Phnom BakhengConstructed atop a hill in 1052, a good 200 years before the rest of this area took off, Phmon Bakheng was the primary temple in the Angkor space. Dedicated to Shiva, this was the first temple built here as the capital was moving from Hariharalaya. It's somewhat of a rarity since it's atop a mountain; King Yasovarman built 3 in this manner.
At its core, Phnom Bakheng is a Hindu shrine, a symbolic representation of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods. It is a pyramid of seven levels, representing the seven heavens of Hinduism. The top level features five sandstone pillars in a quincrux pattern - a center tower with four additional ones at each corner of the square (which I have referred to as the Mountains style). 108 smaller towers are scattered about the levels, placed symmetrically so that only 33 can be seen from the center of any side. This number is significant as the number of gods in the Hindu pantheon. The 108 towers represent the four lunar cycles, each with 27 days. While much is said about the Mayan calendar, this temple is an astrological wonder.
Phnom Bakheng's status is emphasized by its location atop at steep hill 65 meters (213 feet) above the surrounding area.
The ArrivalLucky dropped me off at the base of the mountain, just south of Angkor Thom, but north of Angkor Wat. Elephant rides were available up the mountain, but this practice has since ended with all the elephants being sent to a game preserve to live out their remaining years.
SummaryOld, interesting, but overall you're going to be here for these views. This one is in pretty bad shape although actively being restored. I look forward to returning, and maybe trying to get some sunset views, as it is known as the "sunset temple" because so many people seek to enjoy the view at dusk although the highest level is limited to only 300 people at a time. Although the walk back down might be interesting in the dark afterwards.
If you want to experience Phnom Bakheng sans crowds, flip your schedule and ascend at sunrise. You can experience a phenomenal view of the upper levels of Angkor Wat from this vantage point high above the surrounding land.
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