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Bakheng Temple, Angkor

Tourists give short thrift to the Centre of the Universe!

“Though the identity of Bakheng Temple (or Phnom Bakheng) is today firmly established, the place hardly gets the respect it deserves…..Late every afternoon, just before sunset, crowds troop up the hill, on foot or by elephant at 20 dollars a ride. Then they climb the temple’s steps to the standing room only, plaza-like upper tier. …….Then they throng back down the hill as darkness closes in. Most never realise that they have stood in a┬áspot that, in its day, was the centre of the universe.”

Cambodia, Phnom Bakheng

 

Came across that in an excellent book by John Burgess; Stories in Stone – The Sdok Kok Thom Inscription and the Enigma of Khmer History’ – page 89 (River Books).

If the ruins of Bakheng Temple aren’t the most spectacular of the Angkor sites – it does lack the iconic faces and much-photographed giant roots – it is certainly one of the most important historically and the view from the top of the hill on a clear day is truly spectacular.

Cambodia, Bahkeng view

 

The temple mountain of Bakheng was the centre of Yasovarman’s early 10th-century capital of Yashodapura. A moat and surrounding earthen rampart stretched for an estimated 5-6 kilometres on either side enclosing a city of some 30 square kilometres, (larger even than neighbouring Angkor Tom). This was around the year 900 and at that time no other city on earth could have compared. If not literally the ‘centre of the universe’, Phnom Bahkeng was certainly the centre of Southeast Asia’s greatest ancient civilization.

Cambodia, Bahkeng, summit carvings

Anyone who’s visited Angkor will have seen the rows of tour buses at the foot of the hill every late afternoon while the ‘standing room’ only summit will have certainly got worse since John’s visit a few years back! His point that tourists only go to watch the sunset, grab a summit selfie and show little or no interest in the temple itself is very valid and, in our opinion, an alternative morning visit to this fascinating temple is highly recommended.

You’ll have the place pretty much to yourself, the views will be tremendous and the hike up through the trees not so hot. The ruins are actually in surprisingly good condition considering it is one of the oldest sites in the area; further maintenance and consolidation work is ongoing and the design, layout and astrological symbolism of Bakheng are far more complex than most of the Angkor temples.

Cambodia, Phnom Bakheng view

You can find our Cambodia tours and Angkor temple itineraries, including an early morning visit to the former ‘Centre of the Universe’, at the corresponding link.

(And while we’re on the subject we’ll draw your attention to another excellent work by John, Temple in the Clouds, on the remarkable Preah Vihear Temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Cambodia.