Shaded by frangipani, terrific views
After Phnom Krom and Phnom Bakheng, Phnom Bok is the third of Yasovarman I’s hilltop efforts from the early 10th century.
Once used as a strategic military post, Phnom Bok sits at the summit of the highest hill near to Angkor. At well over 200 metres high, this is considerably higher than Phnom Krom (140 metres) and Phnom Bakheng (a mere 70 metres). It makes for a wonderful change to the otherwise pancake flat terrain.
While the views here once had considerable military value in ancient and more recent history, today they’re far more valuable to the trickle of visitors that make it out here as you can see out as far as the Tonle Sap lake and the plains that lie before it on a clear day.
There are six sandstone towers at the summit and the remains of two brick libraries. There’s also a pagoda and a four-metre-high linga, the biggest found in Cambodia, which is now broken and lies in pieces at a separate tower located some 100 metres from the main temple.
While Phnom Bok is officially controlled by the Apsara authority and comes under the Angkor entrance pass, it is guarded by non-Apsara soldiers/guards who will happily show you around without asking to see your pass. While ticket inspection is not strictly enforced, if you attempt to climb it without you face the risk of a fine when you descend (we've heard reports of the soldiers telephoning Apsara but we've also heard of people visiting without this happening).
There’s usually a guard at the base who will follow you up—no doubt laughing to himself as you stop for a rest every few steps, while he fails to break a sweat—and gesture where to go to find the linga (get to the top, head left) and ruins. There’s no requirement, but a small tip doesn’t hurt if he takes the time to show you around.
With 633 steps to reach the summit, you’re best off avoiding this in the middle of the day unless you take pleasure in suffering from heat exhaustion. There is a handrail for small patches of the ascent. Alternatively, before the staircase starts there’s a path to the left that makes a more winding route up—this may be easier on the legs. As you climb, spare a moment’s thought for the workers who had to lug the stones up to the top.
Phnom Bok is reached by a road that splits off from the main drag to Banteay Srei. It’s around another eight kilometres from the main road. You can use the Western bathroom facilities here for free if you do have a temple pass, otherwise a few riel is required. Given its out-of-the-way location, it’s worth combining with other sites. There is also a drinks vendor—no food asides from crisps/snacks—at the base and at the top, but no hard sell as they’re often asleep in their hammocks.
Caroline swapped the drizzle of Old Blighty for the dazzling sunshine of Siem Reap and she spends most weekends cycling the temple-studded terrain that she can call her backyard.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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