PREAH KHAN KAMPONG SVAY – UPDATE 2017
The PREAH KAN complex is one of the many remote temple sites in the PREAH VIHEAR PROVINCE. As with other khmer historical sites, such as BENG MELEA and PREAH VIHEAR it is enshrouded with jungle growth. According to Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Khan_Kompong_Svay – it stands as the biggest single Khmer complex ever built. With all the jungle growth which surrounds and covers the site, its size can be a bit hard to envisage. But if you include the outlying Barray, and not just the inner temple complex, the claim that it bigger than the Angkor site can be hard to argue with. According to my tour guide the PREAH KHAN complex was built during JAYAVARMAN VII reign in the tenth century. The site comprises of the large inner complex of Prasat Preah Khan Kompong Svay, and a number of smaller outlier temples i.e., Kat Kidei Temple, Preah Stung Temple, Mebon Temple, etc.
From Siem Reap it is approximately a 100 km trip which will normally go via routes 6, 64, and 62. Route 62 also happens to be the road which takes you to other Khmer Historical sites in the area such as KAOH KER and BENG MELEA. If coming from the other direction then the nearest town is Kampong Thom. The Khmer historical site of PREAH KHAN KAMPONG SVAY is one of the least visited temple ruins Cambodia. The day I visited I was the only sightseer there. It is 104 Km from the nearby provincial town of Kampong Thom and will take approximately three hours to reach there. NOTE: during the rainy season the travel time may be longer due to potholes filled with water in the final 50 kilometre stretch of road is dirt. There is no public transport of any kind going out to this site so transportation must be with a hired four wheel drive vehicle or a motor cross bike. The price for trip to Preah Khan Khmer historical site in a hired four wheel drive vehicle = USD 100. NOTE: the best place to arrange for a vehicle hire is at the Arunras Hotel. The staff on the desk speak reasonable English and can put you in touch with a transport provider. NOTE: there is a laminated price chart at the Arunras Hotel giving the prices of all trips. These are standardised and not negotiable. I checked the price at three different hotels in kampong Thom, and they were all the same. The best time for a visitation to the PREAH KHAN historical site is in the morning. The standard weather pattern in the area is hot in the morning and raining in the afternoon. For those getting serious about photography, I would suggest departing Kampong Thom at 5.00 AM. This will put you on site at about 7.30 – 8.00 AM. There is a USD 5 entry fee for each person.
At the temple complex:
As one approaches the temple complex it’s hard to envisage its entire spread, due to the dense foliage covering the entire area. However an indication of the size of the Preah Khan complex is indicated by the large Barray the approach road passes at the outer extremity of the site. It is a good two kilometres or more from the entry point to the temple entry point. There is a parking area one hundred meters or so from the initial site entry gate. Due to the remoteness of this location, there are no restaurants, toilets, trinket shops, or drink sellers. Take all your own water and snacks for the duration you plan to be there. After paying a park ranger the entry fee of USD 5, you can begin your exploration of one of the best Khmer ruins in Cambodia. The track from the parking area leads across a stone bridge with some nice artwork on its sides. Take a few minutes to check out the 1000 year old artwork, before moving onto the temple proper.
Fifty meters or so beyond the bridge is the site entry gate. If you’ve visited other Khmer sites you’ll recognise the general layout of the temple site; approach roads and main entrances are oriented to the east – the rising sun. There is an outer gate, with another approach road to the inner walled complex. The walled complex is always surrounded by a moat (Barray) which depending on the time of year, may or may not be filled.
After passing through the outer entry gate there is another long walk (approx. 500 mtrs) across an open flat area to the eastern gate and main entry point of the inner sanctum. NOTE: during the rainy season this area is quite waterlogged with mud and pools of water. The locals have put narrow planks in place to cross the wider pools of water but even so, there’s a high probability of slipping off these. In that regard, it is well advised to take footwear which is either waterproof or you don’t mind getting soaked.
There are a couple of smaller buildings to each side of the trail to the eastern gate – Kat Temple and Kat Kdei temple – and one other small one completely enshrouded by tree growth. As you approach the eastern gate the muddy track eventually gives way to a raised stone pathway. This is the dedicated path to the entry point of the inner sanctum. Take care as many of the large stone slabs have collapsed leaving holes all the way along the path. If you are familiar with the general layout of the Khmer construction methods, you’ll note that the main entry points are always on the eastern side of any building or complex. In fact, it is a standardised method that all walls run true to the compass points – north, south, east, and west – and at the midpoint of each wall there is a gate. A lot of the eastern gate has collapsed. To create safe access over this potentially hazardous pile of jumbled blocks, a boarded pathway has been put in place for the ascent and descent over the rubble.
Once inside the inner sanctum what becomes immediately apparent is the state of disrepair of the site. There is jumbled masses of stone blocks spread across large areas of the ground inside. None more so than at the center of the compound where the main structures, or temples, were. For some strange reason the outer walls are mainly intact but the structures are in ruins. As mentioned, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the site with no one else about. My driver/guide pointed out a few things of note and then left me to my own devices. Due to the fact there were no park staff around I was able to make the most of my opportunity and climbed to the top of the central structures to get some great overview shots. As follows:
NOTE: Just a word of warning for those thinking of climbing up onto the structures. Take your time climbing up. Make sure of firm hand holds and foot holds before moving up. Some of the stones although appearing large and solid are balanced precariously and if you apply pressure, the stones could roll off.
After spending a good forty five minutes climbing to the top of two of the central structures I spent another hour walking around the grounds getting shots of other interesting features. As with most all the other Khmer sites I’ve visited I noted the religious theme at Preah Khan was definitely Brahmanism/Hindu and not Buddhist. This actually makes a mockery of photography groups who visit some of the Khmer historical sites in Siem Reap and get posed shots of Buddhist Monks around the temple complexes. Yes it makes for a nice shot but it has little to do with historical accuracy.
After two hours spent exploring the inner sanctum I took my leave and returned to the vehicle and my waiting driver. He suggested visiting a temple further back along the road with a stone elephant. After a quick check from the parking area I noted the elephant had a ridiculous sash rapped around it, so I told the driver to keep going to a site which sounded much more promising; MEBON TEMPLE.
MEBON TEMPLE is one of the temple sites within the PREAH KHAN complex. It is situated approx. two kilometers back down the road from the KAMPONG SVAY entrance and sits next to the large Barray. It is approx. a 500 meter walk from the road. Be prepared to get muddy and wet if visiting in the rainy season as there are plenty of muddy pools to walk through along the track to the site. It is a small site but is in a very picturesque setting and some of the stone artwork on the temple walls is impressive. It’s worth 30 minutes to an hour of your time to have a look.
Attraction: Preah Khan Kompong Svay
Location: Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia
Entry fee: USD 5
Nearest Town: kampong Thom
Travel distance from Kampong Thom: 104 km (includes approx. 50 km of dirt road)
Travel time: 2.5 – 4 hours depending on weather
Transport: hired four wheel drive or motor cross bike
Cost for four wheel drive: USD 100
Recommended accommodation in kampong Thom: The Arunras Hotel (can arrange for transportation to the Preah Khan site)