The Smiling faces of Bayon, Cambodia

by Sayantan

What would you do to make yourself immortal if you were born a king? What would you do to live on forever? If not in physical form then in memories. What would you do to ensure that people will continue to remember you by even after you were long gone?

Pharaoh Khufu built the Great Pyramid of Giza. Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty built the Great Wall of China, and Sahajahan of the Moghuls built the Taj. but the Khmer king’s made themselves immortal in the annals of human history by the Angkor temples. A most significant site of Khmer architecture with the epic proportions of the Great Wall of China, the detail and intricacy of the Taj Mahal and the symbolism and symmetry of the pyramids, all rolled into one.

If you are wondering, why the article is titled as ”The Smiling face of Bayon”, when the introduction was about Angkor; it’s because the Temple of Bayon is the pinnacle of the Angkor craftsmanship, which consisted of several temples built from the early 8th century to as late as 12th century. People only know about Angkor Wat, the pride of Cambodian nationalism, but it is only one of the several temples of the vast Angkor Archeological Park. A list of the Mazor temples can be obtained from this ultimate travel list of lonely planet.


Kampuchea or Kambojdesh

That’s what the people call the country of Cambodia; a war-ravaged country with a rich cultural heritage and food. If you think Cambodia is only about Angkor, you will be mistaken. There are a couple of places around Siem Reap, the famous Tonle Sap lake with floating villages, the Prek Toal bird sanctuary (one of the few places in SE Asia to experience the Storks, $250/2pp), the Battambang Bat caves of the north,the capital city of Phnom Penh,the white sands of Sihanoukville (a remote island in the Gulf of Thailand).

When you land at Siem Reap airport of Cambodia, the smiling face of Bayon will welcome you to the land of the Khmers. Indians get a visa on arrival at SR ($30 & a photograph) or you can apply for an e VISA. The process is simple and fast. After half an hour drive from SR airport in a Tuktuk (the signature transport of SR), we reached our hotel S Siem Reap situated near the night flea market.

SR was a village before it got the international spotlight for Angkor, and so you can feel an urban rustic feel. The food is awesome and the drinks are cheap, and you can spot UFOs (Unidentified frying objects like scorpions, ants, cockroach, grasshopper, etc.) for sale on the streets.

The Planning

Our main purpose of visiting Cambodia was to see the Angkor temples. Already feeling homesick after a 7 day Vietnam trip, we had only 2 days to visit the temples. Now there are 3 types of passes available for Angkor Vat, 1day ($37),3 days ($62), and 7 days ($72) pass. Entry for a child up to 11 years of age is free here. We decided to have a one day pass, see the temples on the last day and end our Southeast Asia journey with a bang.

Sightseeing in Siem Reap – Day 1

The first day was utilized to get an idea about the history of the Angkor empire; at the Angkor National Museum for $15 per person. We then went to see the modest palace of the Cambodian King; the Temple of Wat Preah Prom Rath (a modern Buddhist temple); and the temples of Preah Ang Cheak and Preah Ang Chom; the Guardian deities of the City, whom even the Khmer Rouge cadres could not destroy.

The Modest Palace of the Cambodian KingThe Taller Buddha is Preah Ang Cheak, while his shorter brother Preah Ang Chorm

Siem Reap is a small town. It is highly recommended to have an evening walk here along the river; which actually is more like a small canal, with beautifully decorated bridges and watermills near the riverside. One should not miss the numerous night markets; the awesome local cuisine; the loud Pub Street full of foreigners; and lastly the gracious beautiful Apsara dance show at Koulen Restaurant; for $12 per person (and the first picture on this page). We really enjoyed the show but not the buffet dinner so much.

You can also go for a quick visit to the Artisans Village workshop; where the dying art of Angkor sculptures is kept alive by a few enthusiasts. Things a bit costly here if you wanted to buy something but genuine.

Journey Ahead: Angkor Wat – The City of Temples

I hope the travelogue and information above on Siem Reap was of help. Please click on Angkor Wat – The City of Temples to continue reading the next part of this travelogue. If you have any questions; or need any further details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.

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