Bayon is a Buddhist "temple-mountain" built by the great Khmer king, Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1220 CE). It is iconic among the temples of Angkor, notable for its ubiquitous towers with four faces (there are over 200 faces on 54 towers). While it is generally accepted that the faces depict the king and signify his omnipresence, some have argued that they represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, embodiment of compassion. Given the benevolent nature of Jayavarman's rule (he built hospitals, schools, and many public works), it is possible that king envisioned himself as the Bodhisattva. The temple also contains many fine bas-reliefs depicting scenes of war (the naval victory over the Chams led by Jayavarman VII in 1181) and of daily life in ancient Angkor.
A Buddhist monastic complex built by Jayavarman VII sometime in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. No inscription stone has ever been found so it is not known precisely when it was dedicated or for whom it was built. Faultily constructed of poor quality sandstone, the ruin is crumbling. Towers are bound with cable, and various supporting structures are in place to keep the temple from further degradation. Nevertheless, the site has its own charm and enigmatic beauty. Similar in aesthetic and purpose to the nearby, but much larger, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei is an important Buddhist site. It has been occupied by monks for centuries, except in the 1960s when it was apparently home to a herd of dangerous wild deer. That's right. Dangerous wild deer.
The monastic complex of Ta Prohm is one of the largest sites at Angkor and one of the most intriguing. Built in the second half of the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, this Buddhist temple was dedicated to the mother of the king. It employed over 12,000 people, mostly monks, and was supported by nearly 80,000 people residing in the villages that belonged to the temple. Left mostly untouched by archaeologists after its discovery in modern times, the site holds a special fascination and mystery. The structures have been invaded by fig, banyan, and kapok trees, the giant roots of which probe the cracks in the walls and terraces, while their branches and leaves form a vibrant canopy overhead. As in other Buddhist temples, a nun caretaker is often present to give blessings and assist those who wish to make offerings. The nun who blessed me was delightful and laughed when I showed her the picture she happily allowed me to take.
A Hindu temple-mountain dedicated to Shiva in 961 by Rajendravarman II (reigned 944-968). Many Cambodians believe that this temple was associated specifically with funeral rites and cremation, but modern archaeological evidence in support of this theory is scant, and the exact function of this impressive structure remains unknown.
Pre Rup is one of a few temples, including Angkor Wat, that opens early (5 a.m.) so that visitors may view the sunrise. Hundreds, if not thousands, flock to Angkor Wat for this purpose each morning. When I visited Pre Rup early one Sunday morning in mid-June, I was surprised and delighted to find that I was the only tourist there. I watched the sunrise over the Kulen Hills, accompanied only by the sound of birds, crickets, and the occasional whine of a distant motorbike.
Phnom Krom is approximately 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap, on the northern edge of the great lake Tonle Sap. To access, on foot, the ruins that sit atop the mountain, one must ascend a long set of stairs to a reach a narrow road that climbs circuitously to the courtyard of a small modern pagoda. (Motorbikes and small cars can take this road from the bottom but tuks-tuks cannot.) From the courtyard another short flight of stairs leads to the ruin site. This temple is one of three built by Yasovarman I (reigned 889-910) on hills that dominate the Angkorean plain -- Bahkeng (near Angkor Thom), Phnom Bok (near Banteay Srei), and Phnom Krom. Built in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, this temple was dedicated to the Hindu trinity--Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. The mountain is a popular spot with young Khmer who come to picnic and watch the sunset.
I visited Phnom Krom on an extremely hot Saturday afternoon. I was the only foreigner on the mountain, a madman in a palm-leaf hat, kroma drooped around my neck, trudging up the hill in the pitiless sun. I passed a group of young Khmer men sitting in the shade of a small tree. "Dtau naa?" They called over to me. "Where you going?" "Right to the top", I replied assuredly with a broad smile. They laughed and went back to drinking their beer. Angkor Beer. "My, country, my beer."