As walk north from Bayon, past Baphuon you’ll eventually reach the enclosure of the former Royal Palace. Only part of the perimeter wall and the Phimeanakas pyramid remains from the Palace’s heyday.
The ancient Khmer, much like the Javanese and the Burmese, only built temples out of stone; other buildings used less permanent material, like wood, thatch, clay, and bamboo. The Palace was no exception: nothing remains of the King’s living quarters except the royal temple, Phimeanakas, which was located in the exact center of the royal apartments.
Built between 950 and 1050 AD by King Suryavarman, Phimeanakas served as the King’s private temple: Suryavarman and his successors worshipped there before retiring to their private quarters nearby (now lost to history). Today, a wooden stair is superimposed on the ancient stairs facing west, to facilitate tourists’ ascent up the three levels.
The upper level was built of gilded wood. According to legend, the King cohabited here every night with a divine spirit who shape-shifted from a naga (seven-headed snake) to a maiden. If the King were to fail in his duty, his kingdom would fall; if the maiden failed to appear, the King was sure to die.