Travel Report: Preah Khan Temple, Cambodia.
Preah Khan Temple, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat has one of the world’s most celebrated sunrises. Bayon Temple is all about its dramatic carved faces. Ta Prohm has stupendously tangled trees and the Tomb Raider connection. Banteay Kdei boasts a wondrous location opposite Srah Srang Lake, while Banteay Srei treats you to the most intricate hand carvings on Planet Earth.
Hugely impressed by each of The Angkor Temples we’d seen thus far, we wondered what Preah Khan would bring to the table as we made the long, dusty approach to its north entrance.
Preah Khan’s driving force is that it’s bloody huge! In fact, there are historians claiming it may be the largest of The Angkor Temples. So vast is Preah Khan that it was essentially a temple city rather than a standard complex. In its heyday, the massive compound was home to over one hundred thousand people. Moreover, it even featured a prestigious Buddhist University.
Preah Khan Temple.
Like so many Angkor Temples, it was King Jayavarman who ordered its creation. Known in Khmer as Temple of the Holy Sword, construction began in the late 11th century. The King later lived here for a few years while waiting for Angkor Thom to be built. Eventually, he had the place dedicated to his father,
When visiting Preah Khan, you can enter via numerous gates. At the north entrance, a pair of headless warriors stand on either side of the main doorway.
We certainly didn’t need to be told about Preah Khan’s vastness. In terms of size, no other temple we’d seen so far could compare. The place is an absolute maze, hence it’s easy to get yourself lost. If one chooses to simply go straight, its vaulted corridors can feel infinite.
Temple of the Holy Sword.
Branch off here and there and you’ll find yourself emerge into open courtyards and squares of impassable, overgrown rubble. Thanks to the amazing work of The WMF (World Monuments Fund), Preah Khan is actually very well preserved. Especially in comparison to more high profile temples nearby, such as Ta Prohm.
Restoration work began in 1991. This was the first Angkor Temple project of its kind, following the end of Cambodia’s terrible civil war. Some historians have described Preah Khan as the ultimate fusion temple. Built as a Buddhist complex, it features thousands of surviving Buddha images.
However, King Jayavarman changed and even destroyed most of the original images in the 13th century after his conversion to Hinduism. Thus visitors can also spot plenty of carvings dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
Less artistic… but just as fun, were the several doors to nowhere we came across. Completely blocked by stacked rocks, there was absolutely no getting through.
Preah Khan Temple.
In Preah Khan’s cavernous outer enclosures, there are a number of breathtaking tangled trees. Reaching for the clouds, twisting and turning, monstrous of root; these trees are every bit as impressive as those at Ta Prohm.
On our way out of Preah Khan that afternoon we finally got to see some of Angkor’s famous monkey population. There were over twenty of them chilling out on some ruins near the entrance to Angkor Thom.
Despite the warning signs, a small crowd had gathered to throw fruit and take photographs. There was even a row of Khmer photographers setting up tripods from a distance. The monkeys gratefully accepted any food on offer, but didn’t seem particularly troublesome and mostly kept to themselves. A lovely end to another fantastic temple visit in Siem Reap.
You can visit Preah Khan with The Angkor Pass, purchased both online and in person at The Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket office.
For more on this incredible region of Cambodia, check out more of my travel reports on The Temples of Angkor.
You can also read my exhaustive guide to the sights, cafes, restaurants and hotels of Siem Reap.
Or maybe delve further afield with my travel reports from across Cambodia.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
Amazing place, wife would love the monkeys. Incredible construction but have no idea why it all went tits up
Cheers Gary, getting to hang out with the monkeys is one of the highlights of a jaunt around Angkor. They are pretty mental creatures, you never quite know what they’re gonna do.
It is wonderful! Cambodia has always been one of my dream travel destinations. Reading more about it only encourages me to realize that dream sooner.
Hey Bahanur, thanks so much. I have written what I believe is the largest and most detailed guide of articles on the net about Siem Reap. Really hope this inspires you to go and helps out a bit with planning. Appreciate you reading and leaving a comment!
Oh god another one! You’re killing me Leighton! Hahaha. Will add to my notes just in case I find the time! Cheers!
Ha ha this is the last one Anna, though of course there are plenty more temples. Appreciate you following this Angkor temple series, coming up is more food for thought on Siem Reap, keep that pencil handy 😉
What a cool place to explore! I wonder what it was like back in its heyday with so many people. I can see how you could easily get lost and spend hours exploring here. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for your visit Lyssy!
Such grand monuments to a King and religion. Do we know if they were all built by willing hands and hearts or by conscription. Certainly a lasting memorial. Great work on your detailed visits Leighton. You helped me travel to someplace I never will. Stay well. Allan
I’m almost certain it was conscription, Allan. Imagine how many people must have lost their lives building it in such harsh temperatures with, I imagine, very little in the way of protection. Glad you enjoyed these Angkor chapters, thanks for keeping up with it all.
Hard to get a sense of the size from still photos. I kept wondering why someone had torn up the large flag stones in the streets. They obviously weren’t taking them somewhere else. Curious that it began as a buddhist temple and then the king converted to Hinduism. One hundred thousand people is bigger than large particularly when all food etc. was pre-mass transport. Makes you wonder how their blogs worked.
Ha ha, right. Thanks for seeing this Angkor series through Memo.
Preah Khan seems like a wonderful temple to wander around and get lost. I love all those tall tangled trees growing amongst the ruins. How fun to even see some monkeys!
The monkeys were a hoot… from a distance. Back in 2015 when I first visited Angkor a monkey jumped out of a tree onto my shoulder. Then hopped up atop my head for a few seconds. I was absolutely terrified, but luckily didn’t get bitten or scratched. Can you imagine!?
Another one that just looks and sounds great for a visit. Great shot of the tree, some of the photos we’ve seen at the Khmer temples make the trees look like all part of the fascination and part of the attraction. Like the “doors to nowhere” concept adding to the labyrinthine feel.
Whoo hoo! You’re not “anonymous” anymore. Glad you liked the Angkor Temples posts, this is the last of the batch. However, hoping another collection of temples coming later might give you food for thought.
Might be because I’m now coming in via the “reader” rather than from the email, due to all the other issues since the WP update (see our brief post earlier). Seems to be an obstacle course at the minute.
Ahhh I see, haven’t read your post yet. Will have a look.
Hey Leighton, it’s Meg (not to be confused by anonymous 🙂 Although now it gives me an error message and a back arrow when I try to comment. Your picture of the vaulted corridor is stunning! It looks like it goes on and on for miles. But with the size of the place it probably does stretch on for miles. I actually like that they have left the rubble and haven’t tried to give it a facelift. Another beautiful temple to explore with you.
I’m glad you liked that stunning vaulted corridor Meg. In fact, when I think of Preah Khan that’s usually what comes to mind. I’m so happy that you haven’t come through as anonymous today, and actually nobody has yet. However, as I have just read on The Hungry Travellers post, it seems lots of blogs are having this issue and that WordPress is a real mess right now.
The vastness of the Preah Khan Temple is truly amazing. That is really neat that there are so many images of Buddhas and how well they are preserved as well. The monkeys looked like they were very happy and relaxed around this location, and that is really cool that they found a little home there.
Hey Allie, thanks for your support of this Angkor series, right through to the end. Preah Khan is yet another wonderful ruin, while the monkeys simply cannot fail to put a smile on people’s faces.
What a stunning sunrise photo you took at the temple Leighton. So many temples in Cambodia and you seem to have managed to document them all beautifully.
Thanks for your kind words Marion.
Nicely presented; I do remember those collapsed corridors, who knows what happens in the part we can’ t reach.
A lot of bugs I’m guessing. And buried treasures perhaps, way way down. Thanks for checking in.
Wow! Preah Khan Temple is impressive! If one is pressed for time at Angkor Wat, I can imagine visiting just this one temple (or citadel, practically) is a solid start. Although I’m sad to see this series end, I now have a better idea of which places I’d like to hit up when I make it to Cambodia (and especially to Angkor Wat)– I hope to invest a long overdue trip to SE Asia in the next year or two!
Thanks for the kind words Rebecca. We really miss SE Asia and wonder how long it’ll be before we find our way back. I’m sure you’ll love your time in Cambodia when it finally comes.
This temple is my favorite so far 🙂 The picture of the sunrise is stunning.
So good I had to use it twice 😉 Thanks for stopping by.
It sounds like it could have been a fully functioning city at some point; amazing! I I love the tangled trees, and the monkeys; how cool to see them in the wild!
Thanks Tricia for joining me on this tour through some of the Angkor Temples. Preah Khan feels like a fitting end to the series, the monkeys the icing on the cake of a fantastic day.
Just love that sunrise photo – what a wondrous sight! There’s so much to see at this temple … the huge rocks, carvings and once again the tangled trees. And great to end with a few pictures of the Angkor monkeys!
Thanks Corna for following me through these Angkor Temple adventures. Hope your summer is going well.
Not yet summer, we’re apparently still in winter … however, it’s 30 degrees here today which may sound like a summer’s day ☺️. I’m a bit confused with the weather on “this side” of South Africa! Back in our hometown, it is still cold and raining – I think we might have missed out on a typical South African winter here on the southeast coast!
Angkor Wat was such an incredible site we visited. Saw so many ancient temples ..but we saw these monkeys and were great posers.
Great Anita, thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for sharing.
I just can’t believe how many incredible temples there are in Cambodia – you could spend years exploring them and still not see them all!
Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for regaling us with photos and history of the vast Preah Khan complex and the Angkor monkeys, Leighton.
Cheers Annie, I’m glad you enjoyed my Angkor temples series.
I have been traveling to Cambodia 🇰🇭 in my imagination. Reading 📖 this on a night like this, I feel rejuvenated and enlightened following a very hectic day I have had. I’m very grateful, Leighton
Hi Pradeep, thank you for reading and leaving such a nice comment. I hope that your day wasn’t too bad and that tomorrow is much more calmer for you. Cheers!
Thanks for the tour of the Angkor Temples. They are amazing! It must have been awesome to see them in their heyday.
Thanks for coming along, John.
Yet another temple I didn’t visit when I went to Siem Reap. Just now I had to look up Preah Khan’s location and realized that I actually cycled past it! Oh well. At least next time I know not to give this temple a miss. From your photos it looks like less crowded than the more famous ones within the entire archaeological park, which is a big plus for me.
I sometimes wonder how many amazing temples we tuk-tukked past during our time in Angkor. Thanks for reading Bama and being part of the community.
Another one we didn’t get to and probably should! Those headless warriors are particularly impressive 😮
Thank you Sarah! Appreciate you taking the time to do a mini catch-up. Hope all is well with you and your family in these turbulent times.
You too? We’re fine – the turbulence is happening around us but we’re pretty steady!
Yeah we’re ok thanks. As digital nomads we always feel the ripples of whatever turbulence is going on in the world, one of the downsides of not having a more stable, longterm environment. But hey we are good: healthy, safe and able to continue working for ourselves, which are the most important things.