Skip to Content

Must-Visit Preah Khan: the Sacred Sword Temple in Cambodia

Step Inside Preah Khan Temple in Angkor

On a sweltering hot afternoon in Siem Reap, we jumped aboard our tuk-tuk and headed to Preah Khan, the sacred sword temple. We had so far visited Bayon, Ta Prohm and Ta Nei and were looking forward to exploring Preah Khan, a popular stop for visitors on the Grand Circuit Temple Tours of the Angkor Archaeological Park.

As with the previous Khmer temples we had seen, this one had also been built by Jayavarman ll to honour his father. And like Ta Prohm and Ta Nei, it also sat in lush jungle surroundings and had giant tree roots entwined throughout the complex.

This article may contain affiliate links – please read the full disclaimer here.

Preah Khan Entrance

Preah Khan Temple Secrets Unlocked

Preah Khan is one of the most significant temples erected during the ancient Khmer empire. It was built on the battle site where the Buddhist ruler, King Jayavarman ll defeated the invading Cham forces and was initially named Nagara Jayasri, the city of victorious royal fortune.

Its modern-day name means sacred sword, as supposedly a legend tells that the king’s sword was kept at the temple complex.

However it got its name, historians know that Preah Khan was a place of learning and contemplation and an important Khmer city with at least 100,000 inhabitants.

Angie sitting in the open window of a temple ruin at Preah Khan

Wander Around Preah Khan Temple

Time spent in Preah Khan – 30 minutes

We entered the complex of Preah Khan from the main road via a bridge lined by guardians. Both sides of the bridge are guarded by the sculpture of Naga, a serpent with many heads and a snake-like body held by devas (Gods) and asuras (Demons).

This was the same as the bridge entering Angkor Thom, except on a much smaller scale.

As we got nearer to the entrance we also, noticed something that is a common sight in Siem Reap; people with missing legs, blown off by landmines. Preah Khan was no exception and we passed a few of these tragic victims begging or selling fruit along the track to the temple.

Nothing can prepare you for something so far removed from your own life and it was a reminder that in these serene and spiritual settings there are active landmines still hidden all around from the jungle to the farmlands and rice fields.

If you have time on your trip, one of the best things to do in Siem Reap that doesn’t involve temples is to visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum to better understand the situation of landmines in Cambodia.

Explore the ruins of Preah Khan

Once in the temple, it felt very much like Ta Prohm with its maze of collapsed corridors, towers, chambers and ceremonial spaces alongside an abundance of gargantuan tree roots.

It was also really humid and felt quite oppressive due to the cloak of jungle canopy and, at one point, I even thought I might faint!

Tree roots growing over temple ruins

The good news is that I didn’t faint and we continued to wander around the temple until we came to the incredible remains of a two-storey building.

On further research, I found out that this building would have been either the city library or a grain store, and local folklore tells that this was where the King’s ‘Holy Sword’ was kept.

We were amazed that it was still standing after so many centuries, however, the site is part of a conservation project run by the World Monuments Fund to ensure that sites all around Angkor are preserved for future generations to see, and so far I think they are doing a pretty good job.

Temple Ruins Preah Khan

Stone carvings of whimsical figures and spiritual beings caught our eye, much the same as in the other Angkor temples we had visited in Siem Reap. Even so, because of the change in colour of the stone, each one seems to be its own individual character.

You may also see etchings on the walls done by Vietnamese soldiers during their short occupation in Preah Khan in the 1970s; a reminder of the wars that have taken place over the years in Cambodia.

How long do you need in Preah Khan?

As Preah Khan is smaller than Ta Prohm we found we had seen everything we wanted to in around 30 minutes. If you only have one day in Siem Reap you could definitely combine it with several other of the best temples to see in Angkor, without feeling too rushed.

However if, like us, you are spending four days in Siem Reap then why not spend the mornings around your hotel pool or enjoy breakfast/brunch at one of the community restaurants in Siem Reap. Then, in the late afternoon, head to the ancient Angkor temples and stay to see the sunset over the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Sunset over river Angkor Thom

Where To Next?

Once we were out of Preah Khan, we found stallholders by the main road selling fruit and water. Even though we had drank our body weight in water I could feel that my blood sugars were fluctuating with the heat and, although I have to admit I wouldn’t normally get food from street vendors, it was a case of needs must.

We bought some delicious fresh pineapple, sliced and diced by two young girls, and so back in the tuk-tuk with the wind in our hair (and perspiration trickling down our backs) we ate it on our way to the next temple, and it was delicious.

After a short ride past other temples and jungle landscapes, we arrived at the formidable Angkor Wat, one of the most famous religious sites in the world. Now we needed to find out if Cambodia’s most treasured landmark would live up to all the hype that surrounds it!

Follow me on my Cambodian Temple Journey to discover

Angkor Wat – Cambodia’s Most Sacred Religious Temple

Angkor Wat

Pin for future travel to Cambodia