After our sunrise photoshoot, we met up with the rest of our group by the parking lot to head over to Angkor Thom [“thom” meaning “big”, so the larger of the Angkor temples and the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire].
A tent was already setup by the trees by local women, who tossed fresh vegetables sizzling in fiery woks and stirred soup bubbling in cast iron pots.
We set out on the dirt road, bouncing along to the beat of the rocks underneath our wheels. The lake we passed was blooming with pink waterlilies; how I wish I could join the women taking pictures!
Those opting for a better view traveled via elephant carriage.
We hopped off at Bayon, which sits at the center of the capital, the official state temple. Stone faces on the towers smiled gently down at us from, literally, every corner. A friendly reminder that the gods were always watching.
There are 216 of these faces in Bayon, and it is hypothesized that they depict Jayavarman II himself. The other hypothesis is that the faces are of the bodhisattva of compassion, Lokesvara. Either explanation would fit, given that Khmer monarch traditionally saw themselves as a devaraja [“god-king”].
Sandstone friezes depicting everyday life in Angkor streamed across the walls. Most typical was a procession scene of elephants, mothers and children, and festivities or armies.
Bayon, with its rusting exterior and crumbling corners, is a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. There is a haunting other-worldliness that transcends the hustle and bustle of clicking cameras, waving tour flags, and bobbing visors.