The beautiful Baphuon is a striking part of the Angkor Thom complex in Cambodia. Often less busy than its more famous counterparts, the temple has an interesting history and hidden statue. It has a wonderful approach along its long, raised processional path passing between the remains of its reflection pools.
Built in the 11th century as the state temple for Udayadityavarman II, Baphuon was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. But in the late 15th century, the three-tiered temple was converted to a Buddhist site. As a result of this conversion, hidden on the west-facing section of the third enclosure wall is a giant reclining Buddha. The brickwork forming the reclining Buddha image is nine meters (30 feet) tall and 70 meters (230 feet) long. The statue was built into the west side of the temple’s second level, which probably required the demolition of an eight-meter (26-foot) tower to supply stones for the statue.
Walking around the base of the temple is uncanny, as what initially appears to be oddly-placed blocks in the wall start to take on the shape of the Buddha’s face. Almost as soon as you see it, the image starts to disappear again as the profile changes once you are directly opposite.
The temple was constructed on land filled with sand. Due to its immense size, the site was incredibly unstable throughout its history. It is thought that large portions had already collapsed by the time the Buddha was added.
By the 20th century, much of the temple had collapsed. A large-scale restoration project saw the temple dismantled so that its core could be strengthened before its reconstruction. This process was interrupted when the Cambodian Civil War broke out in 1970. Archaeologists were forced to leave the 300,000 blocks carefully numbered and organized over 10 hectares of land surrounding the temple site. Unfortunately, these plans were lost during the Khmer Rouge conflict. It was not until April 2011, after 51 years of work, that the restored temple was unveiled and the giant Buddha’s face once again stared serenely out of the complex once again.
Know Before You Go
Follow the Buddha's serene gaze out towards the jungle and you will spot a trail through the trees. Follow the trees to find Phimeanakas temple hidden in a clearing in the jungle.