Prepare for the crowds
What we say:
The Bakheng sits atop the highest point in the area midway between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
From the 70-metre high summit enjoy spectacular views over Angkor Wat to the east, the sunset to the west and all the way to Tonle Sap and Phnom Bok to the northeast.
As the first state temple of the first city of Angkor, Yasodharapura, Bakheng sat at the centre of an earthen-walled enclosure that was even larger than that of nearby Angkor Thom — measuring some four kilometres along each of its four walls. It was the first temple to be constructed in the area now collectively known as Angkor. The ruler of the time, Yasovarman I, son of Indravarman I, moved the capital here from Roulos, some 13 kilometres to the southeast of Siem Reap. Work began on the Bakheng at the end of the ninth century and was finished some time after the year 907 — only to be abandoned a mere 21 years later.
The summit was originally crowned with a multilevel pyramid which was partly carved out of the mountaintop and partly built of stone. Atop the base sits five small stone towers which were partly pulled apart in a 16th century attempt to build a large stone seated Buddha on the site. The Buddha was never completed. In total the complex boasts 109 towers spanning several levels. Like Angkor Wat and many other Khmer temples, Bakheng is an earthly rendition of Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu universe, but it is also a massive astrological clock that is believed to have been developed to mirror Jupiter's 12-year cycle.
The summit can now only be reached by walking either on or with the elephants via the trail that winds up the peak — the eastern staircase has been closed for safety reasons.
Bakheng is an extremely popular spot for visitors because of the terrific sunsets that can be admired from here and it's nothing short of a mob scene. Nevertheless, the hordes climb Bakheng for a reason and it is worth trying it at least once. Go early morning for a very different experience.
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