"This is the most solitary place in all Angkor and the pleasantest. If it was truly the Mount Meru of the gods, then they chose their habitation well. ... it is at sunrise and sunset that you feel its most potent charm."
H.W. Ponder, 1936
The temple of Phnom Bakheng was built on the top of a hill, carved from the native rock and faced with sandstone blocks. It was the center of a large city, the first Khmer capital in the Angkor area. The city was a 2.5 mile square, enclosed by a wall and covering 16 square miles. The temple is built on seven levels and originally included 108 towers, many of which have now collapsed. The central tower at the top of the temple is a ruin, but flowers still bloom in front of the sanctuary that it contained (see the photo at left).
The number and arrangement of the towers and levels correspond to Hindu numerology. For example, each of the five middle levels contain 12 towers representing the 12-year cycle of the zodiac. The seven levels represent the seven heavens of Indra. From each side of the temple, one can see 33 towers, which is the number of the Hindu dieties. There are many other such symbolisms throughout the design and decoration of the temple.
Tourists flock to Phnom Bakheng each afternoon for a sunset view of the surrounding plain, especially to see Angkor Wat rising out of the jungle nearby. In the early morning, when we climbed to the top of the hill and the temple, we had the place to ourselves.
Here are some more photos of Phnom Bakheng, with a panoramic view of the temple below: