Phnom Bakheng: Best for Sunset Viewing

By Jenna Jolie

From Angkor Wat, you can embark on the 17-kilometer Small Circuit covering the Angkor Park's most popular temple sites, many of them inside or just beyond the moat that delineates the former Angkor Thom metropolis that served as the Khmer capital from the 12th to the 15th century.

Phnom Bakheng: Best for Sunset Viewing

The hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng can be found just before you cross the Southern Gate into Angkor Thom. (Location of Phnom Bakheng on Google Maps.) Phnom Bakheng was the center of the capital that preceded Angkor Thom, Yashodhara; its fortuitous location on top of a hill gave it a commanding view of the surrounding plain.

On this summit, the Khmer built a five-tiered pyramid with a central sanctuary harboring a stone lingam that represented the Hindu god Shiva.

Getting to the top requires a hike ascending 60 meters to the temple wall; alternatively, you can take an elephant ride up the southern path to the very top for about US$20 per head, starting at 4pm. As going up or down can be dangerous work in the dark, travelers are not allowed to ascend past 5:30pm.

Phnom Bakheng is Angkor's most popular sunset spot – the lofty elevation permits travelers to witness the sun setting over the Angkor plain and its temples, its gorgeous warm rays casting dramatic shadows on the countryside.

Trivia: Phnom Bakheng was converted to a Theravada Buddhist site in the 16th century, but it continued to attract pilgrims from different religious faiths until as late as the 20th century – for starters, a stela praising Allah was left at Phnom Bakheng by Arabic visitors.

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