Monday, December 26, 2016

Our visit to the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom

The final temple visit of our first day in Siem Reap was to Bayon, at center of Angkor Thom.  It was built as the state temple by King Jayavarman VII, last of the great Khmer kings, and the first prominent Mahayana Buddhist king of the Khmers.  The temple was built in the aftermath of his final battle with the Cham, who had invaded the area from their home in southern and central Vietnam.  At first, they Cham defeated the Khmer, but Jayavarman eventually led the armies that defeated them; the friezes on the exterior galleries showing battles with the Chams.

The posts throughout the temple, by contrast, are decorated with apsaras

Proceeding past the exterior galleries, we climbed into the interior of the temple where we could see towers, 49 in all, each decorated with four faces facing in each direction, and with a lotus on top.  Our guide said that the faces were of the King Jayavarman, but my reading suggests that they are the bodhisattva Lokevara, albeit perhaps with a resemblance to Jayavarman.  But then, the huge faces bear an uncanny resemblance to the Olmec heads we saw when traveling to Mexico City a few years ago.

Our guide helped us pull off the neat trick of being photographed nose to nose with one of the big faces

On the way out of the temple, I took a photo of a frequent sight – tuk-tuk driver waiting for his riders while sleeping in a hammock, usually as here in the tuk-tuk but sometimes in a nearby tree.

On the way out of Angkor Thom, we paassed through the western gate: which also had the mysterious face.

The bridge across the river to the Angkor Thom Gate had demons on the right side, gods on the left side

and naga on the end

Here are some of the individual gods

and here the demons


Now, the guidebooks all assure one that you don’t have to worry about having amateur guiding because all guides have to be specially trained do guiding within the Angkor Wat Architectural Park, but our experience  helps teach that training is no guarantee of quality.  Our guide, Mr. Sameta seemed to be having trouble staying awake, and he was definitely low on enthusiasm for what he was talking about;, answering questions sometimes seemed to pain him.  And he was determined to take us on an itinerary that he had selected because, he mentioned at one point, these are the three temples that most tourists want to see  At my behest, we stopped at one building as we were rushing by on the way one place to another; it turned out, when I did some research afterward, that the answers to my questions contained misinformation.  All in all, an unhappy part of the experience. 

Considering all the effort I had put into organizing this trip, it was too bad i put so little into making sure we had a good tour guide available.  However, I do pout some blame on our hotel because it was that staff that obtained his services.  The hotelier later told me, when I mentioned these problems to him so that he could avoid recommending this guide to future guests, that, had I emailed him in advance to ask for the services of a guide, he would have made sure to arrange an excellent guide.  And I get that, the best guides should be the busiest,  But my view is that because the hotel advertised itself as providing a booking service, as one of the advantages to staying there, they bear responsibility for the quality of the guides they book for their guests).

For dinner, we went back to the Khmer Kitchen where we had dined our first night, and had another fine meal  My dish, chicken with fried ginger, included sprigs of green peppercorns that had a very nice flavor in addition to their peppery kick.  There is a great deal to like in Cambodian cuisine.

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