Buddhism in Cambodia

Bayon Temple

A temple-mountain, a forest of 200 gigantic faces in the mysterious glances looking in all the directions, at enigmatic smiles, at beings of another world, in their smiling serenity. This 3-storeyed temple and 43 m of height , stayed for a long time an enigma. Built in 12th century by Jayavarman VII, first floors are a pantheon dedicated to the gods Khmers of the beginning of its construction, in a time of transition between the Hinduism and the Buddhism. The superior floor is dedicated to Buddha. Fabulous low reliefs of 1200m of length and representing more than 11000 sculptured persons, very long frescoes telling the fights and the naval battles between the Khmers and the Chams, as well as the daily life.

In the heart of Angkor Thom lies the beautiful Bayon temple. It was built about a century after Angkor Wat. It is unlike most of the other temples; no walls surround the terrain, and the style is Buddhist. Bayon is one of the few Buddhist temples in Angkor as most are dedicated to Hindu dieties.

The more than 200 large faces carved on the 54 towers are believed to depict the god Loki, or Avalokitesvara, but opinions differ. For many architectural and symbolic details a fitting explanation still has to be found. 

There are also some significant changes in style which leads archeologists to believe that the Bayon was built over a long period of time. The third (inner) level with the towers was changed later; the central part may have resembled the Indian temple mount Meru in an earlier stage, similar to temples like Angkor Wat.


Jayavarman VIII took the Khmer throne after a three or four year hiatus on the part of the royal family. In 1177 the Chams sacked Angkor in a suprise attack. In 1181, Jayavarman VII restored to the throne the royal line founded by Jayavarman VI a century earlier. He proved to be a religious inovator and a prolific builder.

While Jayavarman continued to tolerate the worship of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, he made Mahayana Buddhism the primary religion of Angkor for the first time. And the Bayon Temple became his state temple. He also built the temples of Prah Kahn, which is dedicated to his father, and Ta Prohm, which is dedicated to his mother. Jayavarman was also responsible for the construction of roads and bridges throughout the kings, and of hospital - something which later led historians to speculate about his own health. If Angkor had a leper-king, Jayavarman is the leading candidate; but there is no real evidence that he built hospitals out of any motive other than social conscience and the Buddhist desire to "make merit."

Bas-reliefs in Bayon's first gallery are arranged in three levels. Kings are usually represented by the image of the Hindu monkey-god, Hanuman; Buddhism because the focus of Bayon only after its construction was begun. The construction took several decades. And changes in the scheme resulted in narrow, poorly lit passage ways. Daily life is narrated on the first level and Hindu mythology is illustrated on the temple's second level.

When Chou Ta-Kuan visited Angkor in 1297-98, Bayon's towers were covered in gold. The gold was stripped by later conquorers. And while Angkor Wat was kept from the ravages of the jungle by Buddhist monks, Bayon was left to the devices of nature. Four and a half centuries took their toll.

What To See

The temple has three levels. The lower two are lined with bas-reliefs. The third includes a central sanctuary. This makes the temple sound simple; it is in fact a maze of walkways and galleries that make it difficult for visitors to discern the three levels. Many of the bas-reliefs at Bayon contain scenes from everyday life -- fishing, festivals, the marketplace, and even cockfights...

It is almost a mile from the South Gate of Angkor Thom to Bayon. The eastern terrace was intended as the main entrance. If you have the time, Bayon should be seen in a variety of lights. The morning reveals the most of Bayon's details. Moonlight brings a temperament to the bodhisattvas on Bayon's towers that is difficult to express in words.

In 1933 excavations at the site uncovered the "Buddha-King," probably a representation of Jayavarman VII. The twelve-foot statue has been restored and now sits at the Victory Gate in Angkor Thom.

Visitors Information

  1. All foreign visitors are required to purchase an entrance ticket Angkor Archaeological Park.

  2. Ticket prices:
    • One day - US$20
    • Three consecutive days - US$40
    • Seven consecutive days - US$60
    Tickets are NOT valid after the expiry date.

  3. Working hours of booths:
    • 5:00am to 5:30pm
    • Entry tickets for a one-day visit are issued up to 5:00pm.
    • Entry tickets issued after 5:00pm are valid for the next day.

  4. The purchase of entrance tickets must be made at the ticket sales booths. Tickets purchased from a third party are NOT valid.

  5. Entrance tickets are NOT transferable to third parties and can not be reimbursed. If a visitor loses his/her ticket he/she must purchase a new ticket.

  6. Tickets must be produced at the check points.
    • Visitors who are found without an entrance ticket or with a fraudulent ticket or a transferred ticket are subject to a fine of:-
      - US$100 for the value of a one day ticket US$20
      - US$200 for the value of a three day ticket S$40
      - US$300 for the value of a one week ticket US$60

  7. Visitors are asked to keep their tickets until they have completed their visit.

  8. Foreigners of Cambodian birth or whose parents are Cambodian (father or mother) are exempt from paying the entrance fee providing that they show a << K >> type visa in their passports.

  9. Foreigners which have been granted Cambodian citizenship must show their national identification card in order to be exempted from paying the entrance fee.

  10. Vehicles carrying foreign visitors must stop at the check points.

  11. Children under the age of 12 years can enter the temples for free.

More Information at Asian Historical Architecture