Within Angkor Archaeological Park
Daily, 7:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: Included in Angkor Pass ($37/$62/$72)
Washroom On Site: No
A solitary pyramid temple that acts as a quick pit stop between two larger tourist destinations.
Baksei Chamkrong is like the place you wander into when you’ve been unceremoniously turned away from the much cooler nightclub across the street. You’re desperate to go somewhere, it’s there, and it doesn’t look too bad… so you stumble in.
Since Phnom Bakheng has such strict rules and only allows a certain number of visitors on it at one time, you may find yourself shit out of luck when you show up and see a queue longer than the one for the new iPhone release (now 0.002% thinner!). Not wanting to waste precious minutes of your holiday doing something as plebeian as waiting in line, you can quickly hop over to Baksei Chamkrong only 500m away. A visit here can be a way to kill some time before you try Bakheng again to see if the line is shorter, or if you were trying to do a sunset visit but realize that’s a pipe dream and go here as a conclusion to your day.
Baksei Chamkrong is by no means a clone of Bakheng. It’s not a case of “Whoo! I found a secret temple that’s just as good as the popular one, but no one comes to this one because everyone is dumb but me!” No. It’s in really great condition, I’ll give it that, but don’t expect to be watching any sunsets here. For one thing, Baksei Chamkrong is a regular Angkor temple and closes at the standard time of 5:30pm.
Bordered on three sides by thick trees, Baksei Chamkrong consists of a lone tower atop a four-tiered pyramid. A few square foundations and pillars are still leftover on the grounds in front of the temple. This is a relatively unfrequented site, with everyone else seduced by the siren song of nearby Angkor Thom or Bakheng.
The staircase here is particularly challenging. The steps aren’t as tall as, say, Pre Rup, but their width is very short. The edges are also very rounded and weathered from time, which makes it easier to slip. Going up will require a bit of caution, and certainly much more when you’re descending. For some steps, only half of your foot will fit onto the stone… and yes I do mean even for women! Men will have to step sideways the entire way down, and women will only get a few paces where they can walk normally if they zigzag to strategic spots. This is assuming, as woman, you don’t have Peggy Hill-sized feet.
One of the handiest things I’ve seen in Cambodia is a little stone bench at the bottom of the stairs. If someone doesn’t feel like scaling the stairs, they can comfortably park themselves here and take awesome pictures of their friends who do make the climb.
You can’t see much from the top – I’m not even sure you can spot Phnom Bakheng. What makes tourists flock to Bakheng (aside from the hype) is the fact that it’s on a hill and at the top of a bunch of stairs. This puts the view well above anything you can get in Angkor. Here at Baksei Chamkrong, you’re not much higher than the trees that surround the site, and you’re on flat land. The vista basically consists of trees, the path you walked to get here, and of your buddy sitting on the bench down below.
If you’re not dead-set on watching the sun’s trajectory across the sky, the top of the pyramid here is still a nice spot to enjoy a moment of downtime and a snack. Inside the temple is the usual sight: a square dais where a phallus used to be, and maybe some offerings laid upon it. Is all this is worth the climb? I have fond memories of my time on top of Baksei Chamkrong, even if I had to do it alone as Mark was too drained by this point. If you’re too tired, you can safely skip it too.