mount Meru. 

The middle part of the temple was extended during the second phase of building. The Bayon of today belong to the third and last phase of the art style.

The architectural scale and composition of the Bayon exude grandness in every aspect. Its elements juxtapose each other to create balance and harmony.

Over 200 large faces carved on the 54 towers give this temple its majestic character. The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lips utter not a word and yet force you to guess much, wrote P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920s. 

It is generally accepted that four faces on each of the tower are images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and that they signify the omnipresence of the king. The characteristics of this faces - a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends-combine to reflect the famous 'Smile of Angkor'.

Below is the glimpse of Bayon Temple in 360o viewing:

History of Bayon Temple

Buddhist symbolism in the foundation of the temple by King Jayavarman VII

The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only Angkorian state temple to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha, though a great number of minor and local deities were also encompassed as representatives of the various districts and cities of the realm. 

It was the centerpiece of Jayavarman VII's massive program of monumental construction and public works, which was also responsible for the walls and nāga-bridges of Angkor Thom and the temples of Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Kdei

The similarity of the 216 gigantic faces on the temple's towers to other statues of the king has led many scholars to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII himself. 

Others have said that the faces belong to the bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokitesvara or Lokesvara. The two hypotheses need not be regarded as mutually exclusive. 

Angkor scholar George Coedès has theorized that Jayavarman stood squarely in the tradition of the Khmer monarchs in thinking of himself as a "devaraja" (god-king), the salient difference being that while his predecessors were Hindus and regarded themselves as consubstantial with Shiva and his symbol the lingam, Jayavarman as a Buddhist identified himself with the Buddha and the bodhisattva.

Alterations following the death of Jayavarman VII

Since the time of Jayavarman VII, the Bayon has undergone numerous additions and alterations at the hands of subsequent monarchs. 

During the reign of Jayavarman VIII in the mid-13th century, the Khmer empire reverted to Hinduism and its state temple was altered accordingly. 

In later centuries, Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion, leading to still further changes, before the temple was eventually abandoned to the jungle. 

Current features which were not part of the original plan include the terrace to the east of the temple, the libraries, the square corners of the inner gallery, and parts of the upper terrace.

Modern restoration

In the first part of the 20th century, the École Française d'Extrême Orient took the lead in the conservation of the temple, restoring it in accordance with the technique of anastylosis. Since 1995 the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has been the main conservatory body, and has held annual symposia.

The site of Bayon

The temple is oriented towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis. Because the temple sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom, roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city's cardinal points. 

The temple itself has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square kilometres, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²). 

Within the temple itself, there are two galleried enclosures (the third and second enclosures) and an upper terrace (the first enclosure). All of these elements are crowded against each other with little space between. 

Unlike Angkor Wat, which impresses with the grand scale of its architecture and open spaces, the Bayon "gives the impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it."

The outer gallery: historical events and everyday life

The outer wall of the outer gallery features a series of bas-reliefs depicting historical events and scenes from the everyday life of the Angkorian Khmer. Though highly detailed and informative in themselves, the bas-reliefs are not accompanied by any sort of epigraphic text, and for that reason considerable uncertainty remains as to which historical events are portrayed and how, if at all, the different reliefs are related. From the east gopura clockwise, the subjects are:

  • in the southern part of the eastern gallery a marching Khmer army (including some Chinese soldiers), with musicians, horsemen, and officers mounted on elephants, followed by wagons of provisions;
  • still in the eastern gallery, on the other side of the doorway leading into the courtyard, another procession followed by domestic scenes depicting Angkorian houses, some of the occupants of which appear to be Chinese merchants;
  • in the southeast corner pavilion, an unfinished temple scene with towers, apsaras, and a lingam 
  • in the eastern part of the southern gallery, a naval battle on the Tonle Sap between Khmer and Cham forces, underneath which are more scenes from civilian life depicting a market, open-air cooking, hunters, and women tending to children and an invalid;
  • still in the southern gallery, past the doorway leading to the courtyard, a scene with boats and fisherman, including a Chinese junk, below which is a depiction of a cockfight; then some palace scenes with princesses, servants, people engaged in conversations and games, wrestlers, and a wild boar fight; then a battle scene with Cham warriors disembarking from boats and engaging Khmer warriors whose bodies are protected by coiled ropes, followed by a scene in which the Khmer dominate the combat, followed by a scene in which the Khmer king celebrates a victory feast with his subjects;

  • in the western part of the southern gallery, a military procession including both Khmers and Chams, elephants, war machines such as a large crossbow and a catapult;
  • in the southern part of the western gallery, unfinished reliefs show an army marching through the forest, then arguments and fighting between groups of Khmers; 
  • in the western gallery, past the doorway to the courtyard, a scene depicting a melee between Khmer warriors, then a scene in which warriors pursue others past a pool in which an enormous fish swallows a small deer; then a royal procession, with the king standing on an elephant, preceded by the ark of the sacred flame;
  • in the western part of the northern gallery, again unfinished, a scene of royal entertainment including athletes, jugglers and acrobats, a procession of animals, ascetics sitting in a forest, and more battles between Khmer and Cham forces;
  • in the northern gallery, past the doorway to the courtyard, a scene in which the Khmer flee from Cham soldiers advancing in tight ranks;
  • in the northeast corner pavilion, another marching Khmer army;
  • in the eastern gallery, a land battle between Khmer and Cham forces, both of which are supported by elephants: the Khmer appear to be winning.

The outer gallery encloses a courtyard in which there are two libraries (one on either side of the east entrance). Originally the courtyard contained 16 chapels, but these were subsequently demolished by the Hindu restorationist Jayavarman VIII.

The inner gallery: depictions of mythological events

The inner gallery is raised above ground level and has doubled corners, with the original relented cross-shape later filled out to a square. 

Its bas-reliefs, later additions of Jayavarman VIII, are in stark contrast to those of the outer: rather than set-piece battles and processions, the smaller canvases offered by the inner gallery are decorated for the most part with scenes from Hindu mythology. 

Some of the figures depicted are Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, the members of the trimurti or threefold godhead of Hinduism, Apsaras or celestial dancers, Ravana and Garuda. 

There is however no certainty as to what some of the panels depict, or as to their relationship with one another. 

One gallery just north of the eastern gopura, for example, shows two linked scenes which have been explained as the freeing of a goddess from inside a mountain, or as an act of iconoclasm by Cham invaders. 

Another series of panels shows a king fighting a gigantic serpent with his bare hands, then having his hands examined by women, and finally lying ill in bed; these images have been connected with the legend of the Leper King, who contracted leprosy from the venom of a serpent with whom he had done battle. 

Less obscure are depictions of the construction of a Vishnuite temple (south of the western gopura) and the Churning of the Sea of Milk (north of the western gopura).

The upper terrace: 200 faces of Lokesvara

The inner gallery is nearly filled by the upper terrace, raised one level higher again. 

The lack of space between the inner gallery and the upper terrace has led scholars to conclude that the upper terrace did not figure in the original plan for the temple, but that it was added shortly thereafter following a change in design. 

Originally, it is believed, the Bayon had been designed as a single-level structure, similar in that respect to the roughly contemporaneous foundations at Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei

The upper terrace is home to the famous "face towers" of the Bayon, each of which supports two, three or (most commonly) four gigantic smiling faces. 

In addition to the mass of the central tower, smaller towers are located along the inner gallery (at the corners and entrances), and on chapels on the upper terrace. 

"Wherever one wanders," writes Maurice Glaize, "the faces of Lokesvara follow and dominate with their multiple presence." 

Efforts to read some significance into the numbers of towers and faces have run up against the circumstance that these numbers have not remained constant over time, as towers have been added through construction and lost to attrition. 

At one point, the temple was host to 49 such towers; now only 37 remain. The number of faces is approximately 200, but since some are only partially preserved there can be no definitive count.

The central tower and sanctuary

Like the inner gallery, the central tower was originally cruciform but was later filled out and made circular. 

It rises 43 meters above the ground. At the time of the temple's foundation, the principal religious image was a statue of the Buddha, 3.6 m tall, located in the sanctuary at the heart of the central tower. 

The statue depicted the Buddha seated in meditation, shielded from the elements by the flared hood of the serpent king Mucalinda. During the reign of Hindu restorationist monarch Jayavarman VIII, the figure was removed from the sanctuary and smashed to pieces. 

After being recovered in 1933 from the bottom of a well, it was pieced back together, and is now on display in a small pavilion at Angkor.

Design of Bayon Temple

When it comes to the many faces around Bayon Temple, there is some debate over who they actually represent or its meaning.

Some scholars think that they are King Jayavarman VII while other theories suggest that they are the face of a Bodhisattva (Buddhism's compassionate and enlightened being) or a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman. 

Bayon Temple was constructed as Jayavarman VII's state-temple, and it represents the height of his massive building programme.

Bayon underwent several additions and modifications under later kings, and some of the bas-reliefs on the inner walls were carved later under the Hindu king Jayavarman VIII. 

The terrace to the east of the temple, the libraries, the square corners of the inner gallery and parts of the upper terrace appear to be additions that were not part of the original structure.

Since Bayon Temple was constructed in stages over a span of many years, it appears to be a bit of an architectural jumble. 

When seen from a distance, it can seem like a rather formless pile of stone, while the interior is a maze of galleries, towers, and passageways on 3 different levels.

The best time for photographs is when the sun is rather low, near sunrise and sunset, as this brings out the detail in the bas-reliefs.

Exploring Bayon Temple

Exploring Bayon Temple can be quite tough on the knees as the tour involves lots of narrow corridors, steep flights of stairs and towers. Depending on your pace, it takes about 30-40 minutes to see all of it. 

As one of the most popular structures in the area and a feature of virtually all tours – whether organized or independent – bits of it can get a little crowded. The ruins are big enough that you can always find somewhere cool and quiet to explore, though.

Bayon is rich in decoration, and the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level are outstanding. 

Those on the southern wall are of scenes from a sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. However, it is not known if they represent the Cham invasion of AD 1177, or a later victorious battle for the Khmer.

There are also interesting and extensive carvings of scenes from everyday life, including market scenes, religious rituals, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. Of note are the unfinished carvings on some walls, which were probably not completed because of the death of Jayavarman VII.

Preparing your visit to Bayon Temple

Temple Facts

  • Date: Late 12th or early 13th century
  • Religion:  Buddhism (although it was later modified)
  • Built By: Jayavarman VII
  • Dedicated To: Buddha
  • Style: Bayon
  • Best Time to Visit: Anytime
  • Length of Visit: 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Temple Pass: Required (included in the Angkor Wat pass)


Bayon temple is located in the centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Just a few kilometres from Angkor Wat, Bayon is easily accessible.

Other nearby temples include Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, and some smaller temples such as South Khleang and Sour Prat Tower.

Check the below Google Maps to see the location of Bayon Temple:

Getting There

If you are coming from Siem Reap town or Angkor Wat, it’s likely that you’ll enter Angkor Thom by the South Gate. Continue heading north for about 1km and you’ll reach Bayon.

The temple is popular and included on most tours of Angkor Wat. You’ll see many tuk tuks, taxis, minivans, and other modes of transport waiting around the temple. It’s also possible to cycle here, even for the most inexperienced cyclist.

Bayon Temple Dress Code

As the temples of Angkor represent a sacred religious site to the Khmer people, visitors are asked to dress modestly.

Appropriate attire when visiting temples at Bayon Temple is long pants (covering the knee) and shirts that cover shoulders. Skirts, small shorts, tank tops, and other items of revealing clothing are not allowed within temple grounds. Visitors can and are frequently turned away from temples when wearing revealing clothing.

It is not possible to visit the highest level of Bayon Temple without upper arms covered and shorts to the knees. Local authorities have visitor 'code of conduct' guidelines and a video to encourage appropriate dress, as well as reminding tourists not to touch, sit or climb on the ancient structures, to pay attention to restricted areas, and to be respectful of monks.

Bayon Temple Tours

The Bayon temple is featured on many tours including the popular Angkor Wat Small Circuit Tour. You can’t take a trip to Angkor without seeing Bayon and it’s usually included in the “big three” which consists of Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm temple.

You might also want to consider the Angkor Thom Tour, Angkor Wat Sunset Tour, or the Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour.

If you’re part of a tour group, choose a tour which gives you plenty of time to explore. You’ll love getting lost in the passages of Bayon. If you’re making your own way around the temples, give yourself one or two hours to explore.


You’ll find many hotels in Siem Reap bearing the same name as Bayon temple, but they aren’t anywhere near the temple. Most guests will find accommodation in Siem Reap and take the short journey to visit the temple.

Here is our travel guide for Siem Reap

Why Visit Bayon?

No visit to Angkor is complete without seeing the famous faces of Bayon temple. You’ll see them everywhere around town, on the TV, in photos, and more. You should go to see them in person.

You can explore the three tiers, gaze up to the faces looking back down at you, and imagine what it would have looked like back in the day.

There are an impressive number of bas-reliefs and carvings which show scenes of the Khmer armies, apsaras, naval battles, fishermen, cockfights, and many other things.

There are photo opportunities around nearly every corner. However, Bayon is a very busy place to visit. If you want to escape the crowds, you might want to see Bayon very early in the morning or make it the last visit late in the afternoon.

Bayon Temple Photos

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Taking a cruise on the fascinating Mekong River offers a unique and memorable travel experience. The Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in Asia, flows through several countries, including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Each destination along the river offers its own distinct cultural, historical, and natural attractions. In this article, we will go over what you can expect when cruising the Mekong River. 


Preah Vihear Temple (Prasat Preah Vihear) is an ancient Hindu temple built during the period of the Khmer Empire, that is situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that the temple is in Cambodia.

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles.

Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north–south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province, though it is no longer accessible from Thailand.

On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Deep in the forests of Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, the elegant spires of an ancient stone city soar skyward above the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park.

The Khmer Empire’s various capitals thrived here from the 9th to 15th centuries, while their rulers presided over an empire that stretched from Myanmar (Burma) to Vietnam. Including forested areas and newly discovered “suburbs” Angkor covers more than 400 square kilometers.

Though just one of hundreds of surviving temples and structures, the massive Angkor Wat is the most famed of all Cambodia’s temples - it appears on the nation’s flag - and it is revered for good reason. The 12th century “temple-mountain” was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is an architectural triumph laden with artistic treasures like the bas-relief galleries that line many walls and tell enduring tales of Cambodian history and legend.

In other parts of Angkor such art depicts scenes of daily life - offering scholars a precious window into the past.

Reading the below epic guide for Angkor Archaeological Park, you will have all the information you need from its history, maps, best time to visit and so on to have the best out of your Angkor tours


Banteay Kdei Temple (Prasat Banteay Kdei), meaning "A Citadel of Chambers", also known as "Citadel of Monks' cells", is a Buddhist temple in Angkor, Cambodia. It is located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom. 

Built in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries AD during the reign of Jayavarman VII (who was posthumously given the title "Maha paramasangata pada"), it is in the Bayon architectural style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller. Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.

This Buddhist monastic complex is currently dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality of sandstone used in its buildings and is now undergoing renovation. Banteay Kdei had been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries till 1960s.


Just east of Angkor Thom’s Victory Gate is Chau Say Tevoda. It was probably built during the second quarter of the 12th century, under the reign of Suryavarman II, and dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. It has been renovated by the Chinese to bring it up to the condition of its twin temple, Thommanon.


Thommanon Temple is a Hindu temple site that's covered in intricate carvings and surrounded by forests in Angkor. The temple is in relatively excellent condition, thanks to extensive restoration work in the 1960s.

It was constructed about the same time as Angkor Wat. The style of architecture is quite evident in the towers and carvings, which are in very good condition. During the rainy season, the dampened sandstone offers great photo opportunities.

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex dates back between the 11th and 12th centuries. It is about 600 metres east of the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom, just opposite Chau Say Tevoda. Even before restoration, Thommanon was in much a better condition than Chau Say Tevoda. Unlike the latter, which was built using wooden beams enclosed in stone, Thommanon Temple's entire structure was made out of stone. 


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