Day 1, we started off with Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is a relatively large complex of temples and Bayon is the main attraction. On our way to the Angkor Thom in the morning, we came across a large group of monkeys in the road. What’s sad is other tourists were feeding them white bread which makes them more aggressive towards tourists. At the end, the American woman feeding the monkey bread was getting her skirt tugged on by several monkeys. Tsk tsk.
Bayon Temple is known as the Temple of Many Faces, and there are large Buddha faces carved into the temple. The earlier temples of Siem Reap are mainly Hindu, while the later ones are Buddhist, signifying the shift in religions in the kingdom. When the shift to Buddhism happened, many of the Hindu symbols were taken down and converted to Buddhas.
We got to the temple relatively early in the day, so luckily we got to enjoy the temple relatively tour group-free for a few minutes before they swarmed our photos. =) The tour groups are everywhere! Loud and large. Actually, we were surprised by how many Asian tourists there were—mostly from China, but also Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Here was probably one of the few international historical destinations where Asian tourists outnumbered Western tourists (besides attractions in China). It was funny to have some Chinese tourists come up to me to speak Chinese and was nice to practice my Chinese a bit.
Outside of Bayon Temple, there are a few other smaller temples to visit and the Elephant Terrace, which has tons of bas relief carvings along the wall. Since the tour groups only hit up the main temples, we got these smaller ones to ourselves. We came across a temple that had three huge tree trunks growing on top the stairs. It looked like the trees were sawed off but the trunks were left behind. During the restoration of these temples, most of the trees were removed. But the ones left behind are a reminder of the ruin of this once great capital and how neglected they were to have so many trees take seed and essentially grow into the temple.