My Cambodia Tales extract from one of my first visits to the Bayon follows:
Through the gate, I continued along a paved road, lined with tall trees, until the road forked and directly in front of me lay the extraordinary Bayon temple. I was dropped off on the southern side and agreed to reunite at the northern exit point an hour later. From a distance, the Bayon resembles a chaotic jumble of stone, lacking the classical shape and detail of other temples. However, up close, it takes on another form altogether and is a maze of galleries, towers and passageways on three levels, with huge smiling faces, identical to those at the South Gate, appearing from every angle. It is quite simply a fascinating, awe-inspiring and incredible example of Khmer architecture. The bas-reliefs, carved at the beginning of the 13th century, present in glorious detail, battle scenes between the Khmer and their arch enemy, the Cham as well as focusing on everyday life, military parades and religious ritual. They run along both the outside and inner walls of the whole temple, measuring 1,200 metres in length and totalling 11,000 separate figures. Normally viewed in a clockwise direction, the reliefs are on three tiers and are remarkable in their detail and variety. A handful of other tourists were listening to their guide's explanation of the scenes on display whilst the rest of the temple was peaceful and empty. At the eastern entrance, I walked through the gopura to view the reliefs on the inner gallery, exposed to the elements like those on the outer wall, before ascending the steep steps to the second and third levels of the temple. On each level, I was confronted at every turn by huge faces, four metres in height; with four faces on each of the 54 towers at the Bayon, there are over 200 in all. Each face has an individual serene expression with closed eyelids and thick, slightly curled lips. On the top level a number of small shrines with Buddha statues were policed by laypersons offering incense to visitors. All the while, tinkling music filled the air, provided by a couple of disabled musicians seated under a huge Bayon face.