Crumbling ruins, photogenic trees, imposing causeways, an impressive Hall of Dancers, a columned building recalling Roman architecture, detailed carvings, quiet corners… We could go on. Preah Khan, the highlight of the Grand Circuit route, has it all. And with large proportions, its charm is relatively unaffected by its popularity.
Completed in 1191, the fascinating site of Preah Khan was built during the reign of Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his father (he dedicated nearby Ta Phrom to his mother). Inscriptions also make reference to a lake of blood, which could refer to a battle in the area during the expelling of the Cham from Angkor. (The Cham king was killed where Preah Khan now stands). Thought to have been a religious university, when completed Preah Khan was home to in excess of 1,000 teachers, and had its own baray which ran out to the east of the site, but which has since run dry.
Sitting among the ruins here, watching the sun set through the trees surrounded by bird-filled skies, can be truly magical. The inner sanctuary, like many of Jayavarman VII’s creations, is a hodgepodge maze of ponds and shrines, and while there is a straightforward path that you can take walking due east or west, there is no shortage of minor trails and pathways that you can wander through.
Some of the apsaras here remain in excellent condition as do a couple of the lintels. The central stupa that sits in the central sanctuary is particularly photogenic. Most people enter Preah Khan from the west, but it is easily done from the east as well. Whichever way you do it, it is a good idea to ask your moto to wait for you at the other side to save you having to walk back.
There are several impressive trees, the best of all the other temples to rival Ta Prohm. However, they similarly are facing the chop over time to help preserve the site. If push came to shove, after the main three temples – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon – we think we might recommend this next as a must see for the first-time visitor to Angkor. Allow about an hour to visit the temple.