Preah Khan was built by Jayavarman VII on the site of an earlier palace, and whilst Angkor Thom was being restored after a rain by the Cham in 1177 he came here to live.
The complex functioned as both a university and monastery, employing over 1,000 teachers plus an additional 97,840 other staff, the numbers are huge considering the site itself is not particularly large by Angkor standards. Inscriptions give us further details, revealing that a daily delivery of ten tonnes of rice was made to Preah Khan, enough to feed up to 15,000 people.
In 1191 Preah Khan was consecrated as a multi-denominational temple, catering to worshipers of Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu and a staggering 282 other gods.
The temple is in a semi-collapsed state and is currently under restoration, but with the surrounding lush jungle and lichen coated stone, it’s immensely atmospheric.
Restoration might be the wrong term to use here, buildings are being stabilised to make them safe, but there is not any reconstruction happening, and the jungle is being allowed to encroach to a degree within the temple. It’s a sympathetic approach, more maintenance that restoration, providing a great balance between the structures and the nature. It’s places like this that could be straight out of a scene from Indiana Jones.
For whatever reason I always prefer visiting sites that are in a semi-ruined state, it seems to actually provide you with a greater connection to the past. Preah Khan is also less visited which is an added bonus, just a couple of hours earlier and less than 1km away I was fighting my way though hundreds of people at Bayon, but now I’m at a temple with less than 10 visitors.
The ruinous state of the complex can make it difficult to navigate around, the main passageways are cleared of rubble, but the side passages are not. It’s immense fun to seek out these less explored areas, picking your way through the jumble of ruins, looking at the carvings, getting a little lost, and then managing to find your way again.
You should set aside a good 45 minutes to explore the Preah Khan complex, potentially a lot longer if you’re a keen photographer. With less people around and numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins, the atmosphere is wonderful and you will not find yourself keen to leave in a hurry.
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