Phnom Bakheng is the highest temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park, offering the best panoramic views of the whole area. A feature on many Angkor temple tours, it gets especially crowded towards the end of the day as it is the best place to watch the sunset from, though its location 1.5 km northwest of Angkor Wat also makes it a great spot for an elevated perspective of the more famous temple.

Phnom Bakheng was constructed on the 79-metre-tall Bakheng Hill and was the first major temple to be built at Angkor after the capital was moved from Roluos in the 9th century, 2 centuries before Angkor Wat. It was the state-temple of King Yasovarman I, at the heart of the new capital city of Yasodharapura. There are 2 other hilltop temples around Siem Reap, dating from the same reign, namely Phnom Krom and Phnom Bok.

Overview of Phnom Bakheng

Located around 400m south of Angkor Thom, the main attraction at Phnom Bakheng is the sunset view over Angkor Wat. For many years, the whole affair turned into a circus, with crowds of tourists ascending the slopes of the hill and jockeying for space. Numbers are now restricted to just 300 visitors at any one time, so get here early (4pm) to guarantee a sunset spot. The temple, built by Yasovarman I (r 889–910), has five tiers, with seven levels.

Phnom Bakheng lays claim to being home to the first of the temple-mountains built in the vicinity of Angkor. Yasovarman I chose Phnom Bakheng over the Roluos area, where the earlier capital (and temple-mountains) had been located.

At the base are – or were – 44 towers. Each of the five tiers had 12 towers. The summit of the temple has four towers at the cardinal points of the compass as well as a central sanctuary. All of these numbers are of symbolic significance. The seven levels represent the seven Hindu heavens, while the total number of towers, excluding the central sanctuary, is 108, a particularly auspicious number and one that correlates to the lunar calendar.

Some prefer to visit in the early morning, when it’s cool (and crowds are light), to climb the hill. That said, the sunset over the Western Baray is very impressive from here. Allow about two hours for the sunset experience.

To get a decent picture of Angkor Wat in the warm glow of the late-afternoon sun from the summit of Phnom Bakheng, you will need at least a 300mm lens, as the temple is 1.3km away.

Below is the glimpse of Phnom Bakheng in 360o viewing:

A Day on the Hill of the Gods

This is most solitary place in all Angkor and the pleasantest. If it was truly the Mount Meru of the gods, then they chose their habitation well. But if the Khmers had chanced to worship the Greek pantheon instead of that of India, they would surely have built on Phnom Bakheng a temple to Apollo; for it is at sunrise and sunset that you feel its most potent charm.

To steal out of the Bungalow an hour before the dawn, and down the road that skirts the faintly glimmering moat of Angkor Wat before it plunges into the gloom of the forest; and then turn off, feeling your way across the terrace between the guardian lions (who grin amiably at you as you turn the light of your torch upon them); then clamber up the steep buried stairway on the eastern face of the hill, across the plateau and up the five flights of steps, to emerge from the enveloping forest on to the cool high terrace with the stars above you is a small pilgrimage whose reward is far greater than its cost in effort.

Here at the summit it is very still. The darkness has lost its intensity; and you stand in godlike isolation on the roof of a world that seems to be floating in the sky, among stars peering faintly through wisps of filmy cloud. The dawn comes so unobtrusively that you are unaware of it, until all in a moment you realize that the world is no longer dark.

The sanctuaries and altars on the terrace have taken shape about you as if by enchantment; and far below, vaguely as yet but gathering intensity with every second, the kingdom of the Khmers and the glory thereof spreads out on every side to the very confines of the earth; or so it may well have seemed to the King-god when he visited his sanctuary how many dawns ago.

Soon, in the east, a faint pale gold light is diffused above a grey bank of cloud flat-topped as a cliff, that lies across the far horizon; to which smooth and unbroken as the surface of a calm sea, stretches the dark ocean of forest, awe-inspiring in its tranquil immensity.

To the south the view is the same, save where along low hill, the shape of a couchant cat, lies in the monotonous sea of foliage like an island. Westward, the pearl-grey waters of the great Baray, over which a thin mist seems to be suspended, turn silver in the growing light, and gleam eerily in their frame of overhanging trees; but beyond them, too, the interminable forest flows on to meet the sky.

It is only on the north and northeast that a range of mountains the Dangrengs, eighty miles or so away breaks the contour of the vast, unvarying expanse; and you see in imagination on its eastern rampart the almost inaccessible temple of Preah Vihear.

Immediately below you there is morning is windless; but one after the other, the tops of the trees growing on the steep sides of the Phnom sway violently to and fro, and a fussy chattering announces that the monkeys have awakened to a new day.

Near the bottom of the hill on the south side, threadlike wisps of smoke from invisible native hamlets mingle with patches of mist. And then, as the light strengthens, to the southeast, the tremendous towers of Angkor Wat push their black mass above the grey-green monotony of foliage, and there comes a reflected gleam from a corner of the moat not yet overgrown with weeds.

But of the huge city whose walls are almost at your feet, and of all the other great piles scattered far and near over the immense plains that surround you, not a vestige is to be seen. There must surely be enchantment in a forest that knows how to keep such enormous secrets from the All-Seeing Eye of the sun.

In the afternoon, the whole scene is altered. The god-like sense of solitude is the same; but the cool, grey melancholy of early morning has been transformed into a glowing splendor painted in a thousand shades of orange and amber, henna and gold. To the west, the bray, whose silvery waters in the morning had all the inviting freshness of a themes backwater, seems now, by some occult process to have grown larger, and spreads, gorgeous but sinister, a sheet of burnished copper, reflecting the fiery glow of the waste ring sun.

Beyond it, the forest, a miracle of color, flows on to be lost in the splendid conflagration; and to the north and east, where the light is less fierce, you can see that the smooth surface of the sea of treetops wears here and there all the tints of an English autumn woodland: a whole gamut of flowing crimson flaring scarlet, chestnut brown, and brilliant yellow; for even these tropic trees must 'winter

By this light you can see, too, what was hidden in the morning that for a few miles towards the south, the sweep of forest is interrupted by occasional patches of cultivation; rice fields, dry and golden at this season of the year, where cattle and buffaloes are grazing.

As for the Great Wat, which in the morning had showed itself an indeterminate black mass against the dawn; in this light, and from this place, it is unutterably magical. You have not quite an aerial view the Phnom is not high enough for that; and even if it were, the ever encroaching growth of trees on its steep sides shuts out the view of the Wat's whole immense plan. But you can see enough to realize something of the superb audacity of the architects who dared to embark upon a single plan measuring nearly a mile square.

Your point of view is diagonal; across the north west corner of the moat to the soaring lotus-tip of the central sanctuary you can trace the perfect balance of every faultless live. Worshipful for its beauty, bewildering in its stupendous size there is no other point from which the Wat appears so inconceivable an undertaking to have been attempted much less achieved by human brains and hands.

However, that may be even while it, the scene is changing under your eyes. The great warm-grey mass in its setting of foliage, turns from grey to gold; from the fold to amber, glowing with ever deeper and deeper warmth as the sun sinks lower. Purple shadows creep upwards from the moat, covering the galleries, blotting out the amber glow; chasing it higher and higher, over the poled up roofs, till it rests for a while on the tiers of carved pinnacles on the highest tower, where an odd one here and there glitters like cut topaz the level golden rays strike it.

The forest takes on coloring that is ever more autumnal the Baray for ten seconds is a lake of fire; and then, as though the lights had been turned off the pageant is over...and the moon, close to the full, come into her owe, shining down eerily on the scene that has suddenly become so remote and mysterious; while a cool little breeze blows up from the east, and sends the stiff, dry teak-leaves from the trees on the hillside, down through the branches with a metallic rattle.

There is one more change before this nightly transformation-scene is over: a sort of anti-climax to be seen in these. Soon after the sun has disappeared, an after-glow lights up the scene again so warmly as almost to create the illusion that the driver of the sun's chariot has turned his horses and come back again.

Here on Bakheng, the warm tones of sunset return for a few minutes, but faintly, mingling weirdly with the moonlight, to bring effects even more elusively lovely than any that have before. Then, they too fade; and the moon, supreme at last, shines down unchallenged on the airy temple.

It is lonelier now. After the gorgeous living pageantry of the scene that went before it, the moon's white radiance and the silence are almost unbearably deathlike far more eerie than the deep darkness of morning with dawn not far behind. With sunset, the companionable chatter of birds and monkeys in the trees below has ceased; they have all gone punctually to bed; even the cicadas for a wonder are silent. Decidedly it is time to go.

Five almost perpendicular flights of narrow-treaded steps leading down into depths of darkness are still between you and the plateau on the top of the Phnom: the kind of steps on which a moment of sudden, silly panic may easily mean a broken neck –such is the bathos of such mild adventures.

And once on the plateau you can take your choice of crossing it among the crumbled ruins, and plunging down the straight precipitous that was once a stairway- or the easy, winding path through the forest round the south side of the hill, worn by the elephants of the explorers and excavators.

Either will bring you to where the twin lions sit in the darkness black now, for here the trees are too dense to let the moonlight through, and so home along the straight road between its high dark walls of forest, where all sorts of humble, half-seen figures flit noiselessly by on their bare feet, with only a creak now and again from the bundles of firewood they carry, to warn you of their passing.

Little points of light twinkle out from unseen houses as you pass a hamlet; and, emerging from the forest to the moat-side, the figures of men figures of men fishing with immensely long bamboo rods, from the outer wall, are just dimly visible in silhouette against the moonlit water.

HW Ponder, Cambodian Glory, The Mystery of the Deserted Khmer Cities and their Vanquished Splendor, and a Description of Life in Cambodia today) Thornton Butter worth, London, 1936)

It is difficult to believe, at first, that the steep stone cliff ahead of you is, for once, a natural feature of the landscape, and not one of those mountains of masonry to which Angkor so soon accustoms you. The feat of building a flight of wide stone steps up each of its four sides, and a huge temple on the top, is a feat superhuman enough to tax the credulity of the ordinary mortal.

The temple of Bakheng was cut from rock and faced with sandstone. Traces of this method are visible in the northeast and southeast corners. It reflects improved techniques of construction and the use of more durable. This temple is the earliest example of the plan with five sandstone sanctuaries built on the top level of a tiered base arranged like the dots on a die, which became popular later. It is also the first appearance of secondary towers on the tiers of the base.

Planning your visit to Phnom Bakheng

Temple Facts

  • Date: 889 - 910 AD
  • Religion: Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Built By: Yasovarman I
  • Dedicated To: Shiva
  • Style: Temple Mountain
  • Best Time to Visit: Late Afternoon for the Sunset
  • Length of Visit: 1 - 2 hours
  • Temple Pass: Required (Included in the pass to the Whole Angkor Complex)

Getting There & Around

Phnom Bakheng is located 400 meter south of Angkor Thom. If you’re approaching from Angkor Wat, then Phnom Bakheng hill is to the left side, set back from the road. It’s worth stopping. A sandy path winds up the hill to the foot of the temple. From here, steep and narrow stairs lead you to the top terrace. The view is breathtaking and if you visit at sunset it’s a soothing way to end the day.

Elephant rides (US$ 15) to the foot of the temple are available during sunset as well. However, it’s a good idea to read about elephant tourism and perhaps avoid this particular ‘attraction’. Asian elephants are endangered and are subject to various forms of abuse in order to provide tourist rides. Read more here.

Check location of Phnom Bakheng on below Google Maps for your reference:

When to Visit

Given that Phnom Bakheng’s main attraction is its sunset view over Angkor Wat, plan your visit for the late afternoon. Arrive early (4pm) if you want a good spot on the south-east corner. Especially in high season the temple can get crowded.

Note that you’ll need a good zoom lens to make a close-up picture of Angkor Wat, which is 1.3km away. Alternatively, there’s a fantastic sunset view over West Baray on the opposite side (north-west corner).

After enjoying the sunset, be careful climbing down Phnom Bakheng temple’s steep steps. A small flashlight will come in handy.


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.

Phnom Bakheng Tours

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 will want to get there a few hours early to get a good spot. To beat the crowds, you will 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 will 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.

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!

History of Phnom Bakheng

Constructed more than two centuries before Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng was in its day the principal temple of the Angkor region, historians believe. It was the architectural centerpiece of a new capital, Yasodharapura, that Yasovarman built when he moved the court from the capital Hariharalaya in the Roluos area located to the southeast. 

An inscription dated 1052 AD and found at the Sdok Kak Thom temple in present-day Thailand states in Sanskrit: "When Sri Yasovardhana became king under the name of Yasovarman, the able Vamasiva continued as his guru. By the king's order, he set up a linga on Sri Yasodharagiri, a mountain equal in beauty to the king of mountains." Scholars believe that this passage refers to the consecration of the Phnom Bakheng temple approximately a century and a half earlier. 

Phnom Bakheng is one of 3 hilltop temples in the Angkor region that are attributed to Yasovarman's reign. The other two are Phnom Krom to the south near the Tonle Sap lake, and Phnom Bok, northeast of the East Baray reservoir. 

Surrounding the mount and temple, labor teams built an outer moat. Avenues radiated out in the four cardinal directions from the mount. A causeway ran in a northwest–southeast orientation from the old capital area to the east section of the new capital's outer moat and then, turning to an east–west orientation, connected directly to the east entrance of the temple. 

Later in its history, Phnom Bakheng was converted into a Buddhist temple. A monumental Sitting Buddha, now lost, was created on its upper tier. Across its west side, a Reclining Buddha of similar scale was crafted in stone. The outlines of this figure are still visible.

The symbolism of Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng is a symbolic representation of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu gods, a status emphasized by the temple's location atop a steep hill 65 m above the surrounding plain. The temple is built in a pyramid form of seven levels, representing the seven heavens. At the top level, five sandstone sanctuaries, in various states of repair, stand in a quincunx pattern—one in the center and one at each corner of the level's square. Originally, 108 small towers were arrayed around the temple at ground level and on various of its tiers; most of them have collapsed. 

Jean Filliozat of the Ecole Francaise, a leading western authority on Indian cosmology and astronomy, interpreted the symbolism of the temple. The temple sits on a rectangular base and rises in five levels and is crowned by five main towers. One hundred four smaller towers are distributed over the lower four levels, placed so symmetrically that only 33 can be seen from the center of any side.

Thirty-three is the number of gods who dwelt on Mount Meru. Phnom Bakheng's total number of towers is also significant. The center one represents the axis of the world and the 108 smaller ones represent the four lunar phases, each with 27 days. The seven levels of the monument represent the seven heavens and each terrace contains 12 towers which represent the 12-year cycle of Jupiter. According to University of Chicago scholar Paul Wheatley, it is "an astronomical calendar in stone."  

Following Angkor's rediscovery by the outside world in the mid-19th century, decades passed before archeologists grasped Phnom Bakheng's historical significance. For many years, scholars' consensus view was that the Bayon, the temple located at the center of Angkor Thom city, was the edifice to which the Sdok Kak Thom inscription referred. Later work identified the Bayon as a Buddhist site, built almost three centuries later than originally thought, in the late 12th century, and Phnom Bakheng as King Yasovarman's state temple.

Design of Phnom Bakheng

Every haunted corner of Angkor shares in the general mystery of the Khmers. And here the shadows seem to lie a little deeper, for this hill is like nothing else in the district.

Phnom Bakheng is square with a base of five tiers (1-5) and five sanctuaries (6-10) on the top level, occupying the corners and the middle of the terrace. The sides of the base are each 76 meters (249 feet) long and the total height is 13 meters (43 feet). Each side of the base has a steep stairway with a 70 incline. Seated lions flank each of the five tiers. Vestiges of the wall with entry towers surrounding the temple remain.

Seated lions sculpted in the round are on each side of the slope near the summit. The proportions on these lions are particularly fine. Further on, there is a small building on the right with sandstone pillars; the two lingas now serve as boundary stones. Continuing towards the top, one comes to a footprint of the Buddha in the center of the path. This is enclosed in a cement basin and covered with a wooden roof.

Closer to the top, remains of an entry tower in the outside wall enclosing the temple are visible. Two sandstone libraries on either side of the walkway are identified by rows of diamond-shaped holes in the walls. Both libraries open to the west and have a porch on the east side.

Small brick sanctuary towers occupy the corners of each tier and each side of the stairway.

Top Level

Five towers are arranged like the dots on a die. The tower in the middle contained the linga. It is open to all four cardinal points. The other four sanctuaries on the top level also sheltered a linga on a on a pedestal and are open on two sides.

The evenly spaced holes in the paving near the east side of Central sanctuary probably held wooden posts, which supported a roof. The Central Sanctuary (10) is decorated with female divinities under the arches of the corner pillars and Apsaras with delicately carved bands of foliage above; the pilasters have a raised interlacing of figurines. The Makaras on the tympanums are lively and strongly executed. An inscription is visible on the left-hand side of the north door of the Central Sanctuary.

Phnom Bakheng Temple Photos

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Taking a cruise on the fascinating Mekong River offers a unique and memorable travel experience. The Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in Asia, flows through several countries, including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Each destination along the river offers its own distinct cultural, historical, and natural attractions. In this article, we will go over what you can expect when cruising the Mekong River. 


Preah Vihear Temple (Prasat Preah Vihear) is an ancient Hindu temple built during the period of the Khmer Empire, that is situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that the temple is in Cambodia.

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles.

Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north–south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province, though it is no longer accessible from Thailand.

On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Deep in the forests of Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, the elegant spires of an ancient stone city soar skyward above the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park.

The Khmer Empire’s various capitals thrived here from the 9th to 15th centuries, while their rulers presided over an empire that stretched from Myanmar (Burma) to Vietnam. Including forested areas and newly discovered “suburbs” Angkor covers more than 400 square kilometers.

Though just one of hundreds of surviving temples and structures, the massive Angkor Wat is the most famed of all Cambodia’s temples - it appears on the nation’s flag - and it is revered for good reason. The 12th century “temple-mountain” was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is an architectural triumph laden with artistic treasures like the bas-relief galleries that line many walls and tell enduring tales of Cambodian history and legend.

In other parts of Angkor such art depicts scenes of daily life - offering scholars a precious window into the past.

Reading the below epic guide for Angkor Archaeological Park, you will have all the information you need from its history, maps, best time to visit and so on to have the best out of your Angkor tours


Banteay Kdei Temple (Prasat Banteay Kdei), meaning "A Citadel of Chambers", also known as "Citadel of Monks' cells", is a Buddhist temple in Angkor, Cambodia. It is located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom. 

Built in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries AD during the reign of Jayavarman VII (who was posthumously given the title "Maha paramasangata pada"), it is in the Bayon architectural style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller. Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.

This Buddhist monastic complex is currently dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality of sandstone used in its buildings and is now undergoing renovation. Banteay Kdei had been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries till 1960s.


Just east of Angkor Thom’s Victory Gate is Chau Say Tevoda. It was probably built during the second quarter of the 12th century, under the reign of Suryavarman II, and dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. It has been renovated by the Chinese to bring it up to the condition of its twin temple, Thommanon.


Thommanon Temple is a Hindu temple site that's covered in intricate carvings and surrounded by forests in Angkor. The temple is in relatively excellent condition, thanks to extensive restoration work in the 1960s.

It was constructed about the same time as Angkor Wat. The style of architecture is quite evident in the towers and carvings, which are in very good condition. During the rainy season, the dampened sandstone offers great photo opportunities.

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex dates back between the 11th and 12th centuries. It is about 600 metres east of the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom, just opposite Chau Say Tevoda. Even before restoration, Thommanon was in much a better condition than Chau Say Tevoda. Unlike the latter, which was built using wooden beams enclosed in stone, Thommanon Temple's entire structure was made out of stone. 


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