Phnom Chisor Temple: Ascending The Mountain of the Sun God

Phnom Chisor Temple: Ascending The Mountain of the Sun God

Phnom Chisor: An Ancient Hilltop Temple in Phnom Penh

I love Angkor Wat, just not the large amount of tourist that lingers there, packed together like sardines in a can, where breathing fresh air is a luxury. I prefer to get off the beaten track, to feel more like an ancient explorer, not a tourist. Lucky for me, 50km from Phnom Penh lays a hidden gem from Khmer history, older than Angkor Wat, and relatively unknown to tourists; Phnom Chisor Temple, also known as Sri Suryaparvata or Suyagiri (Mountain of the Sun God) in the Angkorian period. 

Ascending The Mountain of the Sun God

Although it is named Mountain of the Sun God, it was not dedicated to the Sun god Surya but to Shiva the destroyer, and Vishnu the maintainer, or preserver of creation. The name “Surya” is an abbreviation of the founder’s name, Suryavarman I.  He ruled Angkor during the first half of the 11th century, and was one of the most significant Kings in the Khmer history —he contributed much to the development of Preah Vihear in northern Cambodia.

Cambodia Travel Guide: Exploring Phnom Chisor Temple

Ascending 390 steps that lead towards Phnom Chisor Temple in sweltering late afternoon heat is a mission, but the serene atmosphere of the ruin and the rare view of the surrounding countryside from the mountaintop make the effort well worth it. Standing on the edge of the steep cliff, you can see other remains of Phnom Chisor surrounded by fields and fields of rice paddy.

Rice field from viewpoint at Phnom Chisor

Phnom Chisor in Phnom Penh Cambodia

The main temple that stands on the eastern side of the hilltop is constructed of laterite, a reddish clayey material, and brick with carved sandstone lintels.

viewing the rice field from the ruined temple of Phnom Chisor

Phnom Chisor door with bas relief

Like most Angkorian temple built under King Suryavarman I, during a period when Angkorian Empire was powerful and on the rise, this temple is Hindu. Dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, scenes depicting Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu are visibly carved on some of the sandstone lintels and pediments, many still in great condition. Taken by this ruin, I spent much more time up here than planned, enjoying the views and studying every carving of the temple.

stone etching at Phnom Chisor Temple in Phnom Penh

Phnom Chisor ruin in Phnom Penh Cambodia
A small temple in the Phnom Chisor complex. Nine hundred years ago, during their Buddhist pilgrimage, the king, his Brahmans, and their entourage would climb up the 390 steps that connect the shrines to Phnom Chisor. If you want to follow in their footsteps, climb in the early morning, or late afternoon to avoid a sunstroke. Bring plenty of water.

the ruin of Phnom Chisor in Phnom Penh

Ruined temple of phnom chisor beside modern temple

Phnom Chisor broken bas relief

Once I was done playing an archaeologist, it only took a few steps to reach an interesting modern temple. Prasat Preah Ko Preah Keo, or the Sacred Ox and Sacred Gem temple, is dedicated to two brothers of legend, one an ox and the other a man, believed by the locals to bring peace and prosperity to the area. There are more than 12 temples gracing this mountaintop, and many of these ancient temples are still active; Buddhists make regular pilgrimages on religious occasions. Walking around the area, you will be able to see monks’ quarters and their school. Unique carvings decorate the door of the main temple, and finely detailed carvings of Hindu deities can still be seen on the towers, and at the libraries.

the Sacred Ox and Sacred Gem temple at Phnom Chisor

the Sacred Ox and Sacred Gem statue at Phnom Chisor

temple window at Phnom Chisor

Prasat Preah Ko Preah Keo at Phnom Chisor

Cambodia Travel Guide: How to Get to Phnom Chisor

Phnom Penh and Takeo province are linked by the National Highway No 2, which remains in reasonable condition with a few potholes. There are regular bus services and in theory at least one of these buses could drop you off at the turnoff for Phnom Chisor which is a good 1.5 km from the main road along an unmade road. However, the most convenient way to reach Phnom Chisor is by taxi. Standard fare for a taxi between Phnom Penh and Takeo is $30-35 for the whole car or $5 per person for a shared one. You can usually find taxis from Phnom Penh in Phsar Daum Ko or Psar Leu.

There is an admission charge for foreigners, which you find out about once you reach the top of the stairs. There are two sets of steps (stairs), climb the staircase on the west side of the mountain, which has 390 steps, and descend the south staircase, which has 408 steps. Although it’s very tempting, under no circumstances should you try to use the pre-Angkor era stairs. They are very steep and you could break your neck, or worse. You may notice that the staircase leading up to Phnom Chisor are set up in a straight line. This perfect line points directly to the giant temple of Angkor Wat, which is 300 miles away.

Monkey at Phnom Chisor Temple
Even tied up, this one’s still monkeying around, and is absolutely up to no good in Phnom Chisor =)

Explore other Cambodian Destinations

Cambodian Angkor Wat: A Comprehensive Guide
Sustainable Travel Tips: Sustainable Travels In Cambodia
Wat Sampov Pram atop Phnom Bokor
Beng Mealea: Exploring Angkor’s Most Secluded Temple


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  1. What incredible pictures!! We loved Angkor Wat but this looks like a fantastic alternative! Would love to visit next time we are there!

  2. Love your photos! It’s great to know about this off the beaten path alternative to Angkor Wat. I’m bookmarking your post for a future trip. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Such an informative post! And your photos are phenomenal! And thanks for the great tips about getting to Phnom Chisor…especially about the walk you may have to embark on if you take the bus and the surprise admission charge at the top.

  4. Wow. Pictures are lovely. And brilliant piece of architecture. I have been to angkor wat and I agree that it’s too touristy. Wish I had known about this before!

  5. Your photos are amazing! You’ve captured every details perfectly. Thanks for the tip. It is really a good alternative to escape from the crowd. 🙂

  6. Beautiful photos! I am wanting to plan a trip to Cambodia in July so I found this to be very helpful. Thank you!

  7. Your photos are stunning! I like how close you got to the architectural details. They really help you see how special the buildings are. I’ve never been to Cambodia but I’d love to go and see them for myself.

  8. The carvings in this part of the world are simply stunning. Such attention to detail. I love exploring temples – they are amazing places.

  9. wow seems like you really find great hidden gem! Were you there alone or you just got lucky not to catch anyone on a photo? I would love to visit that temple as much as I would love to visit Angkor Wat ( even tho is full of tourists 🙂 )

  10. Wow, this place looks and sounds great. It looks really quiet, much better than the crowds at Angkor Wat.

  11. Gorgeous photos! So nice to hear of an alternative to Angkor Wat…definitely going to visit Phnom Chisor too!

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