Heritage Travel, Historic Preservation
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Sunrise over Greater Angkor

National Trust Tours can take you to places that are on everyone’s bucket list…even the “educational experts.” Take, for example, my experience on the Mekong River Cruise tour where I’m currently serving as one of the study tour leaders.

We rose at 4 a.m. this morning in Siem Reap. Our goal was simple: to view the sunrise over greater Angkor on a picture-perfect Cambodian day.

One of our first views from the top of the temple in the first light of morning

Mission accomplished!

Taking a 20-minute Tuk-Tuk ride to the point where we could begin hiking in the dark to reach the high temple mount of the late 9th century Phnom Bakheng Temple was an experience in itself. It was also inspiring to see places where long-time colleagues at American Express and the World Monuments Fund (WMF) have had such a profound impact on the stabilization, preservation, and restoration of these World Heritage Sites. While there I couldn’t help but think of the times I’d discussed global heritage conservation with my good friend Tim McClimon, the former president of the American Express Foundation, as well as the opportunities I’d had through the years to talk with Bonnie Burnam, the long-time CEO of WMF, about their work in this part of the world. Both have been colleagues I’ve long admired. Both remain an inspiration to me and many others.

Some things are better seen than explained, however, so I’ll stop writing and begin posting photographs taken today from Phnom Bakheng Temple. Enjoy!

After hiking up the mountain, we still had these stairs to climb before reaching the top of the temple
One of our first views of the temple, as the light began shining from the east
Early morning view looking back towards Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat in the morning mist
Panorama from Phnom Bakheng Temple
Views through the temple

I feel the need to tell you a bit more about what you’re seeing in these photographs, so here’s a great description from the WMF project page:

Phnom Bakheng, the state temple of the first Khmer capital in the Angkor region, survives as one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. The Temple of Phnom Bakheng was constructed between the late ninth and the early tenth century by Yasovarman I as the centerpiece of his new capital, known as Yasodharapura. It was abandoned only a few decades after its construction, but its privileged hilltop location makes it unique among the temples of Angkor. Its stepped pyramid construction is a built representation of Mount Meru, the center of the physical and metaphysical universes in dharmic religions. Shrines and guardian lions adorn the seven levels of terraces that make up the pyramid; decreasing in size towards the top of the temple, these enhance the impression of the temple’s height. Five shrines on the top platform, arranged in a quincunx formation, represent the five peaks of Mount Meru. In the sixteenth century, an attempt was made to construct a large seated Buddha around the central shrine, which has since been dismantled. The central temple was surrounded by multiple brick towers, which only survive as ruins. Today, Phnom Bakheng is a popular spot for panoramic views of the Angkorean landscape, often enjoyed by visitors at sunset.

Views from atop the temple
View through temple looking east
Temple detail
Detail, looking through the central temple
Small plots of flowers on the temple floor
Towers along the edges of the temple
Looking west from the temple
Guardians of the temple
Candice and DJB at Phnom Bakheng Temple
Our final view of the temple before our hike back down the mountain

We spent the rest of the day exploring Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat…which I’ll cover in a later post. In the meantime, check another one off the bucket list!

More to come…


All images by DJB except for the one of flowers which is by Candice and the one of Candice and DJB, which was taken by Tek, our local guide.


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