Around 400m south of Angkor Thom, the main attraction of Phnom Bakheng is the sunset view of Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, the whole affair has turned into something of a circus, with crowds of tourists ascending the slopes of the hill and jockeying for space once on top. Coming down can be even worse as there is nothing at all in the way of lighting. Still, the sunset over the Western Baray is very impressive from the hill.
To get a decent picture of Angkor Wat in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun you will need at least a 300mm lens, as the temple is 1.3km away. Phnom Bakheng is also home to the first of the temple-mountains built in the vicinity of Angkor. Yasovarman I (r 889-910) chose Phnom Bakheng over the Roluos area, where the earlier capital had been located.
The temple-mountain has five tiers, with seven levels (including the base and the summit). At the base are - or were - 44 towers. Each of the five tiers had 12 towers. The summit of the temple has four towers at the cardinal points of the compass as well as a central sanctuary. All of these numbers are of symbolic significance. The seven levels, for example, represent the seven Hindu heavens, while the total number of towers, excluding the Central Sanctuary, is 108, a particularly auspicious number and one that correlates to the lunar calendar.
It is now possible to arrange an elephant ride up the hill (around US$15 one way). It is advisable to book in advance, as the rides are very popular with tour groups.