Monday, November 26, 2007

Phnom Bakheng: Crazy about the sunset

First, some the interesting facts:

  • Phnom Bakheng literally means “a temple on top of a mountain”.
  • Built in the late 9th or early 10th century by Jacawarman I.
  • Consists of 5 successive rows with 12 sanctuaries each.
  • Known for the Royal Linga which is a phallic symbol of the King in his divine state.
  • State temple of the first capital of Angkor after moving it from Roulous.
  • The temple is made of all natural stone.
  • The temple was used as an observation post by the Cambodian armed forces.

After the Angkor Wat, I believe that the next best temple to feature is the Phnom Bakheng. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite temple out of the many we’ve visited for three days but I have to say, it’s the most memorable one. We climbed it twice! :-)

The temple is known for its sunset that it has become an official part of every tourist's itinerary. Before the day ends, automatically, the tuk-tuk driver would bring you to its entrance, which is the start of the long trail all the way up to that little hill where the temple was built on.

view of the Angkor Wat

View of the Angkor Wat from the top of the Phnom Bakheng.

We climbed the temple on the first day, which was part of the original itinerary, but the sky poured some showers on us so we lost hope of getting a view of the sunset. Due to my ill-fated frustration of not having to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat, I insisted that we go there again on the second day. Missing the sunrise is enough, I wouldn’t let this chance pass without having to see the sunset.

elephant ride

Climb up the hill by riding the elephant for $15. Looks fun isn't?

a monk

I spotted this monk who seems to be enjoying his moment of solitude.

From the top, the temple offers a spectacular view of the jungle and the Angkor Wat. It’s easy to imagine what the place was like during its early times when you are on top of the tower enjoying the view and the sucking into the silence. You can feel the touch of the cold wind just as you reached the top. When we climbed it on the first day, we were the only tourists there so we were able to enjoy both the view and the silence that this place has to offer. Our second climb was totally a different story all together.

kids drawing

A group of kids making themselves busy by drawing and talking to the tourists. I am assuming, they are waiting for the sunset too. I approached them after I took this shot. The girl with the colorful sweater (2nd from right) gave me a piece of what she was drawing. A souvenir of some sort. She drew me a queen.

Phnom Bakheng becomes sort of a pit stop for every tourist, a chance to meet people while resting and waiting for the sundown. So obviously, the crowd starts to get heavy during the late afternoon. Did I say crowded? Hmm, just wanted to make sure I emphasize the word.

group of monks

A group of monks gather at the back of the brick towers of Phnom Bakheng. They easily stand in the crowd because of the orange robes that they wear. Tourists started to take photos of them that it has become a little pictorial after the sunset.

Phnom Bakheng is built on a hillock but even so, climbing to the top is one heck of job. It was exhausting! One can actually save oneself from the exhaustion by riding the elephant all the way to the top of the hill for $15, which some of the tourists did. There are two pathways actually, one for the elephant riders on the right and one for those who will climb by foot on the left side.


Just to give you an idea of how big the crowd is. I was in front of the line, I took a moment to look back and found these sunset enthusiasts capturing their own moment.


Aside from waiting and taking photos of the sunset, people-watching has also become part of the attraction. Compared to Angkor Wat, it is easy meeting people here since everyone is confined in one elevated spot only. Getting a good spot for photography is unbelievably difficult. ;-(

Knowing us, we chose the latter. Well, except for Lyn (who whined the whole time we were climbing and just opted to talk to the Koreans to pass the time), Oki and I were pretty much used to climbing mountain and traversing rough road with high elevation. Climbing Phnom Bakheng and climbing Mount Ampacao of Sagada is not even near to a close call. But I guess it becomes exhausting because going up the mountain is usually the last part of the itinerary and people are already tired after visiting all the other temples.


A closer look at the quality of the dying sun.


Sunset using one of the towers as frame.


I copied this shot from a girl who is in front of me. She's also using Nikon dSLR with a much better telephoto lens. I took a peek at every shot she makes and left me with an envious look.


Sunset, almost saying its goodbye to us. Being a sunset maniac like me, I have to see it in its culminating stage. Picture it every step of the way.

girls in their hats

Yak yak yaka yak Tibet. Love this kiddo's shirt. He was not pointing at the sunset. He was just pointing at the sky. Maybe he is seeing something that is way beyond my eyesight.

The hike would take 10-15 minutes, depending on one’s capacity. We saw really old people climbing up to the temple by foot so there was no reason not to go there and beat the odds. We came to the temple (almost) the same time that the elephants arrived. Heya! After the trek, we saw the temple and readied ourselves for another hike at the top. The risk comes with the actual climbing those steep, dangerous staircase leading to the top tower.

Going up to the temple is easier, going down is much tougher. Aside from the fact that it was getting darker and there were a horde of people wanting to go down all at the same time, the steep staircase was becoming more difficult to step on. It could not even accommodate half of my foot!

going down

A horde of people going down from the temple. By the time we started going down the hill, it was dark already. Here's a funny story, just as we were going down, some dropped a smelly bomb. Oh boy, I almost fell down on my butt from laughing. I was speaking in Tagalog asking Oki who did that! (Alangya, dun pa umutot, nyahaha!)

So what can I say about the sunset at Phom Bakheng?

I have four words for you: It is an overstatement. I mean, don’t get me wrong. A sunset is still a sunset and people who are crazy about it (including me) wouldn't make a mumble when they see the orangey ball popping out from the clouds.

People just wanted to see it, take a picture of it, maybe display it on their freindster account or use it as desktop wallpaper, or whatever. But like I always say, sunsets are different. The quality speaks for itself. The difference lies on the person who views it.

Enjoying the sunset is not the same as enjoying a movie or watching two people come together and talk. It comes with that special moment of seeing the wonders of nature unfold before your very eyes. It comes with that little pinch of happiness that you get after you've seen the sun coming to its culminating stage and that feeling of fulfillment when its warm streaks start to touch your face. When that particular moment comes, you yourself could say, "Ah it' s beautiful!"

I could be fooling myself here. I tend to romanticize things. But that is what I really look forward to when I watch the sundown. The feeling that comes out of it. Let us just say, there are better sunset somewhere else. But I guess, I got what I came there for. Sunset all the way!



haggis basher said...

I'm really enjoying this series of images from your travels.

pieterbie said...

Well, obviously the sunset is just a plus in this place. I guess it is just the magic of the place that makes it feel extra special.
Love the shot of the girl on that elephant, that seat she is sitting on, that would fetch a lot of money here. She is obviously good looking too, has nice legs, good choice, Rayts, thanks for that :-)
No, joking aside, the way she is sitting there sort of "matter of fact" is really cute.
Love the schoolkids as well, against the wide openness of the jungle, nature.
This is a very good series, cannot wait for the continuation.

kyels said...

The magic of the place is wonderful! I still like the sunset photos; at least I can have a feel of what it's like.


The best shot that I like is the monks.

rayts said...

thank you. and another thank you for always taking the time reading.

you like the girl on the elephant? hmm, why am i not surprised? she's wearing shorts. didn't Sidney mention you like girls in shorts. aha. i took several shots of the people riding the elephant, i have a White female, i have a couple of old people, two Asian guys, and this. she was the only one who looked my way.

yea, somehow you get to feel what it's like. i am always drawn to the monks too. must be the orange robe.

kyels said...

Ate, this is slightly off topic and it is regarding the guinea pigs. The pigs that I've taken photos are of the Abyssinian breed. Coarse fur but still nice to pet and has rosettes on the body; the fur. There are other breeds too, like Sheltie (with long hair growing back from the face and around the body), Peruvian (long haired and hairs falling all over the face and body) and more. Here's the link ---

They don't nip but pigs are fragile creatures and must be handled with great care. If not careful they can get heart attack and die on the spot also their backbones are fragile; can't drop them cause it may cause death too. Pigs eat a lot and tend to waste their food and they wee and poop a fair share as well. But overall, they are nice little creatures because when they're happy, they jump with their hind legs and make sounds; it goes "oink, oink, oink".

Juls' the owner of those pigs had them for around 8 months already and I've seen the babies grow. Usually they said first-timer's pigs die within a month but hers did not.


Oh, in the photo I was actually focusing on its mouth. It was a flash of an action by Bobo. Haha. So can't really see the eyes.

Rey said...

The picture of the monks lazying down is the one i like best. It tells there is happiness in simplicity.

The top view of Angkor Wat is also glorious. Too bad the haze is keeping it from being sharp and contrasting. But it evokes mood nonetheless.

estan said...

wow! I never imagined that the crowds at this place is really a CROWD! I usually see these sights without the tourists and really, I was aghast!

chacha said...

nice work.

rayts said...

oh wow, thanks for that info and the link. appreciate it. they look fargile to me. but ignorance scares me. i wouldn't dare taking care of that unless i really know how to properly care for them, thinking like a real pet owner. about Bobo's photo...oh yea. silly me. went back and look at the mouth. cute.

thanks. the haze is a real waste. hehe. it's zooming that's the problem. anyway, i included the trees in front for real contrast.

onga eh. pagnapapanood ko din to sa National Geo parang napaka-forlorn at nostalgic ng dating. tipong walang tao. pagdating ko dun, susme hindi magkamayaw ang mga tao. nakakairita minsan pero, naisip ko baka pareho lang kami lahat ng mga expectations.


Sidney said...

To be honest I wouldn't be able to say "Ah it's beautiful!" in the company of such a crowd of tourists. Maybe alone or with someone special...

I like this yak yak yak yak boy!

You really document your travels extraordinary well!

Oswegan said...

Great photographs. I really love the one of the monks in orange robes.

Hey, I want to climb up the hill by elephant for fifteen bucks.


Ferdz said...

I agree with you when you say "Overstatement: here hehe. Actually, our tuk-tuk driver warned us not to go there because it's crowded and it's "so-so" pero makulit kami so we did go. At first I was actually expecting the sunset to be in the same direction of angkor wat not at the back. Still it's a nice overview of the surrounding scapes and you'll meet a lot of people here.

Ang dami mo ring makaka chit-chat dito. Funny we met this two pinay who at first want to ask the guard why I was allowed on where I was standing. Maganda kasi pwesto ko and a perfect view of angkor and akala nila bawal. Gusto pa naman ako paalisin hehe. Nung narinig na nagtatagalog kami nung kasama ko they found out we're also pinoy, nag share na lang kami sa place. Hehe

Again, beautiful captures. Espcially the monk, the lady on the elephant and that kid. Katuwa rin tignan yung crowd.

my gulch said...

yep. we are exactly on the same lane. and i guess the feeling would adapt too regardless of what the sunset looks like.

thanks. climbing the elephant is good the first time, especially when curiosity sinks in. but if you are like me, who imagines awful things all the time such as falling down from the back of the elephant while it sways through the elevated road on the way to the hill, i will not dare. :-)

natuwa naman ako sa kuwento mo. kami din naka-ecounter ng mga Pinoy dun. lumundag ang puso ko ng marinig ko yung mama na sumigaw ng ganito: "Isa pa. Anak, anak paano ba tanggalan ng flash 'tong camera?" haha. Super talaga. Lingon agad kami at hanap nang pinanggalingan ng malakas na boses. Sankapa!

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