Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng is a temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temple is located on top of a hill, thus from the temple one can get a nice panoramic view of the surroundings, including Angkor Wat not far away from there. This temple is one of the oldest in the area, being built in late 9th to early 10th century. Today it is becoming a popular place to go especially around sunset time. Given its age and the high volume of visitors, it is among the most threatened monuments in Angkor.

We went to visit Phnom Bakheng right after finishing our tour in Angkor Wat. It was a pretty short distance to go from Angkor Wat to the base of the hill where Phnom Bakheng was located. From there, we joined hundreds of other visitors hiking up the hill (about a mile or so) towards the temple. When we get to the base of the temple, our tour guide Vanna told us that he would wait there while Kristi and I climb up to the temple. He’s been there many times, and there were so many people going up there that he said it’s better for him to just wait there while we go up and enjoy the panoramic view.

The steps to climb up to the temple were quite steep; we had to go up very very carefully. Once we got up there, we saw so many people already waiting for the sun to go down. We followed suit and just waited, and took photos around the sunset time just like everyone else. I lost my directional bearing while up there and couldn’t really locate where Angkor Wat was, as I was hoping to be able to see Angkor Wat complex from higher elevation. Only later on after I got back to my hotel and looked at the area map that I realized most people were so focusing on the sunset in the west, that not many people were really looking at Angkor Wat that was located southeast of Phnom Bakheng.

After the sunset was done, we continued with a careful stepping down to the base of the temple. Again, it was quite steep, and with many people trying to go down around the same time (before it gets too dark), it was quite an interesting experience. I understood then why Vanna didn’t want to go up there…

The photo below was taken around sunset time when everyone was enjoying the view of a beautiful sky and the sun setting in the distance. I decided to take the photo to include the people around me taking photos. It was impossible to get just the photo of the temple and the sunset without the crowd; having them as part of the photo actually gave it a ‘sense of place’ that helps tell the story about the experience up there with other folks at sunset time.

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Angkor Archaeological Park

The Angkor Archaeological Park is an area stretching over 400 square kilometres near Siem Reap, Cambodia, that contains many remains of what was the capital area of the Khmer Empire during the 9th to 15th century. It included one of the largest pre-industrial city in the world (the ancient city at its height was more than ten times the size of modern-day Manhattan borough of New York City). Today visitors come to the area especially to visit one of the finest ancient monuments in the world, Angkor Wat.

To visit the Angkor Archaeological Park area, if you’re not a local Cambodian, you would need to get a visitor pass that is valid for either one day, three days, or the whole week (we got the three-day pass, which cost USD$40 per person). You need to stop at the front gate, pay the fee, and get your photograph taken to get the pass. You will then need to carry the pass with you at all times. At the entrance of the temples, typically there is someone checking for the pass before you can enter. The pass has your photo on it, so you would have to carry your own to enter the temples.

Angkor Wat is the most popular temple in the Park, but there are others that are equally unique and worth visiting. There is Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill that provides a nice vantage point of the surrounding area especially around sunset time. You can also visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom with its temples inside. Or you can go to Ta Prohm, a temple ruin consumed by the forest trees that was made famous by the movie Tomb Raider.

The French did a lot to preserve the Angkor temples when they colonized Cambodia. Today two of the main routes for visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, known as the Little Circuit and the Big Circuit, were routes that were established by the French to visit these temples.

The photo below was taken near the entrance gate while I was waiting to get my entrance pass processed. It’s an illustrated map of the Angkor region, showing the landmarks around that one can explore while visiting the Park.

Angkor map