The Bayon temple is located in the center of Angkor Thom. The temple is one of the most popular sites in the Angkor complex. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries by king Jayavarman VII. The architectural composition of the Bayon exudes grandness in every aspect. Over 200 large faces caved on the 54 tower give this temple its majestic character which at that time represents the 54 provinces in Cambodia. The iconography of the four faces has been widely debated by scholar and some think they represent the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, in keeping with the Buddhist character of the temple, it is generally accepted that the four faces on each of the towers are images of King Jayavarman VII and signify omnipresence of the king.
The plan of the Bayon is presented on three separate levels. The first and second levels contain galleries featuring the bas-reliefs. A 16-seded central sanctuary dominates the third level, which is cruciform in plan. Despite this seemingly simple plan, the layout of galleries, passages and steps, connected in a way that makes the levels practically indistinguishable and created dim lighting, narrow walkways and ceiling.
Besides the architecture and the smiling faces, the highlight of Bayon is undoubtedly the bas-reliefs. The bas-reliefs on the inner gallery are a marked departure from anything previously seen at Angkor. They are unique and contain genre scenes of everyday life-markets, fishing, festivals with cockfights and jugglers and so on – and historical scenes with battles and processions. The bas-relief is more deeply carved than at Angkor Wat, but the representation is less stylized. The scenes are presented mostly in two or three horizontal panels. The lower one, with an unawareness of the laws of perspective, shows the foreground, whereas the upper tier presents scenes of the horizon. They both exhibit a wealth of creativity. Descriptions of the bas-reliefs in this guide follow the normal route for viewing the Bayon. They begin in the middle of the east gallery and continue clock-wise. Visitors should keep the monument on their right.