Cambodia Travel Guide ->Sightseeing in Angkor->Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som


Preah Khan, Ta Som, and Neak Preah are a group of temples located close to the Jayatataka or Northern Baray of Angkor (a large artificial lake that is now dry). All three are Buddhist sites and associated with the famous King Jayavarman VII, the founder of Angkor Thom (both Preah Khan and Ta Som are dedicated to his father).

Preah Khan, a beautiful ruin, partially overgrown with impressive large trees, is one of the favourite monuments of visitors to Angkor. It is part of what the early explorers called the "Grand Circuit", i.e. it belongs to the outer temples. It lies beyond the north gate of Angkor Thom; you cannot walk there but need a car or motorbike (or at least a bicycle). There are no plans to restore Preah Khan completely. Instead, the World Monuments Fund, who has undertaken work on the temple, decided to present it as a partial ruin and to conserve the vegetation.

Preah Khan is large, it covers 57 hectares. It is enclosed by four concentric walls and surrounded by a moat. It is more like a small town than just a monastery. Inscriptions found at Preah Khan reports that a community of over 90.000 people was associated with it. The living spaces for the monks, novices, and lay caretakers were probably located between the outer and the second wall.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan means "sacred sword" which refers to a legendary sword owned by Jayavarman II in the late ninth century. The temple was built in the later 12th century, during the reign of King Jayavarman VII. Like the Bayon, it is a Buddhist temple (though Jayavarman VIIth successors tried to turn it into a Hindu temple after his death - they added shrines dedicated to Hindu gods, chipped out Buddha images, and added beards to the Buddhas depicted in the reliefs to make them look like Rishi - Hindu wise men). The most impressive feature of Preah Khan is perhaps the surrounding jungle - large trees with twisted roots cling to the laterite and sandstone walls. Because nature is so close, the temple has a very serene and almost numinous atmosphere.
In one of the courtyards of Preah Kahn


The temple is best entered form the east (taxi drivers will usually try to drop you off and pick you up again at the west entrance, as this is the more usual place, but will also take you to take east gate if you insist. If you enter it from the west you see the temple in reverse). A processional way flanked by rows of stone lanterns leads to it. After this comes a causeway like the one that leads to Angkor Thom - gods on the left and demons on the right hold the body of a large stone serpent on their knees. This signifies that Preah Khan once had the status of and was used as a royal city, perhaps Jayavarman VII had his palace there while Angkor Thom was completed.

Next you reach a laterite enclosure wall with Garuda guardian figures carved out of sandstone. Now walk through the impressive Gopura (entry tower). Behind the next two enclosure walls lies the main temple complex. From here you can see the labyrinth of pavilions, halls, chapels, rooms, and galleries.

At the centre of Preah Khan stands a small stupa (bell shaped object that tapers to a point). In the walls of the cruciform sanctuary you will see lots of holes. there were used to affix metal sheet (copper or perhaps Bronze) for decoration. Visit the Hall of Dancers (easily recognized by the depictions of dancing Apsaras on the lintels above the doors). Occasionally, classical Khmer dances are performed here. You can also try to find the Shrine of the White Lady (a female figure, supposed to be a statue of Jayavarman VIIth wife), one of the ubiquitous children on the temple grounds will show you the spot for a dollar or two. And don't forget to take time to sit down a bit to enjoy the sights and the sounds of the surrounding jungle! 

Gopura Ta Som
One of the Gopuras of Ta Som - a large ficus tree has settled on it

Ta Som is another Buddhist temple founded by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th century. It was, like Preah Khan, dedicated to his father. Ta Som is not one of the important sites of Angkor and not part of the usual tourist visitation programmes - and  therefore very quiet and undisturbed. Use the eastern gate. It is just a single shrine, surrounded by a laterite wall. It is so small that you can easily walk around the entire complex (in clockwise direction) before you enter it. Some of the stone carvings are in very good condition, especially one of the frontons that has been taken off the door and is displayed on the ground. As many other Buddhist temples from the 12th century it has been defaced by Jayavarman VIIth successors who had part of the Buddha images on the towers hacked away, probably in an attempt to hinduise the temple. Remains of a Hindu linga can be seen in the central shrines which replaced the original Buddha statues.

Neak Pean
Neak Pean

Neak Pean is a delightful small site located in the proximity of Ta Som. It was once located in the middle of a large artificial lake, the Jayatataka, but the basin of the lake today is dry. In a large square pond stands a round island, surrounded by nagas and crowned by a tower. Zhou Daguan reports that the pond was filled with red lotus and that the tower had a golden spire (He seems to have liked Neak Pean). The tower is decorated with images of the Buddha and the Boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara. A horse statue also refers to this Boddhisatva; it represents the  horse Balala. According to a Buddhist legend, Avalokiteshvara once manifested himself as this horse to rescue a group of merchants who were shipwrecked.

Another interesting feature of Neak Pean are the four small chambers placed around the island. Each houses a water spout - one looks like an elephant, one like a lion, another like a horse, and the fourth is a human. From them flowed lustful water that according to Zhou Daguan was used by pilgrims to wash their sins away.

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Last Updated 01.03.2006