Angkor Thom was once a maginificent walled city, surrounded by a huge moat. There are large gates on each of the four walls. Each gate bears the face of Buddha facing in the four directions of the compass and each gate is large enough for an army to pass through on elephants’ backs. Today, tourists ride elephants across the bridge over the moat, through the entrance gate and on to the Bayon temple. Between the gate and the temple, a troop of playful macaque monkeys distracted us for a few minutes.
The Bayon is quite exceptional. It has three levels, featuring 54 towers. On these towers, the smiling face of Buddha looks out over the forest in all four directions – a total of 216 throughout the temple complex. Around the walls are beautiful bas-relief carvings telling the story of epic battles, as well as depicting scenes of the everyday life of the Khmer people. At some point in history, Hindus used the temple. They chiselled the third eye on each Buddha face, so that it now became the face of the Hindu god Shiva and it was to this god that they dedicated the temple.