The temple of Phnom Bakheng is built on a hill with a similar name. The temple marked the move of the Khmer Kingdom from Roluos to Angkor, making it a temple not only famous for its grandeur but also for being a temple with great historical significance.
The design of the Bakheng temple was heavily inspired by the Bakong, which was built 20 years prior, as both have step pyramids that ascend to square terraces. The temple began construction during the end of the 9th Century and the central sanctuary was dedicated at 907 AD. The temple was originally called Yasodharesvara after its supporting deity, and this translates to the Lord who Bears Glory. A few years after its establishment, the temple was abandoned but was momentarily rehabilitated by Jayavarman V in 968 AD.
When the temple was originally built, an outer enclosure surrounded the hill with four gopuras each at the cardinal points found at the foot of the hill. Today, only the foundation of such gopuras can be seen. There are stairways that lead up only from its north, east and west gopuras as the south entrance was never fully completed.
The pyramid temple is 13 meters high and has 5 terraces. Although not exactly centered, the pyramid slants slightly to the west with 43 brick towers at its base. Each of the terraces has 60 small towers with flanking stairways. On its summit are another five towers that also set back slightly to west. All in all, there are 108 towers in the Phnom Bakheng that correspond to the sacred number in Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Phnom Bakheng is located more than a kilometer away from the west entrance of Angkor Wat. The climb up the temple is quite tiring, especially for those who are not used to challenging exercises. The extremely narrow steps up to the temple do not help ease the climb either. Apparently, ancient people climbed the stairs barefoot as they tiptoed up the stairs. If you opt for a more relaxed climb up or if you are loaded with heavy camera gear, it may be best to follow the elephant trail instead. It opts for an easier climb, which is less steep compared to the straight route up.
If you want to avoid the frightening stampede of tourists, it might be best to come earlier and just leave at a later time. Know though that it might not be a good idea to hike your way down at a much later time as the compact dirt road can get pitch-dark upon nightfall. At times, visitors can make use of an elephant service that costs about USD 10 per ride.
Seeing the sunset at Phnom Bakheng is one of the more popular activities to do in Siem Reap. Because the temple is located on top of the hill, visitors will have an unobstructed view of the sun as it goes down. Even better, you’ll get to see the complex of Angkor Wat from afar at a high elevation. Although a bit crowded, there is no doubt that sunsets at this temple will have gleaming and magnificent views of the horizon.