The Baksei Chamkrong is a 10th century temple found near the Angkor Thom South gate. The very steep pyramidal temple topped with a single prasat tower was built as a Hindu sanctuary dedicated to Shiva.

The temple was built by Harshavarman I in the early 10th century. Soon after his reign, the capital of the Khmer Kingdom was moved to Koh Ker, North of Angkor. The temple was completed and dedicated in the year 948 by King Rajendravarman II, after the capital had been moved back to Angkor.

Baksei Chamkrong Overview

Baksei Chamkrong is easy to find as it is located close to the Angkor main road, just outside the South Gate of Angkor Thom and at the basis of Phnom Bakheng.

The name "Baksei Chamkrong", as in the case of most Angkor temple names used nowadays, is not the original one. The modern name means "bird with sheltering wings". It refers to a legend of a Khmer king, who had to flee when Angkor was once attacked. But when a large bird swooped down and spread its wings in order to shelter him, he was saved from being caught by his enemies.

The temple is attributed to the less important king Harshavarman I (ca. 915-925), who was the son and successor of Angkor-founder Yashovarman I. Baksei Chamkrong is supposed to be Harshavarman's ancestor temple for his parents.

But the temple inscription mentions a much later date of consecration, 23. February 948 (even the hour of that day). So, it would be the first edifice completed by Rajendravarman II, a significant king and temple builder, after he shifted the capital from Koh Ker back to Angkor. Usually Rajendravarman is supposed to have only restored Baksei Chamkrong. Accordingly, the temple sometimes is attributed to the style of Bakheng (Yashovarman's and his sons' era), or is considered to be an amalgamation of Bakheng and Koh Ker styles.

There is no doubt, Baksei Chamkrong was a Shiva temple, like most other Khmer ancestor temples. There is some speculation that its location at the north-west corner of the Bakheng hill reflects the situation of Shiva's abode Mt. Kailash, as the Kailash is, according to some Hindu traditions, believed to be north-west of the mythical mountain of the universe called Meru. There is no doubt that the Bakheng symbolizes Mt. Meru. So the Baksei Chamkrong could indicate Mt. Kailash.

Baksei Chamkrong is well proportioned and impresses more by its elegance than by its size. Baksei Chamkrong is a four-tiered pyramid of 27 square metres at the basis and rises 13 metres. The total height including the brick Prasat on the top is 23 metres. Baksei Chamkrong is crowned by only one single Prasat tower, in contrast to the quincunx of five sandstone Prasats on top of Yashovarman's much larger state temple Bakheng. Baksei Chamkrong is the first Khmer step pyramid made of laterite blocks. Laterite is a soft iron rich clay, cut from the ground in blocks. It can be cut in its damp condition easily, but hardens significantly when left in the air and the sun.

According to the inscription at the door jambs of the Prasat, it contained a gold statue of Parameshvara, representing Shiva, probably iconically and not by a symbolic Lingam. (But now there is a reclining Buddha from the 16th century inside the sanctum.) Besides, the inscription honours former kings, particularly the empire's founder Jayavarman II (about 800). It also tells the myth of Kambuja-Desa's origins. A hermit called Kambu married the beautiful celestial princess Mera. They gave birth to the Khmer people. The name "Khmer" or "Khemara" is an abbreviated amalgamation of "Kambu" with "Mera".

The Prasat's stone carvings are in a good condition. The lintel above the east door shows a very common subject, Indra on his three-headed mount called Airavata, also known as Eravan in Thailand. This sandstone carving is noteworthy for its details. In the garlands you can recognize the elephant-headed god Ganesha, who uses his own trunk as a mount. The false doors are decorated with panels depicting foliage, too. It is typical of the Khmer stone relief styles of the tenth century to imitate wood carving.

Not much is left of the stucco decoration once covering this Prasat tower. The conspicuous holes in the brick walls, which are of remarkable precision otherwise, once carried the lime mortar. Almost certainly, the outlines of Devatas recognizable in the brickwalls were once covered with much more detailed stucco depictions of those semi-goddesses. A Devata is a female divine guardian spirit of sacred places. Devatas often occur in Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, they are mentioned in some Buddhist scriptures, too.

Below is the glimpse of Baksei Chamkrong in 360o viewing:

What to see at Baksei Chamkrong?

Stepped pyramid

East of the temple are the remains of a brick wall and a gopura that was guarded by lions. A few steps and a single guardian lion are all that remain today. The stepped pyramid consists of four laterite tiers of diminishing size. The lowest tier measures 27 meters long, the 4th tier 15 meters. The square, symmetrical structure reaches a height of 13 meters. Four very steep staircases at the center of the pyramid lead to the upper platform with the prasat.

The Khmer used certain building techniques to make the temple look taller than it actually is. The stairway narrows towards the top, while the height of each tier is smaller than that of the one below it, thus creating a perception of increased size.

Platform with a single prasat

Atop the fourth tier is a small platform with a single prasat. The brick tower has one real door opening to the East, the other ends have false doors. Most of the decoration on the exterior of the prasat has disappeared, though the shape of sculpted devatas can still be seen. The sandstone lintel over the Eastern doorway contains a carving of Indra on the three headed elephant Airavata, and one of Ganesha.

The doorjamb of the Eastern entrance of the sanctuary tower contains an inscription that provides information about the history of the Baksei Chamkrong temple. The inscription contains praise of several Gods and of King Rajendravarman II, listing his accomplishments. It also tells of the dedication of a golden statue of Shiva in 948. In the back of the cella is a reclining Buddha image of a much later date.

Planning to visit Baksei Chamkrong

Temple Facts

  • Date: 968 AD (10th Century)
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Built By: Harshavarman I started construction. It was completed by Rajendravarman II.
  • Dedicated To: Shiva
  • Style: Khmer
  • Best Time to Visit: Anytime
  • Length of Visit: 15 - 30 minutes
  • Temple Pass: Required (included in the pass to the whole Angkor Complex)

Location

Baksei Chamkrong temple is located less than 100m from the South Gate of Angkor Thom. It’s only about 150m from Phnom Bakheng. It’s a little away from the road, but can still be seen as you drive past it. The temple is also less than 2km away from Ta Prohm.

Check the location of Baksei Chamkrong on the Google Maps below for your reference

Getting There

As Baksei Chamkrong is nearby to Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat most visitors will stop by along the way to other temples. To get here, just follow the road north from Angkor Wat and stop just before the moat at Angkor Thom which leads to the South Gate.

Best time to visit

Without doubt, the best time to visit Baksei Chamkrong is the morning. Your ticket will not be checked at this temple, but you need it for access to the whole area of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

Baksei Chamkrong Tours

As this is a relatively small temple, you probably won’t spend much time here. Instead, you’re likely to enjoy the temple as part of a larger tour. It could be incorporated into the Small Circuit Angkor Tour or even the Grand Circuit Tour. There are also other itineraries which feature temples in and around Angkor Thom.

Ask your guide or driver to stop along the way. It’s likely that you’ll only spend 15-30 minutes exploring this temple.

If you’re cycling on your tour, you might want to stop for a breather and escape the hot sun before continuing your journey into Angkor Thom. Many tours bypass this temple, so if you’re with a tour group on a shared tour, you might not get to see it.

Accommodation

You’ll find plenty of places to stay in Siem Reap town which will suit all budgets and styles. There are small guest houses to large 5 star resorts and everything in between.

Here is our Siem Reap Travel Guide

Why Visit Baksei Chamkrong?

Baksei Chamkrong is much quieter than other temples in the region and this gives you a great opportunity to explore in peace. You can take a look around, get some photos and relax without thousands of other people around you.

History of Baksei Chamkrong

Baksei Chamkrong Temple was completed in 968 AD by King Rajendravarman II. King Harshavarman I started construction of the temple and dedicated it to his father Yasovarman. It was also dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

The legend of the temple is that a huge bird came and sheltered the king under his wings during a battle. The name literally translates as “The Bird with the Sheltering Wings”.

Other than this, not much is known about the temple.

The Layout & Design of Baksei Chamkrong

Prasat Baksei Chamkrong looks larger than life due to building techniques implemented. The design features help the temple to look taller than the 15m it actually is.

The steps were narrowed at the top to give a perspective of height. Also, each of the four tiers are smaller than the one below it. Again, this adds to the perception that the temple is higher than its real height.

The temple was one of the first to be built using laterite and bricks with sandstone decoration. Much of the structure has long since disappeared. There would have been a brick enclosure with an entrance building (gopura) on the east of the temple.

The temple was originally “protected” by stone lions. However, there is only a single lion which remains today.

At the top there is a tower with a door which opens to the east.

There are carvings of Indra and a three-headed elephant called Airavata which can still be seen today. There are also inscriptions which refer to the early Khmer kings as legends including the popular Jayavarman II. There are also stories of a large golden statue of Shiva which was dedicated in 948 AD.

A reclining Buddha image was added at a later date. Although the exact date is unknown, it might have been added during the 12th century as Cambodia transitioned into a Buddhism.

Photos of Baksei Chamkrong

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