200 Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

Even though I had seen several pictures of Bayon Temple it did not prepare me to face the smiling faces in Bayon Temple. All so close and so many of them at the same time! Pictures hardly do justice to Bayon Temple architecture and sculptures. At any place you stand within the complex you will be surrounded by more than 4 or 5 smiling faces of Buddha. These are not small idols but huge sized faces, 5 to 6 feet tall almost your height and some even bigger.

The main tower in the center was once surrounded by 50+ smaller towers, each with 4 faces in cardinal directions. Some towers have 3 faces and some have just 2. That adds up to 200+ faces! They are known as Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia! Today only 37 towers are remaining. I gave up my plans of photographing these faces individually. Best would be to try and capture several of them together in one frame.

Smiling Face of Bayon Temple History

Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple

History of Bayon Temple

The construction of this temple started in 12th century. It was built in 1190 AD by King Jayavarman VII and continued by Jayavarman VIII. This is the only shrine built as a Mahayana Buddhist Temple dedicated to Lord Buddha.  Later over the years several kings kept adding to the main tower. No king dismantled the earlier structures; instead they kept building around it. This temple was central and that explains why the plan of Bayon Temple is so complex. It is like a maze inside and there is no single straight path that can lead you through all the towers.

There is confusion over whom does these 200 statues resemble. All statues have closed eyes and mysterious smiles on lips. While some argue these statues depict Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, others say there is resemblance to King Jayavarman.

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Galleries around Bayon Temple

Before you enter the temple take a tour of interesting reliefs found on the walls of 2 galleries round the temple. On the outer wall of the outer gallery are more than 11,000 carved figures depicting scenes from Khmer history and everyday life. The walls measure over 1.2 km. It will only be ideal you come in the very early hours of the day to escape the heat. There is absolutely no shade around.  Numerous bas-reliefs depict the Khmers at war with their neighbours, the Chams. These scenes perhaps highlight the loss of Khmer sovereignty to the Chams, and Jayavarman’s re-conquest of Khmer territory from the invaders.

Interestingly, the reliefs on the walls of the inner gallery depict Hindu deities like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Also there are scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the myth of the ‘Churning of the Sea of Milk’. These reliefs were made by one of Jayavarman’s successor, Jayavarman VIII.

Worship at Bayon Temple

You will find a small shrine in the central tower where people pray and perform religious rites. Earlier there was a large Buddha statue in the center of the temple. This is relocated to the side of the compound along the road.

Smiling Faces of Bayon TempleBuddha

Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple

Tour and Photography

After you cross the 2 galleries, you will climb to 3rd tier which is cross shaped. This 3rd platform has the central sanctuary. There are narrow chambers, steps and corridors.

I found it hard to follow a single route after this. Too many Buddha faces now! Moreover the fact that you are face to face with those huge smiling faces dazes you to a halt. By the time you compose yourself and take a picture you will find another face equally alluring smiling at you and then you take a picture of that and it goes on.

Walking through the maze of towers is a great experience because nowhere else in world you will see so many statues smiling at you at the same time. Most of all it is interesting to watch tourists photographing the smiling statues in Bayon Temple. The DOF factor is put into great use here while composing the shots. Some take simple pics by just standing in front of the statues, while some take face to face. Then there are some angles from which you can get 3 to 4 faces simultaneously. The possibilities are endless!

Smiling Faces of Bayon Temple and tourists1

Tourist smiling with Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple. No offense intended. A candid capture.

Smiling Faces of Bayon Temple and tourists

Smiling face through the doorway of a tower of smiling faces in Bayon Temple.

10 Photo Hunt Activities to do at Bayon Temple

  1. Khmer army procession in the bas relif
  2. Cham soldiers are thrown overboard and eaten by crocodiles.
  3. Chinese merchant seen in a business meeting with other Chinese people
  4. Markets with food stalls
  5. Ravana shaking mount Kailash
  6. Churning of the Oceans of milk
  7. Frame one of the ‘tower of faces’ through the door of another tower
  8. Find the angle from where you can get 4 faces in one frame
  9. Windows where you can sit, get photographed as if you are face to face with Buddha
  10. Find the tower with just one smiling face… I failed this

If you were there let me know how many of the above you could find.

Smiling Faces of Bayon Temple for pinterest

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67 Responses to “200 Smiling Faces in Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

  • Wonderful Temple. Thanks for the informative post on Bayon Temple.
    Awesome photos.

  • I loved the temples! I still live in Cambodia now on the south coast but these temples are a must see for anyone is Asia. so much history here 🙂

  • What a stunning site! I’d love to visit. I think it would be rather wonderful to spend several hours admiring the beautiful stone carved reliefs, the faces of course, and the entire complex. It’s interesting to learn more about the history and that subsequent kings respected what had been built before them and added to the site rather than “upgrading” it.

  • Such a beautiful temple, thank you for sharing! I’ve never been to Cambodia before (which is a crime in itself, as an Australian, it’s so close!) I’ll definitely have to visit one day. I love visiting temples when traveling, they’re so closely tied to local culture and history.

  • I’ve been to Angkor Wat ages ago, and I agree, the Bayon Temple is one of the highlights. I was traveling alone, so I didn’t get to take pics of myself in the Bayon but I would totally go back just for that. The whole complex is just amazing!

  • An amazing structure, love your photo hunt idea at the end.

  • What a fun place to visit! Crazy how much detail some of them have. It must have taken forever to carve!

  • I’ve always wanted to go to Cambodia! Their culture fascinates me and it looks like the kind of trip where you can find yourself, meditate and learn about their history. Your post was such an interesting read!

  • Bayon Temple looks like such a neat spot to explore! I love that there are so many smiling faces and how large they all are too! I feel like you could easily get lost in the maze of everything! Will have to check this out sometime for sure!

  • Carol Colborn
    5 months ago

    What a great temple and your photo hunting suggestion would be a great way to really explore it!

  • This post brought me back many good memories. I visited the bayon temple also 10 years ago. It s a beautiful place. Very special experience to visit it.

  • This was one of my favourite temples at Angkor Wat. The whole site blew me away but this one brought out the adventuress in me

  • It was really nice to see these 200 odd faces up close and personal last year. I loved the one in which if we clicked at a particular angle, it appeared as if we were touching noses. thanks for the trip down memory lane. Cheers!!

  • There is so much detail in the Bayon Temple at Angkor Wat. It would be interesting to know who the 200 faces were based on, I’d guess the king at the time. Your Photo Hunt sounds fun, I’d love to complete it on a visit to the Bayon Temple.

  • I’ve always wanted to visit here, but I had no idea about the smiling sculptures. It brings a happier view of this already amazing place.

  • Aldrick Agpaoa
    5 months ago

    I never imagined there are a lot of things to do in Bayon Temple! I am also intrigued by how intricate their art and craftsmanship is during the early times. It gives me an idea on where to go when I visit Cambodia (hopefully) next year!

  • Having mysterious smiling faces (two hundred of them) sounds creepy! 🙂 Like having a couple of hundred Mona Lisas.

  • This is a very useful and detailed post. its interesting to observe the indian gods and connections. Sometimes with so much carving and monuments having their names, I am guessing the lines between mythology and history are getting blurred. I loved your observation on ” There is confusion over whom does these 200 statues resemble. All statues have closed eyes and mysterious smiles on lips.”

  • Abigail Sinsona
    5 months ago

    I felt so lucky to have been able to visit this temple complex and see the structures for myself. Given the age of these structures, it is unbelievable the state of preservation for some of them. The Bayon Temple was something that I enjoyed exploring a lot as well. Your photos are incredible and I am getting a sense of nostalgia just by seeing your photos!

  • Bayon was my fav temple in Siem Reap. In fact, I liked it more than the Angkor Wat as well. It is such an awesome experience…gazing into many faces…I love to see their soft smile…Such awesome experiences to feel the emotions of the stones.

  • Wow, this place is stunning! Soo much history in the one spot! I love reading article’s that explain a bit about the history of what they are writing about. Good job! I find it amazing that the later rulers didn’t knock down the previous ruler towers in place for his own to be the biggest and more superior. Amazing!

  • Megan Jerrard
    5 months ago

    I love your photo hunt activities – what an awesome way to make the day fun! I’ve seen photos of the big smiling Buddha at Bayon Temple, and have always wanted to journey here for myself, though I had no idea that there were 200 smiling faces carved in stone! Thanks for detailing the experience of the full day, I didn’t know there were galleries here with incredible historic carvings too 🙂

  • How great are those smiling Buddhas! I’d love to go to Cambodia one day and see this for myself. Those are great tips for taking photos, I’d like to find the tower with the one smiling face!

  • What an incredible place! I LOVE that these are compared to Mona Lisa. We travel with the kids and I do my best to make it educational for them so they remember. It is always fun to see them make connections like this…hey, that reminds me of… I have an 11 year old boy who would really love that relief showing the croc biting a man, too. 😉

  • This was by far my favourite temple there! I enjoyed it more than Angkor Wat, and even went back to have a sunrise experience there away from the crowds, with just me and one other guy showing up a little later! Love your photo hunt idea 🙂

  • Beautiful photos and I can’t get over the fact how calm and serene the face is that just takes away all the stress and this is through photos so seeing and experiencing them in real must have been a wonderful experience. It really is an incredible place and the architecture plus the “sculptures” and just the ancient feel is extraordinary.

  • I’ve been twice and I loved it! I would definitely go back. You got some really great shots.

  • Next to Ta Prohm, this temple is my favorite in Siem Reap (yes, I even like it better than the great Angkor Wat itself. I am actually quite fond with these smiling faces carved on the stones. For some reason they made me smile too haha…

  • So wait there was a temple in Cambodia constructed by an Indian king ?

    • Indrani Ghose
      5 months ago

      Hi Harini, Hinduism spread till there, but the Kings were Cambodians.

  • Mysterious old temples with some great carvings..just the kind of destination that always allures us. I am sure Cambodia is full of such marvels of places. I will definitely visit here one day , taking your writeup as the reference.

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    5 months ago

    The Smiling faces of the Bayon temple are intriguing and at the same time mesmerizing. You have captured the enigmatic smiles in stone fabulously and the structures seem to come alive. Would love to get there some day to gaze up at the smiling structures.

  • Bayon Temple look so fascinating with all those smiling faces, though I must admit it looks a little scary for me at first when I see large faces looking down at me.

  • It looks so fascinating! What an incredible history. I have a weird tendency to see faces in things that aren’t even faces,haha! Yeah, I’m a weirdo 🙂

  • Wow, the sculptures are really magneficient and
    I have to agree the smiles are indeed mysterious. I have heard quite a bit about Bayon Temple but I had no idea about the famous smiling faces. The photo hunt activity sounds like a fun way to explore the historic places. Great captures Indrani :).

  • So why are there so many smiling faces of buddha in bayon? I went there in 2015.. i realized it is exactly two years ago… i should also share my photos haha but you have much better!

  • Bayon Temple is an absolutely stunning site to visit. I am amazed by the smiling faces. I can spend entire day capturing these stone curved faces. Excellent informative post.

  • Love the smiling faces! Appreciate the way you have captured the intricate details of these sculptures.

  • Great post! I have lived in Cambodia for a year now, and this is a must do whilst you visit the country! great write up! keep up the good work 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing an informative blog post! I loved the history behind the temple and the fact that no king dismantled the earlier structure, instead made his own contribution! Bayon temples are truly a heritage trove!

  • This here is one reason why I love Cambodia and want to visit. This is such a great post and I love all the photos of the sculptures. My 4yr old has a fascinate with sculptures.

  • Amazing blog and photos! I’m sure these will come very handy for people who have been craving to visit one of the world’s beautiful places, well that includes me.

  • More than the images, your description steals the show.
    Coming to the ‘smiles’, these are ‘smit hasya’ mudras- meaning the person is observing the world in an amused manner. I wish I get this countenance too.
    Great post. Made greater by short explanations of the bas reliefs.

  • Great images and information about Bayon temple. Love the candid picture of the smiling tourist. I loved the photo hunt activities , will surely follow that when I visit 🙂

  • Wow how beautiful! Been wanting to go to Cambodia for a long time now. Thinking about spending about a week there next year!

  • Bayon is just stunning Indrani. I can imagine how you must have felt there with so many faces staring at you. It must have been a frenzy yet a calming experience.

  • This is interesting. Usually, ancient people build sculptures depending on the character of a king. Maybe these smiling faces reflects their king on that time or something else. Overall, at first I think it’s creepy to see these smiling structures but it emits a kind of positive vibe in it. Will visit the Bayon temple soon once I do an Indochina tour in the future 🙂

  • Bayon Temple sounds like an awe inspiring structure. As a photographer, I’d probably go crazy trying to capture all the detail. Thanks for breaking it down.

  • I am always amazed at the ingenuity of the human race. What a stunning temple! Cambodia is a beautiful place I would love to visit someday and Angkor is on my list!

  • Your pictures of Bayon Temple are stunning. I can only imagine how impressive it is in person.

  • Oh, this must have been interesting to see in person, to be surrounded by smiling faces of that size! If you say that photos doesn’t do justice to Bayon Temple, that it’s so much more when you’re actually standing there, I can only imagine the experience. 🙂

  • It looks beautiful thanks for sharing those beautiful photos. We haven’t visited Cambodia yet but it’s on the list!

  • Wow, I certainly didn’t have all this information when I toured the temple on my own a couple years ago. You’ve definitely captured some great shots of it, and inspired me to return someday.

  • My goodness, it sounds like there is so much to explore! And it’s incredible how large they are- it’s amazing to think how they were constructed in the first place.

  • Wow, that’s so crazy how there are that many faces at the temple but it does look so beautiful though! I would love to see this in person and hope to do so when I visit Asia soon. I would probably spend the whole day there just looking at all the details and taking in all the faces all over.

  • I can imagine seeing so many would leave you a little turned around and dazed. I would like to see this. The detailed work and it still being intact the way it is, is amazing.

  • 11,000 carved figures?! Wow!! That must have been so impressive in person!

  • What a beautiful place! How awesome it must have been to see all this in person. Your photos are making me want to visit and take some of my own photos!

  • Very informative post on Bayon temple. Visiting 11th century place with so much architectural beauty and sculpture must be so nice. Smiling face has a very deep philosophical meaning and it is really represented in this statue. Great shots of this place and lots of information for Photo Hunt Activities. I am curious to see Ravana shaking Mount Kailash and Churning of Oceans.

  • Great post very informative, I have always wanted to visit Cambodia and when I go this is on my list to do, the temple reminds me a little bit of the Disney live act version of the Jungle Book. I loved the photo hunt activities idea. Great photo’s I really enjoyed this post.

  • Wow! The Bayon temple looks amazing. It has an architectural as well as sculptural beauty.The 200 calm smiling faces and 11,000 figurines itself are fascinating. Your pictures are great. I would love to visit this temple and check these photo hunt activities in future.

  • Magnificent architecture and captured very nicely. Such articles becomes more interesting when we know the history behind it and you always cover that part very nicely,enjoyed reading.

  • I imagine that, even though they’re so big, it must actually be pretty serene and peaceful with all the statues smiling down at you! Such a cool and quirky place to visit, and I love all of the intricate carvings in the walls. It’s crazy to think how such things could have been made so many years ago without modern technology and tools isn’t it? 🙂

  • What a mindblowing structure! That crocodile sculpture is delightfully grotesque.
    I din’t now about the sobriquet Mona Lisa of the SE. But when I saw that big face with a hint of smile, I realized why it was called so.

  • Such beautiful smiles. Such beautiful faces. 🙂
    You could have actually done a whole series on ‘Faces of Bayon.’ 😉

  • Yogi Saraswat
    4 months ago

    What is actually meaning of Bayon ? is it any place of this name there or deity ? The smiling statues are really very beautiful . I was focusing my eyes on very first picture of this post , it is made by joints , how they did it in 11th or 12th century ? it is really admirable work !!

    • Indrani Ghose
      4 months ago

      Not sure what Bayon means, it is the name of the place.
      Yes they are block of stone placed together and then figures are carved. They did not use mortar in many of the temples there.

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