Monday, April 5, 2010

Revisiting the Buddhas of the Bayon (Cambodia)

I recently had the opportunity to go back to Cambodia after 16 years. Unlike my first trip, back in 1994, this time I was there on work and on a very tight schedule. Sightseeing was out of the question, even though my work took me to Siem Reap, a city surrounded by the fabulous Hindu and Buddhist temples of Angkor. As we drove closer to Siem Reap, my memories of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, in particular, grew ever more vivid.

I remembered how I had loved the early morning visit to the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom. The roof of this temple is covered by huge Buddha heads, all serene, yet each with a somewhat different expression. Up on the roof you feel you are surrounded by the presence of the Buddha - everywhere you look, the Buddha, larger than life, is smiling quietly at you. And if you go just before sunrise and watch the sun come up from atop the temple, you can see each face come alive as the sun's rays hit it. It is a beautiful, calm, serene feeling.

This memory began to haunt me. Even if I couldn't visit any of the temples during daylight hours, surely I could steal away for an hour or so at day-break and visit my old friend the Buddha. So I fixed for a thuk-thuk driver to come pick me up from my hotel at 5:30 in the morning and drive me to the Bayon. Given my programme, this was only possible on my last day in Cambodia.

The afternoon before the much-anticipated morning I fell ill! I finished my work and went back to my hotel room to ride out a fever and get some kind of food poisoning or water infection - whatever it was - out of my system. I slept, woke up and did Reiki (energy healing), fell asleep, woke up and did Reiki, and so on. At 9:30 at night I forced myself to eat some bread and butter to keep my strength up, set my alarm for 4:30 and went to sleep praying I'd be fit enough to go to the Bayon next morning.

And of course I was! No doubt the Buddha heard my prayers and helped me recover quickly! A lovely tuk-tuk ride through nearly deserted streets in the early morning light (even before sunrise), a cool, soft breeze, driving past Angkor Wat and into Angkor Thom - and then we were there, at the magnificent Bayon temple.

My memory had not deceived me. The Bayon at sunrise is a glorious site. The sunrise is kind of quiet - the sky is already light, so the sunrise itself is not dramatic - but the sun's rays seem to wake up the Buddhas all around one.

I walked, sat before some of the Buddhas, walked again, took a few picture. Talked a little to the Buddhas - yes, I am a little crazy, so what? I lost track of time, but I guess I must have been there about 2 hours - until the foreign tourists started arriving (other than myself that is). The first lot were a group of 4 loudly discussing their negotiations over something they had bought and seemingly not too interested in the Buddhas around them. Soon the tourist buses began to arrive too. Time to go.

But the rest of my work team were running a bit late. So the tuk-tuk driver drove me around the historical site to see some of the other temples and the elephant terrace of the old palace. With my head still full of the magnificent Buddhas of the Bayon, and my body still a little weak from the previous day's illness, I was content to see the rest from the tuk-tuk. We drove back to the Bayon and my colleague phoned to say the team would take a little more time. No problem, I said and settled down practically in the shadow of the Bayon Buddhas to have a nice al fresco breakfast.


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  4. I love your descriptions of the temples. Even as a local, I never realized Bayon is such magnificent to experience at sunrise. I'll do it when I'm back to Siem Reap this weekend (hopefully) to visit my wife.


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