The North and South Khleangs are situated in the heart of Angkor Thom, the capital city of the Khmer Empire, in Siem Reap Province of Cambodia. These stone temples, offering a picturesque landscape, have been standing tall since the 10th and 11th centuries respectively. The term ‘Khleang’ is believed to mean ‘storeroom’ but its relevance to the structures is unclear as they are not storerooms but temple buildings. The Khleangs are among the least studied of the Angkor temples, yet they offer a unique glimpse into the history and culture of this ancient civilization.
The North Khleang was initially built under the reign of King Jayaviravarman. It was originally made of wood during this period, but it was later reconstructed using stones by King Suryavarman I in the early 11th century. The North Khleang is a single-story structure with a rectangular layout, similar to its southern counterpart. It is believed to have been used as a ceremonial hall, with its intricate carvings and inscriptions providing insight into the religious practices of the time.
Just south of the North Khleang stands the South Khleang, which was constructed under King Rajendravarman II, but completed during the reign of Jayaviravarman. Unlike its northern counterpart, the South Khleang has remained unchanged since its initial construction. It shares similar architectural features with the North Khleang including a rectangular layout, raised galleries, and extensive use of sandstone. However, unlike other temples in Angkor Thom, the South Khleang lacks external ornamentation. Its simplicity offers a stark contrast to the elaborate decoration found in many other temples within Angkor Thom.
Both Khleangs are relatively undecorated compared to other temples in Angkor Thom, which has led some to speculate that they were left unfinished. However, others suggest that their lack of decoration is an intentional design choice, reflecting a different aesthetic or religious sensibility. Despite the lack of scholarly consensus on this point, what is clear is that the Khleangs offer a unique and important perspective on the architectural and cultural history of Angkor Thom.
The North and South Khleangs stand as silent witnesses to the grandeur of the Khmer Empire. Despite their relative simplicity compared to other temples in Angkor Thom, they capture the imagination with their imposing size and the mystery that surrounds their original function. As part of the scenic landscape of stone temples in Angkor Thom, the Khleangs invite visitors to step back in time and explore the richness of Khmer history, culture, and architecture. Their location within the Royal Palace enclosure suggests their importance in ancient times, making them an intriguing part of the historical fabric of the region.