Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the rest of the ruins of Angkor Thom, but it does serve as a good warm-up to our next stop, the 12th century Bayon.
At first I don’t really realize where we are, what we are looking at. In the intense afternoon sunlight the temple is at first simply a mass of indistinguishable towers.
Then, as I look more closely, that mass begins to resolve itself into individual towers. And then I begin to see the faces. As I look, faces begin to appear everywhere.
Like most of these ruined temples, wherever the remnants of a statue of Buddha remains, there is a shrine with offerings. I love these shrines, as they always include a bit of bright saffron – a bit of life – that keeps these ruined temples alive, meaningful, and still sacred.
A nun beckons from a shrine located in a niche in a tower high above us. Dressed in brilliant white, she is a startling sight.
It is a short, but very steep climb up to where she is. The day is hot and humid (as every day here is) and I am tired, so I send my donation up to her via a park ranger seated on a ledge below her perch.
David is more ambitious than I and climbs up to have his picture taken with her.
There are other people here looking to pose for pictures (for a price), including a lovely group of young people dressed in traditional Thai dance costumes. They look so delicate, like butterflies, posed against the dark stones while the impassive faces look on.
This place is overwhelming. The faces all around us subtly take form out of the almost indistinguishable jumble of towers. While the faces themselves are perfectly formed and beautiful to behold, I don’t know what to think of them – they are too impassive and emotionless. Not mysterious or inscrutable, just empty.
I wonder if they take on a different aspect under the light of the moon.
Like Angkor Wat, the Bayon has a number of intricate bas-relief murals, but here the carvings are historical in nature, focus on court life, the military, commerce, and domestic life.
All in all, it is an amazing place.