This is my first post describing our visits to the temples and other ruins at the Angkor area. My information about the various structures is derived from a number of different places:
- Our tour guides (The Guest Complacent)
- The Angkor Guide
- Canby Publications travel guide
- Angkor by Dawn Rooney (Odyssey Publications, 2001) – There are more recent editions available now.
- Angkor Wat and Siem Reap by Nick Ray (Lonely Planet Publications, 2008)
We arrived in Siem Reap on Sunday, November 20th in the late afternoon. Our plan was to spend Monday exploring various temples of Angkor. However, if you purchase your entrance pass for the next day after 5 p.m., you can enter the site in the evening and get a few extra hours of touring time. So on Sunday, after quickly checking into our hotel, we dashed off to get our passes for Monday. Cambodian citizens and children under the age of twelve don’t have an admission fee. The one day passes for the rest of us cost $20…
After getting our passes, we quickly continued to Phnom Bakheng. This hill rises about 200 feet above the surrounding area, which is relatively flat. The oldest major temple in the Angkor area is located right at the top and provides a good view of the surrounding area. The temple was carved from the pre-existing stone of the hill and then faced with sandstone. It was built around the year 900 CE during the reign of Yasovarman I and dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva.
Because of the view (which includes a clear view of Angkor Wat about 1.5 km to the southeast), this is a very popular destination at sunset. Unfortunately, this popularity also threatens the long-term health of the temple. We observed that access is much more regulated than it was ten years ago. (Also, the elephant rides up and down the hill are much more expensive. We skipped those.)
Because of the more stringent access controls, we were late in getting to the top of the temple. Only a few of us got to see the last moments of sunset, but there was still enough light to explore the ruins and take some pictures. We could have taken pictures with some Buddhist monks, but we passed on that opportunity.*
* At Angkor there is an interesting mix of contemporary Buddhism (nominally 95% of Cambodians are Buddhist) with ancient artifacts and ruins that derive from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Ancient Khmer society followed the religious preferences of the kings, who themselves were often viewed as divine. Occasionally, the fervor that accompanied changes in the prevailing religion resulted in the purging of evidence of other religions from the temples. As a result, visitors to Angkor may notice empty spaces where once there were depictions of gods carved in stone. In that regard, the history repeats itself. Multiple times.
By the time we made it back down the hill to our van, it was nearly dark. We returned to the hotel, ordered some pizza (marketed to Americans!), and prepared for an early start the next morning and a full day at Angkor.