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Sunset at Phnom Bakeng

An Angkor Wat sunset is a must see!

Sunset watching is always a fun thing to do, especially when traveling. But at Angkor Wat, watching the sun going down is a very interesting event. 

Not because the sun looks prettier from there, but because there are so many people gathering for it. 

Where do these people gather? At a temple called Phnom Bakheng (a short distance from the Angkor temple), and this place has been famous for a while now as the spot for sunset watching.

Some people think Phnom Bakheng is overrated and too crowded, while others think it's only so-so. But I found Phnom Bakheng to be a great place for an Angkor Wat sunset!

The intense sunset colors.

Why is it a great place for sunset?

1.It is a great place, because the temple is on top of a hill. That way you'll get an unobstructed view of the sun as it goes down.

2. It is also a great place, because what could be more Cambodian than watching the sunset from an ancient Cambodian temple?

3. As a bonus, you'll also get to see the Angkor Wat complex from a distance, and at high elevation.

4. And finally, when you are at the top of the Phnom Bakheng temple, you have the enviable position of being able to see all 360 degrees of the landscape just by walking around from one corner to another. And the view is really pretty.

View of the baray from the temple. 

So, sunset or no sunset, Phnom Bakheng is indeed a cool place to be!

But, despite all the good things I mentioned above, I do have one minor 'objection' about this whole set up on sunset watching. And that is, the sun does not set behind Angkor Wat, which is what I have envisioned when I heard about Angkor Wat sunset ( I am sure other people did too). Now, wouldn't that be a magnificent photo op?

If there is another temple that can afforded sunset view of Angkor Wat, I'm sure that place will be an instant hit. 

How famous is it?

Another unique fact about sunset watching at this ancient temple is the volume of people who turn up. It would seem as if every tourist that is in Siem Reap goes to watch sunset at Phnom Bakheng. When we went there, maybe more than 1000 people turned up.

This place is that famous. So it does get crowded, and has the possibility of getting too crowded. 

Rather than see this level of popularity as a bad thing for Phnom Bakheng, you could think of it differently.

I thought the sight of so many tourist and travelers from all different countries were really interesting.

It is amazing when you see how one great site can attract so many seemingly different people.

Plus, if you don't see many tourists during the day, you will enjoy the sight! =) I rather thought the tourist crowds are really part of what makes Angkor Wat sunset at Phnom Bakheng special.

People walking up in droves to see the Angkor Wat sunset

Hiking Up To The Hill and To The Temple

Caution to the physically challenged and the elderly. The hike up can be quite tiring. It is a smoothed and compact dirt road, but it is still a hike. If you want to avoid the rush hour, or if being within a tourist stampede frightens you, you can come earlier and leave later.

Do not wait too long before you start going down the hill, though, because you don't want to go down when it's pitched dark. There are no electrical lamp posts along the path.

Also, make sure that you use your comfy shoes. Although you might not need it badly for the hike up the hill, you will surely need it when you’re climbing the temple stairs. Why? Because the steps are really really narrow! 

I wondered why it was built that way. Did the old Cambodians have really small feet? We tourists with big feet were having great trouble going up and down this temple.

As it turns out, the ancient people do not step on to the stairs like we do. We use our whole foot when we climb the stairs, as if we're walking but with an elevation added. Not so with the Angkor people.

In the old days, they were barefoot, and they tiptoed up the stairs, instead of really stepping their whole foot on them.

People slowly going down after the sunset, either by going sideways, or
holding on to the walls. Either case, they were fearing for their life. Trust me, 
these stairs are deadly! You'll see what I mean when you step on these steps yourself.

This of course can be a major hazard for the people of the 21st century.

You could just see some old lady falling down because of the narrow and steep steps. Surprisingly though, I didn't see any casualty nor experienced one. In spite of the large crowd that lines up behind you to go down after the show is over, people were patient to wait as you crawl down the stairs.

So yes, the crazy steps is another reason why you must go to an Angkor Wat sunset at Phnom Bakheng. =)

How to get to Phnom Bakheng

As always, tuktuk is the transportation of choice while in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. It should be around $5 if you’re going from your hotel in Siem Reap. You can just say to your driver that you want to see sunset at Angkor Wat, and the default location will be Phnom Bakheng (doesn’t that show you how famous it is?).

The driver will drop you at the entrance to Phnom Bakheng, and he will wait for you until you come down. Looking for your driver after you get down can be confusing too! There will be so many tuktuks lining up, and in the dark, you can not make out clearly which is yours.

It would be a good idea to ask approximately where he will park, or agree on a meeting point so he can wait for you there.

When to be there?

For an Angkor sunset, it is best to arrive a little bit early to beat the crowds , and also to get a premium sitting spot, and to have plenty of time taking pictures.

Plan to leave for the temple around 4, so you can be at the temple at 4:30. And then, you will need another 30 minutes or so for the hike up to the temple. At 5, you'll be all ready with your camera to take shots of the whole 360 degrees view.

Peaceful view from the top. 

We hope you will enjoy the Angkor Wat sunset at Phnom Bakheng as we did. We thought it was a really fun experience, especially with the stampeding crowd and the stairs part =) You will not want to miss this number #4