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A Hush seeps into your very soul as you enter into the great city of Angkor Thom. Dense jungle growth, sultry heat and stone statuary the likes only Indiana Jones might've encountered engage your senses at every turn. Indeed, over nine ornately beautiful temples stand here and beckon with mystery within the ancient borders of Angkor Thom.
"Godliness in the majesty and the size; mystery in the expression" ~de Beerski 1920
The sun painted in shadows as it moved across the sky, highlighting the features of these massive faces. Their expressions as they gazed down at us were serene and seemingly all- knowing: Sentinel, Witness, Other-worldly Recorders...were some the words that came to mind.
What a frail creature is man, but what astounds is what man can do...
Angkor city was built to symbolize the Universe. Divided into four parts, Bayon (where the big faces are) with its wondrous dimensional architecture and fantastic bas relief carvings stands at the center. Its builders meant it to be the conduit between heaven and earth. The moat, surrounding, symbolizes the cosmic ocean (the ocean of immortality. ) From here, the Apsaras (earth's celestial dancers -- man's guardian angels?) spring forth.
Zhou Daguan, an Chinese emissary provided the only first-hand account of the magnificence of Angkor Thom as seen in its 'hey-day'. He recorded the following:
"At the center of the Kingdom rises a Golden tower Bayon flanked by more than twenty lesser towers and several hundred stone chambers. On the eastern side is a golden bridge guarded by two lions of gold, one on each side, with eight golden Buddhas spaced along the stone chambers. North of the Golden Tower of Bronze [Baphuon], higher even than the Golden tower. A truly astonishing spectacle. With more than ten chambers at its base. A quarter of a mile further north is the residence of the King rising above his private apartments is another tower of gold, These are the monuments which have caused merchants from overseas to speak so often of "Cambodia the rich and noble "
"The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by lower lids utter not a word and yet force you
Words cannot adequately express the delicious feeling of 'stepping into the surreal' while held in the gaze of these calm and reassuring faces. Over 200 of them adorn the three levels of the Buddhist temple. Some scholars say the faces are that of the Bodhisattva (a being that compassionately keeps herself from entering heaven in order to save others.) And some claim they are that of King Jayavarman VII who was a benevolent ruler and good to his subjects. They are most likely a combination of the two. Regardless, one can't help but wonder how they actually appeared, back in the day in all their pristine glory. It is a testament though, to the beauty and infinite mystery surrounding Bayon that these 'Smiles of Angkor' have never once faltered.