musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Faces and Crowds at Bayon

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The Angkor archaeological complex boasts hundreds of atmospheric ancient temples, from small to large. The most famous, of course, is the sprawling icon itself, Angkor Wat. Another very popular spot is Ta Phrom and its distinctive tree-sprouting ruins.

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There are plenty of other fascinating temples too, ones that I’ve visited countless times, but the one I’m most drawn to is Bayon, the temple “with all those faces” in Angkor Thom. There is just something about gazing upon those huge enigmatic carved faces that fascinates me. Pick just the right spot and you find yourself surrounded by a gallery of stone faces. I must have visited Bayon about 20 times over the past 15 years and the place still spellbinds me.

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The downside to visiting Bayon nowadays, or any popular temple in the Angkor park for that matter, is trying to appreciate the ruins without being trampled by hordes of other tourists. And it’s not a case of a few backpackers getting in your way; it’s the large tour groups — many of them hailing from Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Thailand — that are the problem.

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Wanting to see Bayon early in the morning, but not so eager that I wanted to get up for the sunrise, I arrived with my Cambodian friends about 7:45 in the morning one day recently. Too late; the tourist hordes were already swarming all over the place, mostly snapping photos with their smart phones or posing with members of their group for more shots. A few other people could be seen trying to touch the carvings, even though posted signs asked them to refrain from doing just that. Good thing I wasn’t carrying a gun!

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Although I love visiting Bayon, after this latest tourist infestation I imagine it will be a few years down the road before I’m brave enough to attempt another visit.

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