Sunday, December 18, 2011

That one with the big faces

The 216 identical giant stone faces gazing serenly out of Prasat Bayon will already be familiar to anyone who's ever walked down any tacky party street in any city in South East Asia and seen cheap fibreglass imitations adorning gaudy clubs unfailingly named 'Angkor Wat.' These establishments are presumably run by the same people who think the Sphinx is in Cairo, that every establishing shot of Britain needs to have Tower Bridge in it and that Frankenstein's monster was named 'Frankenstein' (when we all know 'Frankingstein' is the correct pronunciation).

There's no need to get too pedantic about this arguably trivial distinction between two ancient cities located a short tuk-tuk jaunt from each other that were abandoned more than four centuries ago, but I've made the thankless effort to label these photos correctly so you're going to bloody well learn something.

Visiting the compact and creepy Angkor Thom directly after stomping around its broader and more famous relative really hammers the differences home. Which is what I'm going to attempt to do here. With real hammers.

Angkor Thom,
Angkor Archaeological Park

This will surprise you, but some of these extremely different looking heads are actually dramatic reconstructions!

Three-headed Buddha at Angkor Thom south gate.
It must be hell for this guy deciding whether he fancies tea or biscuits

Prasat Bayon

Okay kids, open your fact hole: this city was built in the late 12th or early 13th century, making it about 100 years younger than Angkor Wat and built in the baroque Khmer style.

That's enough Wikipedia - back to 'hilarious' observational comedy

One of the lazier restoration efforts I've seen.
There are hands coming out all over the place, and I'm not even sure which is the head end.

Bas relief depicting the Khmer army marching to... yeah whatever, let's get to the big faces

I count four faces, but there may be more. I've tried to train my mind not to spot faces in random stimuli, and now I don't know what to think

They apparently can't decide whether the faces depict Avalokitesvara, Lokesvara or Jayavarman VII. Just give them a face each, there's plenty to go round


The first of several freestanding pyramid-style temples lying around the place that are impossible not to climb, as difficult as the 11th century Hindu architects tried to make it with perilous steps

Either those columns in the foreground are tiny, or this is the most doc-off thing I've seen since Luxor Temple(I won't spoil the magic by revealing it's the first one)

Though at 50 metres, you could still probably achieve a decent degree of splatter

Just don't get any crazy ideas about climbing up to the central tower...

Why even build the steps if you're not going to let me use them? The temple-teases

Whatever this was, it makes nice debris

Notice anything unusual?

Can y'till what it is yit?

There you go. I almost wish the enthusiastic American hadn't pointed it out to me, to see whether I finally saw the unfinished Buddha when writing this or if I'd still fail to spot it.

Makes me wonder what other optical illusions have slipped me by over the last 15 months

Phimeanakas and Terrace of the Elephants

Built in the 10th century during the reign of Rajendravarman, this is the oldest thing we've seen so far

Unfortunately, it's also the least interesting.
Plus I was getting hungry

So here are some elephants

And a family of monkeys

And some bricks in a tree. That's mental! Whoever heard of temples getting so overgrown, entire massive tree trunks were able to entwine throughout their structures in often spectacular ways...?

Tune in next time for the answer.


  1. Bit disappointed there aren't any mental comment on this post.

  2. I think the Anonymous who posted well-written but slightly confused comments on my Angkor Wat post is different from the Anonymous who's been posting insane racist shit on some of my Philippines posts.