The very top of the Grand Palace is shown here being cleaned and repaired in places to make it safer for tourists. The giant structure looks and feels like a pyramid and we got as close to the top as we could.
The giant crumbling stone architecture of Bayon soared above the jungle, greeting our group of travelers on the second stage of our journey. The ancient vaults of Bayon are central to the Angkor Thom area and the most important place to see after Angkor Wat. Our small group of adventurers arrived at the Cambodian monument ahead of the morning rush. Right on time.
The Lokesvara faces of Bayon. They project out from all of the towers in the temple, smiling down on the tourists. It almost makes you feel welcome. (KRISTA MILLS)
This is one of the crumbled entrance areas. It is possible to climb on this and the other places in Bayon except for two things. The security guards stationed against this kind of idiocy and how dangerous it is to climb up on something this old. (KRISTA MILLS)
Bayon was the capital of King Jayavarman VII, who built the structure in the late 12th century. Later rulers and dynasties added Hindu and Buddhist imagery to the frescoes and architecture slowly creating the temple that exists today. The only pieces that have remained largely the same are the giant faces that jut from four sides of many of the towers.
The faces are Lokesvara or "Lord who looks down." It is interesting to note that there are some similarities when compared to the image of King Jayavarman VII. Some speculate that not only do they embody the Buddhist compassion of all Buddhas, but also as a way for the King to keep an eye on his subjects. Big Brother is always watching, even eight hundred years ago.
The five of us climbed around the disintegrating ruins, taking pictures and seeing how high up the towers the stairs let us go. There were Buddhist shrines scattered through the innards of the temple. People were praying and tour groups were arriving. It was very busy and very easy to get lost. That was when things became exciting.
Deep in one of the lower chambers of a tower my friend Patrick and I found an unfastened stone in the wall. The same thought crossed both our minds. We looked at each other and reached for the stone at the same time. We had to find out what was behind it.
I got to the rock first and very carefully drew the brick from the wall. Right away I knew that this had been done before. The rock was too loose and came out too easily. As expected there was nothing behind it but that did not mean we were finished. If we had this idea then someone else would again.
I took a bunch of change out of my pocket and placed it carefully in the empty space where a Hindu idol should have been. Patrick smiled and put the rock back and we left the room hiding our laughs. Someone was going to have a good day.
From Bayon we walked through the giant pyramidal Grand Palace where we ran out of water. The combination of heat and humidity and my inability to conceive temperatures that high led me to believe that two liters would be enough for the whole time. We decided to press on anyway and climb to the top of the palace. About halfway up we stopped for a rest and looked out over the temple-strewn jungle and realized we had a lot more to see and do. Without wasting time we got to the top, enacted an Aztec human sacrifice (fake) and found our way back into the forest.
Our adventure through the Jungles of Cambodia would continue.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 23, 2013