Travel Report: The Black Lady Temple, Koh Ker.
The Black Lady Temple, Koh Ker, Cambodia.
It had been a long, fruitful morning exploring the isolated temple ruins of Koh Ker. Now, edging into the unforgiving temperatures of early afternoon, Sladja and I found ourselves at the day’s penultimate stop. We’d been looking forward to this one, mostly due to its curious name. Not so much its official title, Prasat Neang Khmao, but rather its ominous nickname, The Black Lady.
The temple gives off a pleasingly malicious vibe the moment you step into the complex. Perched on a square sandstone base, The Black Lady is a single laterite tower of grey, black and dark blue. This odd colour, historians say, is the result of an oxidation process.
Dark, slender and oozing a delightful evil, there are some wonderfully wicked theories as to how it got its name. The boring version is that it is literally a reference to the stone’s unusual colour. One legend claims it may have been dedicated to Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Destruction.
Another old story involves the beautiful daughter of King Jayavarman IV. The princess fell in love with her bodyguard, but the king forbade his daughter to marry under her station. This sent her into a murderous, indiscriminate rampage, resulting in the flattering Black Lady nickname.
The Black Lady Temple, Koh Ker.
I like to think that the temple could’ve been Saruman’s despicable study, or perhaps Darth Vader’s devilish summerhouse. “My Black Lady…. oh how I have missed you”. Another unusual feature is that the entrance door is western facing, whereas most Koh Ker temples have doors opening to the east.
Inside the chamber, we found a small linga shrine decorated with recent offerings. Some water, flowers, plant leaves and a little fruit, all rapidly spoiling in the afternoon heat.
Prasat Neang Khmao Temple, Koh Ker.
Gaze up the tower’s open roof and the nefarious, horror movie feel returns. Another thing worth mentioning is that the Black Lady has her own human guardian. This is not typical among the ruins of Koh Ker, indeed he was the only such caretaker we saw that day. A friendly local man, he’d been napping in his hammock prior to our arrival.
Upon seeing us, he sat up and asked our driver where we were from. Whatever The Black Lady’s evil crimes, she obviously hasn’t done this old dude any harm. If you want to visit Koh Ker, bear in mind that you can’t gain access with The Angkor Pass. Instead, there’s a separate entry fee before you enter the forest. Tickets go for $15 per person.
Check out more of my reports from The Temples of Koh Ker.
You can also read my articles from the amazing Temples of Angkor.
Or maybe delve further afield with my travel reports from all across Cambodia.
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It’s been many years since i visited Angkor and its numerous temples. When I did, I looked at the visual side, rather than the details of how, what and why. It is therefore so interesting, to now be able to fill in all those missing details! Thanks.
Hey Geoff, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated. I think it’s understandable that people experience temples visually, especially the first time. They are indeed visual wonders first and foremost. I’m glad you enjoyed this piece, I just wanted to point out that The Black Lady Temple isn’t part of Angkor. It’s two and a half hours north of Siem Reap in an isolated jungle region known as Koh Ker. The complex predates Angkor and is a little off the main tourist trail. I think this complex of Cambodian temple ruins was perhaps my favourite of all. Hope you enjoy my other reports on Koh Ker and indeed Angkor, which you can find on the site. Thanks again!
Yes, I realized that once I pressed the button and then found your other posts which I am looking forward to reading. However before reading on, i will dig up my own photos from the archives in order to put my memory into gear. I only had a short time in Cambodia and was there with my eldest daughter travelling on the back of two motor bikes. I mentioned to one of the two drivers, my wish to see small villages, and he offered to take us to his village and family. That was a great experience and indeed could be a possible future blog. What made this possible and happen? The answer….. travelling with my daughter. If my daughter had been alone, at her tender age, it would have been risky for her to have taken up Pot’s kind offer. If I had been alone, Pot would probably not have been motivated to take me. So thanks to Joanna for travelling with me, and thanks to Pot and the other driver, for such memories of the small village and rice fields. (It is magical how reading a post can bring back these memorable but forgotten experiences!)
Sounds like a great time Geoff, it’s wonderful that you had such a memorable experience. And that travel blogging can play a role in bringing back these memories both as a reader and a writer. Looking forward to your blog post about the village.
ah this one is great, love the whole dark vibe around it. theres something about it being a single chamber that also adds to its pervading menace. the guardian looks quite pleased with his undemanding job looking after this less visited temple
Glad you liked it Stan, this was perhaps my joint third favourite (with the one I’m publishing tomorrow) Koh Ker Temple just behind The Linga Temples (2nd) and Prasat Thom (1st). Yes, Mr. Guardian was very cheerful and not looking too stressed by the challenges of the pandemic.
Your opening picture contain a set of stairs on the left that don’t go to anything. Any idea? That interior shot up the chimney makes it look ten times taller than the exterior shots. Interesting visual distortion. The Black Lady must be visited more than the others with the offerings on the altar and the caretaker. Good stop. Looking forward to tomorrow.
That stairway is really curious. Maybe, once upon a time, there was an additional entrance that has since been bricked up? But why? I think the temple’s nickname alone guarantees a bit more foot traffic than similar smaller ruins. Curious people basically arriving to check out her royal blackness.
Well that’s a different temple. I like the second story on what the name means! Maggie
Thanks Maggie, it was refreshing that this temple had its own legend behind it and therefore a bit more romance/dread to it as we walked around exploring.
Now, that would be a good place to spend a dark windy Hallowe’en night. I like the legends of how the temple got its name best. That tower is indeed striking against the clouds. Thanks so much for taking us to a place we will never get to visit, Leighton. Happy Saturday. Allan.
This is a really fun temple right? Imagine camping overnight by the side of The Black Lady. Creepy as hell, I’d imagine. Thanks for reading Allan!
Have you noticed with much of mythology and not just in Asia, that it’s the women who are evil?
Hey Mallee, that’s an interesting observation. I’d say also in a lot of religious discourse. Heck, there are still misogynistic streaks running amok through philosophical traditions, political discourse and modern attitudes. Not exclusively though, there are “evil” men present in all of the aforementioned. Still, it’s a fascinating temple, hope you enjoyed this little tour.
Honestly, the Black Lady Temple is the nihilist’s dream: dark, menacing, and devoid of happiness (although ironically, the temple being a religious site is a contrast to nihilism itself, but that’s besides the point). I can imagine its imposing structure has been the back drop to some films, especially for the villain’s evil lair in some sci-fi/superhero movie!
Ha, if it hasn’t been in a movie, some director should get onto that. I’m sure Mr. Guardian would love to see some bigwig Hollywood director roll into The Black Lady’s confines. Thanks Rebecca, tomorrow it’s the last temple of the complex.
Interesting to learn about how this temple got its name Leighton.
Thanks for checking in Marion, it’s a fun temple I think and a deliciously devilish sight.
We loved visiting that.area and .brings back memories of our visit there.
Thanks for your comment, Anita.
She is beautiful! One of my favorites because it is still intact and she is mysterious. I won’t be messing with Kali. By the way, I enjoyed your post on Presar Chrap(sp?). I wrote a comment, but the post comment button was missing😡
Ooooooh WordPress! Thanks Kelly, I really liked The Black Lady too, a favourite among Koh Ker’s smaller temples for sure.
Oh it’s always better to be sucked in by the legends behind the place rather than the logical explanations for such things as names or shapes. The look of this one lends itself to legend, too.
It was fun to have a devilish story after the mainly black pages of many of the preceding structures. Thanks for checking in guys, hope you are enjoying home comforts.
It almost looks like the temple was on fire. The logical explanation sounds about right, but why did only this temple discolor like that and not the others… or is it just because this one was built with a different type of stone? There’s definitely a bit of a mystery here 😀.
You raise a good point Corna, whatever the case it certainly is a distinctive and ghoulish structure. Perhaps the most atmospheric of the day.
They really need to make a movie about this temple! It’s very intriguing
‘The Black Lady’, a Cambodian horror by David Croneberg.
Evocative images and text, Leighton. See it wouldn’t do to cross the Black Lady!
I wouldn’t dream of crossing her royal blackness. Indeed we were tiptoeing around the place in awe of the legend, ha.
Darth Vader’s summer house! hahaha, I think that Lucas Films should really consider that as the next installment! Darth Vader meets the Black Lady and the coming together of destruction and the dark side. I think it would be a winning film all around 🙂
It would make a good Lego set
too, ha ha. In fact, the merchandising opportunities are infinite. I’m glad you were tickled by this temple, Meg.
What a neat temple and very interesting stories about the lady who resides there!
Thanks Allie, the legend behind this temple made our visit a lot of fun.
I definitely wouldn’t mess with Kali!
Neither would we, in fact we made our way quite carefully around the compound. We definitely didn’t want to do anything to upset The Black Lady.
Hmm, I’m not sure I would like to be the caretaker of the Black Lady; although it doesn’t appear that the current caretaker has suffered too much!
I wouldn’t fancy it either, though as you say, Mr. Caretaker seems in good nick.
Fearless warrior, yet so motherly! The temperament of the goddess Kali is so contradictory. She is one of the most prayed goddess in India, especially in west Bengal.
Hey Swanraga, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s interesting to read that Kali is particularly prevalent in West Bengal, is that where you are from?
I can see how this would be creepy but it’s very photogenic with those different colours and the view looking straight up from inside 🙂
I loved this one. The simplicity of it, the fun legend, the dark colours and the friendly guardian.
Wow, was absolutely amazing to read about Goddess Kali in Cambodia and to have a temple dedicated to her name.
I think the Goddess is very well represented in all parts of the world and worshipped in some form or other.
Here is my blog on her celebration in the heart of Southern California
Hey, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I read your article and definitely learned a few things about Kali, great work!