Phnom Bakheng is a temple mountain dedicated to Shiva. It was built by King Yasovarman at the end of the 9th century. Phnom means hill or mountain in English and as such, Phnom Bakheng was built at the top of a hill. This hill is perfect for watching the sunset at Angkor Wat.
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of watching the sunset, the WMF (World Monuments Fund) has been working to preserve the temple as it’s one of the most threatened temples in Angkor.
Built more than two hundred years before Angkor Wat, Bahkeng temple was the state temple for Yasovarman when he founded his new capital city called Yashodharapura with Bakheng his greatest achievement.
889 - 910 AD
Hinduism and Buddhism
Late Afternoon for the Sunset
1 - 2 hours
To reach the temple at the top, there is a winding path which takes you to the foot of the temple. At the end of this path, there are some steep steps which will take you the rest of the way to the temple. These steep steps can get quite crowded during peak times, so be careful to take extra care.
When leaving after the sunset, it will be dark. You’ll see hundreds of tuk tuks lined up waiting for their customers to return and it might be difficult to locate yours. Sometimes, it may be easier to hang back a little and wait for the crowds to disperse.
Siem Reap: 8.4km
Angkor Thom: 2.8km
Angkor Wat: 1.3km
Ta Prohm Kel: 1.0km
The Angkor Wat Sunset Tour is by far the most popular option which includes Phnom Bakheng. If you’re not interested in seeing the sunset, it might pay to visit earlier in the day to avoid the large crowds. The view from the top from all sides is equally as stunning whether you see it in the morning or afternoon.
How to get a good spot for the sunset at Angkor Wat
You’ll want to get there a few hours early to get a good spot. To beat the crowds, you’ll want to arrive at the temple around 4pm. It takes around half an hour to reach the top. You can spend a little time looking around the temple before taking up your position overlooking Angkor Wat.
You’ll be amazed at how many people come every day to see the sunset and it will soon become clear of the importance of a the WMF’s conservation project. Tourism is slowly destroying the temples at Angkor and none faster than Phnom Bakheng.
There is no accommodation in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Most guests will stay at a hotel in Siem Reap which is located just a few kilometres down the road. There are hundreds of hotels in Siem Reap to suit all preferences and budgets.
Why Visit Phnom Bakheng?
There are many reasons why you might want to visit Phnom Bakheng and the most popular reason is to see the sunset!
Moreover, the temple itself is quite rightly described as a “masterpiece” and the temple alone is a good enough reason to hike to the top of the temple. With the seven tiers, plenty of towers, carvings, guardian statues, inscriptions, and more, you’ll find Phnom Bakheng to be in a class of it’s own. In fact, it sometimes known as the first Angkor.
The view from the temple is equally as amazing. It’s so amazing, that it was used during the filming of Tomb Raider. In the scene where Lara croft first arrives in the Kingdom, she uses binoculars to look out over the the horizon.
Although most people will look out to the south east towards Angkor Wat, views to the north will feature Angkor Thom. To the east, you might see the large grey expanse of the West Baray reservoir, if you look closely enough!
Phnom Bakheng was built more than 200 years before Angkor Wat in the late 9th and early 10th century. It was build by King Yasovarman as both a Hindu and a Buddhist temple. It was dedicated to Shiva.
It was Yasovarman’s greatest achievement and the centrepiece of his new capital city – Yasodharapura which he moved from Hariharalaya (Roluos).
The temple was originally built with 108 towers which were arranged to symbolise the four lunar phases. However, many of these towers have long since collapsed.
At some point, probably under the reign of Jayavarman VII, the temple was converted into a Buddhist temple. A huge sitting Buddha was erected on the upper tier, although nowadays it no longer exists. Moreover, a large reclining Buddha was carved into stone. Only the outlines of this carving remain today.
The area was rediscovered by French explorer Henri Mouhot. In 1859 he wrote that the view was so beautiful that it was no surprise that it was chosen as the site for such a major temple.
Conservation Master Plan
In 2004, the WMF started to plan for conservation of the site after a half-million dollar grant from the US. The master plan for the conservation of Phnom Bakheng started in 2007 to make emergency repairs, interventions and visitor management. To date, more than $5 million has been donated to help protect the temple.
Layout and Design
The temple was built as temple mountain. There are seven tiers with many towers and sanctuaries to explore. There are still some nice carvings to be seen too.
What does it symbolise?
Phnom Bakheng was built to symbolise Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Hindu gods. The temples pyramid with seven layers represents the seven heavens.
One hundred and four towers were built evenly over the lower four levels of the temple mountain. They were placed so that only 33 could be seen from any one side. This represented the number of gods who live on Mount Meru.
The temple ended up being the mausoleum for King Yasovarman.
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