Now this is a ruin. Preah Khan, like its more famous cousin Ta Prohm, has been left largely as it was found, overtaken by the jungle. The most voracious plants have been beaten back, but the huge trees growing through the buildings remain, and the stones that have tumbled down still lie where they have fallen. The original corridors are blocked in many spots, and there are places you can’t get to without climbing on top of the remains of walls, leaping from stone to stone, and even clambering over archways. Its name means Holy Sword; according to local tradition, the mysterious two tiered structure shown above at one point housed a magical sword.
An outer wall of laterite topped with carved black sandstone encloses the temple, which is a classic tiered terrace structure, built by Jayavarman VII in honor of his father. The wall has collapsed in several places, and it’s through one of those holes that we make our entrance, near one of the many statues of a Garuda holding a Naga that line the wall. We traverse the interior, scanning the walls of the main temple complex.
We pass through the Hall of Dancers, so named because of the many Apsara dancers carved into its walls. We make our way through it slowly, encumbered by the many tightly packed, claustrophobic pillars, and entranced by the carvings. The northern wall has completely collapsed, and with the roof gone as well the carvings are lushly illuminated. It s through the hole in the wall that we step back outside, clambering over the massive piles of rubble that lie strewn throughout the temple grounds.
We continue out and around the temple, not climbing it yet. Some of the temple on this side has collapsed, turning the ground into a treacherous platform puzzle, requiring you to leap from stone to stone to progress.
Allison inspects one of the side entrances to the temple, and then before I know it she’s sprung up and on top of it, quick as a cat. She looks magnificent, and reports the view as being equally impressive, but I’m too nervous of other people’s reactions to join her. There’s no one else around, though, and she cajoles me until I join her. Once I have, someone else turns the corner and immediately spots us.
But my worries were for naught: the Frenchman thinks it’s cool that we’re up there, and when I’ve climbed down (Allison stays up), he hands me his camera and asks me to take a photo of him up there, and climbs up to replicate our position. As he does so, a father and son join the party, the son expressing his interest in climbing the temple, and the father cajoling him along: “No way you can make it up there, I’d like to see you try!”
The father happily eats his words when the son does in fact make it up to just shy of where Allison stands, to everyone’s applause. I’m glad to have my earlier nervousness proven wrong, and even more glad to see the next generation of temple climbers getting off to such an enthusiastic start. Allison and I go up the temple hand in hand, discussing how we’re going to raise our kids.