Within Angkor Archaeological Park
Daily, 7:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: Included in Angkor Pass ($37/$62/$72)
Washrooms On Site: No
Overshadowed by bigger temples nearby with more name recognition, this unassuming temple has quite a few amazingly picturesque spots. Be aware that these photo ops are the basis of a very clever panhandle by the security staff.
A common fixture on almost all tour circuits, Preah Khan has just as much beauty as the nearby Ta Prohm temple but with a fraction of the tourists.
Upon our arrival at 8am, the temple was in the stages of waking up. Walking along the entry causeway, I was shocked at the complete absence of any other people. I hadn’t even entered it yet and this was already looking like a scenic place. Where was everybody? I quickly got over this mystery, and snagged a photo to capitalise on my good fortune.
Inside, Preah Khan is filled with those Instagram-worthy shots of all the door archways perfectly lined up. The lintels and carvings at this temple are in spectacular condition, considering that some are outside and exposed to the elements. Take some time to notice the exquisite detail on them, especially the carvings on the tombs in the outside courtyard, since they are at eye level.
The main sanctum of Preah Khan holds a conical phallus in pretty good state. It is here you might encounter some overly warm and friendly temple security members hanging about. They’ll cheerfully wish you a good morning, ask where you’re from, and maybe tell you a little bit about the room.
Though this may seem like temple workers being helpful and trying to make their job more interesting, these men have actually cooked up a clever side-hustle. If they were dressed normally like the merchants trying to sell you crappy souvenirs, you would be on your guard and avoid them. However, since they’re in uniform and look “official” you’re more likely to trust them and engage them in conversation.
After the pleasantries are out of the way, they’ll offer to take a photo of you and the phallus. Seems harmless enough. You were undoubtedly already taking a photo of it anyway. It’s just one picture right? It’s an opportunity hard to pass up if you’re a solo traveller sick of selfies, or a couple where all you want is a photo of the both of you. They will direct you where to stand and where to put your hands so that it looks like you’re “holding” the light that is in this cavern. A couple pictures will be taken and then you’ll be led somewhere else. A good guard will give you a short explanation of why the picture he’s about to take of you here will look great. Pose while looking this way. Pose while sitting here. Very nice!
I’m not sure how long this could’ve lasted – if the guard continues to lead you around and take your picture if you sound enthusiastic enough. For us, we were taken to the outside courtyard in between two tombs. Our picture was taken of us holding hands before we began making rumblings of a goodbye: “thank you so much” “we should move on” “great info!” At this point the guard took off his cap to panhandle and gently begged for a small tip. There was a bit of an “ahh, dammit” feeling, but at the same time, not totally unexpected. Nobody is that friendly in a tourist attraction for no reason. If you’ve seen the temple guards at the Angkor Wat, they have perfected the art of pretending you’re invisible, so why would the guards here be any different if they didn’t have their own agenda?
We gave our impromptu photographer only a dollar but he seemed pleased enough by that and thanked us. Like an apparition, he had vanished by the time I put my wallet away. It’s truly remarkable the speed that they disappear once they’ve gotten their money.
To be honest, though it was kind of a scam, we’re not bothered. Mark’s thinking is: is it really a scam if you got something out of the exchange that you wanted? We got some nice pictures of the two of us, and the guard did really work for his dollar.
If you visit Preah Khan and someone in uniform nicely offers to take your picture, know that they will expect something for the service. Make sure you have plenty of small bills so you’re not stuck giving away a tenner! If you’re in a tour group or came with a guide, they will probably leave you alone, though. Since we were now worthless marks with no more money to give, we weren’t approached by another guard for the rest of our visit.
Further on as you approach the Eastern gate, you will walk on long causeways that will link up to Preah Khan’s Hall of Dancers. If you’ve followed our route, be sure to check out a structure that should be on your left. It looks like an open-air temple, with its roof collapsed and only its columns remaining.
On the inner perimeter wall, the highlight is this massive tree seemingly stuck on the temple walls, its roots dribbling down like a viscous liquid. Though it doesn’t have quite the same look, it’s evocative of the “famous tree” at its more popular cousin, Ta Prohm. This will undeniably be an in-demand spot for a photo, but you won’t have to wait long (or at all) to get one without other tourists marring your shot.
Past the Eastern gate is another similar causeway like on the other side, as well as these Garudas sculpted onto the enclosure wall. The Garudas further down the wall are in better condition, so refrain from only getting a photo of the first one beside the gate, whose face is broken and hard to make out.
Though it doesn’t have the immediate glitzy pull of its neighbours, Preah Khan is definitely worth your attention. Those who only have a one day Angkor Pass will likely skip over this one, but if you have a multi-day pass, you should visit this underrated temple. Just remember to take your own photos if you want to hang on to your money!