People of Preah Khan

Preah Khan, a late-12th-century Buddhist temple near Angkor Thom, still has trees growing through the buildings, as it was when Europeans first saw Angkor. Rather than guess how to reconstruct the ruins, the French left Preah Khan mostly unrestored. But it’s people that we’ll remember from Preah Khan.

As we walked down a dry path to Preah Khan, this girl was happily drawing an apsara (dancing girl) in the dirt. A local woman was nearby; our guide asked if she was the girl’s mother. No, she’s not, and she didn’t know where the girl’s mother was.

girl drawing apsara
girl drawing apsara

The columns of this building are decorated with devatas, female beings sent to earth to seduce meditating ascetics.

building with devata decorations
building with devata decorations

Tree roots are growing into the buildings, forcing stones apart and crumbling the buildings.

trees at Preah Khan (click to enlarge)
trees crumbling a gallery at Preah Khan (click to enlarge)

This lintel is decorated with asparas, female dancing spirits. According to wikipedia, Preah Khan formerly had 1,000 dancers. Why would a temple have a thousand dancing girls?

aspara lintel (click to enlarge)
aspara lintel (click to enlarge)

This nun sits in Preah Khan. Buddhist nuns can wear white robes. Our guide showed us her photo from many years ago. Del, another photographer on the tour, took this photo as I received a blessing from the nun. My yoga practice provided some comfort kneeling on the stones as the nun chanted a blessing and tied yarn around my wrist. She sprinkled us with water to complete the ceremony.

Blessed by nun, by Del
Blessed by a nun, by Del

As we left Preah Khan, a young man asked if we wanted to buy a book about the Angkor temples. We’ve experienced touts before, especially in China. I said I had no money and kept walking. He asked how could I pay for water and snacks — Cambodia’s hot, so all tourists buy drinks. I said I was stupid and left my money in my other pants, but I could borrow money from the people I was traveling with.

I stopped. This young book peddler understood my response and asked a great question, all in English. His English was much better than almost all the Cambodians we had met. We asked where he learned English. He had attended a private school and could also speak French. Another member of our group walked up. I introduced Virginie, who said “Je suis francaise” (I am a French woman.) The young man rattled off several sentences in French, starting with. “Je souhaite …” (I hope). His French is much better than my high school French.

He let us take this photo, proudly talking about his broad, Khmer face with high cheekbones.

hmer face of book seller who speaks English and French
Khmer face of book seller who speaks English and French

Jobs must be very scarce for an educated and articulate young person to sell books on the path of a minor temple. At our Bangkok hotel, we talked with a personable, young man who wanted to be a flight attendant but was not optimistic about his chances. A thousand people apply for every flight attendant vacancy. People in Southeast Asia don’t have the same opportunities we take for granted.

Like most Angkor temples, Preah Khan is surrounded by a moat, and young men were casting nets.

casting a net (click to enlarge)
casting a net (click to enlarge)

Preah Khan was a great change of pace where we gained some insight into life in Cambodia.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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