Phimeanakas and the Royal Palace

Picnic by a Royal pond

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What we say: 3.5 stars

Phimeanakas sits just about at the centre of what was once the Royal Palace. The earliest remains here date back to the second half of the 10th century and were built during the reign of King Yasovarman I, while the palace itself is believed to have been built in the 11th century under the guidance of Suryavarman I.

While the palace remained in use till the mid-1500s, today little remains but the foundation work and a couple of ponds. Despite its largely ruined state, the royal enclosure remains a fascinating area to walk through as the setting is lush and overgrown, yet very accessible.

The three-level and over 30m-high Phimeanakas (meaning "flying palace" in Sanskrit) is close to the centre of the complex, and from its apex there are good views over the surrounds. Believed to have once been covered in gold, all four stairways are guarded by stone lions and the corners bear elephants. Legend has it that King Suryavarman used to sleep here with his lover, a serpent woman. The Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan, who visited Angkor in the 13th century, called this the "Tower of God".

Only the rear staircase is accessible, where a wooden staircase with a handrail has been built atop the worn stone steps.

Sitting to the north of Phimeanakas is Srah Srei (Women's Bath), a large pond worth more than a cursory glance. Look for the detailed sea life carved into the walls of sandstone that form the edge of the pond. Creatures include crabs, giant lizards and fish, along with the mandatory crocodiles. You're not permitted to swim in the pond, though the rule doesn't appear to extend to the local kids who don't mind a splash. Pack a picnic lunch for a midday break on the banks here.

The royal enclosure has five main gates, two on the north and south walls and one main gate on the east. If you take the westernmost of the two gates on the northern wall you can follow the trails for a back way to Preah Palilay. Likewise the westernmost southern gate is a shortcut to the Baphuon.

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To the west (behind) the Elephant and Leper King Terraces
Last updated: 27th December, 2009

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