Phimeanakas or Prasat Phimean Akas is a relatively small temple pyramid, 35 m long and 28 m wide and 12 m high, within the compound of the Royal Palace in Angkor Thom. It was built in the tenth century in the Khleang style.
Phimeanakas means "Aerial Palace" or "Celestial temple". It is sometimes transcribed "Pimeanakas" or "Vimeanakas". The name is a deformation of the Sanskrit words "Vimana" and "Akasha", meaning "god palace" and "sky" respectively. The Khmer pronunciation is "Vi-Mern-Akas", spoken like three separated words. In modern Khmer "Vimean" is used for a special or big place, "akas" still means "sky".
This modern name refers to a legend of a king who had to sleep with a goddess on top of a temple mountain in order secure fertility. Similar religious practices are known from different cultures. The Khmer version is reported by the Chinese envoy Zhou Daguan, who visited Angkor in the 13th century. He wrote that there was a "Tower of Gold" in the city believed to be inhabited by a nine-headed serpent, a Nagini, which could transform into a woman. If the Naga, being the supreme owner of the Khmer, did not show up for a night, the king's death would be imminant. If the monarch missed even one night to sleep with her before joining his consorts and concubines, great calamity would befall the kingdom. A wildly held opinion is that this golden tower was the Phimeanakas and that it originally had a gilded pinnacle. The tower of the contemporary Ta Keo, begun under Jayavarman V and modified by Suryavarman I, was gilded, too. This fashion first mentioned in Suryavarman's reign was a Mon (Dvaravati and Haripunchai kingdom's in today' Thailand) custom, which the Khmers are assumed to have copied.
Phimeanakas was started by King Rajendravarman II (944-69), but subsequent kings made alterations to it, the long-reigning Suryavarman I (1006-1050) in particular. It is predominantly a laterite structure, with some sandstone elements. There are not many carvings at this monument. The axial stairways, on all four sides, are flanked by guardian lions. Elephants were on the corners of the tiers, but most of them are broken. The stairways are extremely steep, for visitors there is a wooden stairway added at the west side. At the top there are small sandstone galleries and remains of an elevated sanctuary, probably later additions. There is an inscription on a door jamb, reused from an older temple of a minister of Yashovarman I, the founder of Angkor.
Another Phimeanakas inscription mentions the enemy king of Champa, Jaya Indravarman IV, who was an usurper. He managed to seize Angkor by a naval attack from the Tonle Sap in 1177. The inscriptions reports that the very same king, "presumptious like Ravana", already attacked Angkor with an army as early as 1170. The important Phimeanakas inscription K.485 includes details concerning the role of Jayavarman VII, the later Buddhist king who founded Angkor Thom, during that period of civil war within the Khmer empire and Cham invasions.
The morning hours are more recommendable for a visit of Phimenakas. You need an Angkor ticket for Angkor Thom, but it is usually not checked at the entrances to the Royal palace compound, where Phimeanakas is located.