Travelogue: Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

One of the most popular temples for sunset viewing is the hilltop Hindu temple Phnom Bakheng dedicated to the goddess Shiva. One can make the climb by foot or by elephant. I came across this entertaining and informative travelogue story about sunset at Phnom Bakheng with some great background to the history of Angkor Wat:

“No one knows exactly when or why the god-kings and their subjects abandoned the great city of Angkor or when the pilgrims and holy men, who briefly occupied it later, also departed. What is known — the temples of Angkor lay empty, at the mercy of the encroaching jungle for centuries — until they were “rediscovered” by French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860. But though the decline of Angkor is shrouded in mystery and speculation its rise to power and long period of glory is not. Each of Angkor’s all-powerful rulers made sure that his achievements — his wars, his public works, his gods — were duly recorded in stone. The history of Angkor, carved into the walls of its temples, is the history of one of Southeast Asia’s most powerful empires.

The Archeological story begins with Jayavarman II, who unified Cambodia’s competing states and declared himself supreme sovereign of the Khmer Empire in AD 802. He was the first in a mind-boggling succession of devaraja or “god-kings” who exercised absolute power over an empire that once extended over much of Southeast Asia. One of his successors, Yasovarman I (899-910), moved the capital to Angkor and built Phnom Bakheng, the temple where we have come to watch the sunset. Literally carved from the sandstone of the mountain itself, it was the first of Angkor’s temple-mountains. But as successive devaraja strove to build ever more extravagant monuments to themselves and their gods the number, size and complexity of Angkor’s temples continued to grow along with its burgeoning population.

I tried to imagine what it must have looked like before the wooden houses had rotted away and before the jungle had reclaimed the fields and rice paddies that once sustained more than a million people who lived here. The temples, now all that remain, were then surrounded by a vast city, and beyond the city a sophisticated irrigation system fed water from reservoirs onto the intensively cultivated land. West Baray, the largest of these, is an incredible 8km long and 2.3km wide. It was excavated by hand, and as I watch the fading sunset reflecting from its surface, I wonder how many lifetimes were spent in its making…”

Full article

(If you are planning a trip to Angkor Wat please check out Savuth’s tuk tuk transportation services at

~ by Leonard on July 22, 2008.

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