Burnt Out At Phnom Bakheng

In Cambodia, Sights by Nick1 Comment

I’ve been to the top of the mountain.

Several, in fact, over the last few months.

Phnom Bakheng is another temple-mountain at Angkor Wat, probably most frequented as a place to take sunset shots of Angkor Wat…from almost a mile away. Why?

Anyway, let’s ignore that lunacy for now. Phnom Bakheng is worth a visit based on its own merit, notwithstanding your desperate attempts to photograph a completely different temple.


There’s just something awe-inspiring about things built on mountains, especially when those things are over a thousand years old. Imagine how hard the king must have worked to single-handedly haul those heavy-ass stones to the peak?

Oh, the kings didn’t actually build the temples? Laborers did?


There are two routes to the mountaintop—a corkscrewing gravel trail and what I assume to be a harrowing, nearly vertical suicide run built for elephants (for the low, low price of $25).

I chose the trail, since I am personally a supporter of fair wages for elephants.

It’s worth mentioning, at this point in time both Jade and I were just about sick of temples, the sun, dust, walking, and generally anything that had to do with Angkor Wat. It’s an interesting phenomenon called temple fatigue that we’ll explore later.

Suffice it to say this was our last stop. We had just been denied access to West Mebon temple because of road repairs—what really happened was our driver got tired of driving us.

Phnom Bakheng was the last temple on our list.

The ancient steps the Khmer used to reach the summit, now closed off.

The ancient steps the Khmer used to reach the summit, now closed off.

The crowds don’t hit Bakheng until later afternoon. Around midday, you might have the place to yourself.

It’s a lonely feeling to stand at the temple’s precipice by yourself. To the west is the slowly evaporating West Baray. North is Angkor Thom, southeast is Angkor Wat. Further south is the city of Siem Reap.

Makes you wonder what the Khmer saw when they looked around here a millennium ago.

Probably a lot of trees and temples, just like now.

Maybe less cars.

Ask a few more philosophical questions. You can even do it out loud since there’s nobody around to hear you.

Leaving Bakheng was a bit sad. At the time, I didn’t know when I’d ever make it back to Angkor (probably soon, as it turns out). There were still so many sites left to see—Phnom Kulen, the Roluos group, all the smaller temples and hidden trails we missed on our first go…


But at the same time, we were done with temples, done with Angkor Wat. Seeing just one more ancient monument was going to overload our brains, make it too difficult to comprehend everything we’d already seen.

Enough was enough. It was an incredible relief to see our tuk tuk driver exactly where we left him, eagerly rubbing his hands together when we told him it was time to call it a day.

Until next time, Angkor.

What do you think?


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