Angkor Thom South Gate, CambodiaAfter watching the sunrise in Angkor Wat, we took a short tuk-tuk ride to the walled city of Angkor Thom. It was the capital city of Khmer empire established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarrman VII (endearingly nicknamed “King J” by our tuk-tuk driver).  This vast city is a home to cluster of splendid temple ruins, but there were two ruins that we could not get out of our heads – the South Gate and Bayon Temple.

Upon approaching the South Gate of Angkor Thom, we were greeted by fascinating giant faces wearing slew of expressions – smiling, serene, serious, angry, scary, etc.

Deva Faces of Angkor Thom South Gate, CambodiaLined up on the left side of the causeway are 54 figures of devas (gods).


Asura Faces of Angkor Thom South Gate, CambodiaAnd the right side is lined up with the 54 figures of asuras (demons).  Both rows were holding a naga (serpent) as if they were engaged in a tug of war. Although Angkor Thom is a Buddhist city, it is said that this scene depicts the Hindu mythology of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.


Faces of Angkor Thom South Gate, CambodiaFaces of various expressions.


With a Face of  Angkor Thom South Gate, CambodiaMy two favorite faces:)


Elephants entering Angkor Thom South Gate, Cambodia

Visitors on elephants passing through the South Gate tower, which is sculpted with  four giant faces gazing into four cardinal directions. These faces are similar to the ones found at one of the most iconic  temples of Angkor – the Bayon.


Bayon Temple

A Face Tower in Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon Temple, also called the Face Towers, was built by King J VII as his state temple right in the very center of Angkor Thom. If Angkor Wat is elegant and proper, we found Bayon eclectic and wild.


Faces in Bayon Temple. Angkor Wat, CambodiaBayon was dedicated by King J to Avalokitesvara, the universal god of compassion.


Faces in Bayon Temple. Angkor Wat, CambodiaIt is said that Bayon is a testament to King J VII’s deep spirituality as well as his inflated ego. Although the faces with enigmatic smiles were supposed to represent Avelokitesvara, the faces were said to be modeled after the king’s own.


Faces in Bayon Temple. Angkor Wat, Cambodia-


Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, CambodiaThere were originally 54 towers with four faces each and were once more elaborate. The central tower was said to be covered with gold leaf. Today, only 37 towers stand.


 Bas Relief in Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, CambodiaAside from the face towers, Bayon is also adorned with intricate bas reliefs depicting Khmer’s traditional symbols and daily life.


Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom

 Someone was smiling behind our back.

We found Bayon one of the very distinct among the many Angkor temples and was one of the Angkor highlights for us. Some call it bizarre for a temple, but that’s what makes it memorable.

Check out our other Angkor Highlights:
1.  Angkor Wat.            2.  Ta Prohm
     3.  Banteay Srei           4.  Kbal Spean
        5.  Koh Ker                    6.  Beng Mealea


Travel Notes:
  • To dodge the crowd, the best time to visit Angkor Thom is during sunrise or right after sunrise when most of the crowds are still in Angkor Wat.
  • The South Gate of Angkor Thom is located 7.2 kms (4.5 miles) north of Siem Reap and 1.7 kms (1.1 miles) north of the entrance to Angkor Wat. It  is easily reachable by tuk-tuk, motorbikes or car from Siem Reap. Transporation can be arranged through your hotel.
  • Passes are required for entry to Angkor area. You can buy a 1-day pass for $20, 3-day pass for $40 and 7-day pass for $60. The 3-day pass is good for any 3 days within a week while the 7-day pass is good for any 7 days within a month.
  • Suggested reading: Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques.
  • Suggested accommodation: We stayed at Shinta Mani, a beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel and we highly recommend. We call it a hotel with a heart as it donates part of your nightly rate to help local communities. It has a non-profit component that trains locals in hospitality business as well as contributes in health programs.


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About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

46 responses to “Angkor Thom: The Faces of South Gate & Bayon Temple

    • Hi Sophie, the sunrise at Angkor Wat is truly magical and mystical. It’s a must see if you visit that temple. I hope you get to visit it soon.

    • Hi Nancie, this is my second trip to Cambodia as well and Iook forward to going back. Aside from the amazing temples, the people are just so wonderful.

  1. Leigh

    I can’t get over your second photo in particular – what expressions on their faces. I’m with Sophie – I think a visit at sunrise – before the heat and the crowds would be magical.
    Leigh recently posted..A Walk in the WoodsMy Profile

  2. I like your two favourite faces shot. Faces seem very important in the temples. I can’t wait to get there later this year. Thanks for the info about the different passes. I think we will go the three day pass. What did you get?
    budget jan recently posted..A Panoramic View over Sintra: Castelo MourosMy Profile

  3. What a beautiful place to visit. Angkor wat has been on my travel wish list too but have not heard of these faces. They’re incredible and I love their various expressions. You’ve really captured the details of this incredible place. Gorgeous pictures, Marisol!
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Celebrating America’s National Park Week in PhotosMy Profile

    • Hi Mary, thanks! It’s one of the must see when you visit Angkor. I’m sure kids will be fascinated by the giant heads and faces. They’re truly fascinating.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Jackie, thanks! I’m sure you’ll love Angkor. I hope you get to it soon.

  4. Johanna

    Although they are cast if stone, some of those faces are so lifelike. It looks as if it could be a fairly spooky experience, one to bring out the writer in you, especially considering how ancient the temple is. Your photos really bring the experience to life.

    • Hi Jo,
      Yes, it can be spooky at times because some of the faces seemed to be looking right through you. You have see them in person to see how amazing they are. I’m sure they can inspire you to write something truly interesting.

  5. Absolutely stunning photos! Especially the angle of the first one. I can’t help but notice your superb photography and editing skills. You’ll have to give me a little class one day! 😉 I’m still learning…

    As for Angkor Thom, I must admit, I had never heard of it before reading your article. Little did I know that was actually the capital of the Khmer Empire! I love history, so thanks for the little tour :)

    – Maria Alexandra
    Maria Alexandra @LatinAbroad recently posted..Puerto Rico Beach Thursday: Cueva del Indio Arecibo photosMy Profile

    • Hola Maria Alexandra, thanks! Glad you enjoyed the photography. It takes a lot of practice and lessons. Keep on clicking and you’ll get there:)
      Also glad that you enjoyed the history lesson.

  6. Lisa

    I’ve heard of Angkor Wat but not of Angkor Thom – and it looks so beautiful! The expressions on the statues are fascinating – and I guess when you’re king it’s okay to have all the statues made in your likeness! Your photos are stunning!
    Lisa recently posted..Shopping in New York City: Emma StyleMy Profile

    • Hi Lisa, not a lot of people hear about Angkor Thom and other Angkor temples until they make plans to visit Cambodia. There are a lot of beautiful, amazing Angkor temples that don’t get as much press as Angkor Wat. We’ll post more of them in the next few weeks.

  7. Kira S.

    Hello buddies, those faces are amazing! What a unique temple that Bayon is. Really eclectic as you said. Looks like your friend Gaudi from Spain would design. Ha! Ha!

    • Hi Kira, Ha! Ha! Didn’t think about it, but now that you mention, it’s actually a bit Gaudi-esque.

  8. This is my first time to see pictures of the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Are some of the faces restored while others are left untouched? Both temples are going on my Siem Reap list. Did you use a guide for your temple visits? If so, how did you hire one?

    • HI Michelle, yes some of the faces are restored. We didn’t hire a guide. You can arrange for a certified guide through your hotel at the same time you arrange for transportation. Some guides double as drivers. There are guides that offer their services right on the temples but then you cannot be sure if they’re certified or not.

  9. Bama

    I remember riding a bicycle very early in the morning from Siem Reap to Angkor, and I found Bayon a very tranquil place. It was actually one of the highlights of my trip as well. I’ve never seen any temple like this before, with so many giant faces. Some might find them scary, but for me they’re fascinating! Btw, love the way the tuktuk driver called King Jayavarman with King J. :)
    Bama recently posted..Taitung: Aspiring to be InspirationalMy Profile

    • Hi Bama, It truly is fascinating and very unique. I’m glad you enjoyed it as well during your visit. Ha! Ha! We were actually glad our tuk-tuk driver introduced us to that nickname; it’s much easier on the tounge.

  10. Dennis

    Looks like they’ve added “new” heads on the South Gate. I remember posing behind a headless torso there 8 years ago.

    • Hi Dennis, there were still headless torsos but didn’t post photos of them as our focus were on the “faces.”

  11. wonderful images. I am always amazed at the age of our historic treasuers. And thanks for the travel tips – one day maybe I will get there.
    Have a wonderful week and thank yo for stopping by my blog last week – we have been away trecking and only just back – so catching up!

    • Hi Jill, thanks. I know, these ancient treasures are beyond amazing.
      I hope you had a nice trek. I hope to read and see photos of it in your posts.

  12. Some expressions these faces have. Was Keith trying out an expression as well? :) Some beautiful photos and great information. I haven’t been Cambodia but now I’m interested in visiting.
    Salika Jay recently posted..Best Ways To Travel Around BaliMy Profile

    • Hi Salika,
      Ha! Ha! Yes, Keith did try to mimic some of the expressions, but he was embarrased to have the shots posted:) Cambodia is a really fascinating country with really wonderful people. I hope you get to go there soon.

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  14. nydia

    Such a wonderful place. Yep, I have a plan to go there and I will in the future. lovely post and thanks for sharing!

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