Phnom Bakheng

March 1, 2009

in Angkor Temples

Temple Name: Phnom Bakheng
Notable Features: Lion statues that flank the pathway up the pyramid.
Getting There: From Siem Reap, take the road to Angkor Wat. You will continue past Angkor Wat until you reach Phnom Bakheng on the left side of the road.

Yasovarman’s State-Temple

King Yasovarman I erected Phnom Bakheng late in the 9th century to be the state-temple of the Khmer Empire. Prior to the construction of Phnom Bakheng, the Khmer state-temple was located in the city of Ruluos. The construction of Phnom Bakheng marked the beginning of a complete relocation of the Khmer capital. Yasovarman’s new capital city was called Yasodharapura.

Phnom Bakheng is a 13-meter tall step pyramid, made of five ascending layers. Each layer is a square terrace upon which an array of carvings and other structures can be observed. From atop the final layer, visitors can view the prasats (towers) of Angkor Wat in the southeastward distance.

Two carved lions, some of the most superb examples of Khmer stonework, guard the pathway leading up the pyramid. Each of the pyramid’s five layers is guarded by another set of carved lions. Small sanctuary prasats (towers) stand at each of the layers’ four corners.

At the top of the pyramid, after a steep stair climb (70% incline), visitors can explore the quincunx formation of prasats. A quincunx is a temple design in which five towers are erected in an “X” pattern.

Phnom Bakheng is best viewed late in the day, or early in the morning. Climbing the temple’s steep stairs is not recommended in the heat of midday. If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, you can choose to take an elephant ride to the top of the pyramid. This charming, old-world transportation modality is a wonderful treat after a day of intense temple trekking.

Phnom Bakheng has become a rather famous place to watch the sunset. As a result, the temple can get very crowded late in the day. Watching the sunset from atop Phnom Bakheng is a remarkable sight. The sunrays illuminate the prasats of Angkor Wat, Phnom Krom, and bounce off the surface of the Tonle Sap Lake. Even if you’re not a fan of large crowds, you should bear the chaos for one evening. Once you see the sunset, the crowds will disappear into the surrounding beauty.

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