Photo: Angkor inverted.

Neak Pean

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Just off the Grand Circuit between Preah Khan and East Mebon, Neak Pean is an artificial island temple — a hospital built by Jayavarman VII in the middle of the Northern Baray. Its interest lies in its picturesque setting and unconventional design, consisting of a series of complex ponds within the confines of the square laterite wall.

Getting there is half the fun.

Getting there is half the fun.

Today only the central pools and sanctuary can be seen. Easily identifiable is the dominant central shrine on a circular island located within a pool — probably representing Mount Meru surrounded by the sacred Lake Anavatapta believed to cure all illnesses — with four small chapels at the corners of the pool. Neak Pean was likely a pilgrimage site with the belief the waters could cure the faithful.

The four chapels each have a large head of a king, lion, horse and elephant respectively, from which water passed from the central pool to the smaller basins. The central sanctuary is encircled by a naga which is where the temple gets its name from – neak is the Khmer for the Sanskrit word naga.

Island sanctuary within an island temple.

Island sanctuary within an island temple.

Being surrounded by a pond, Neak Pean looks a lot better during the rainy season, but being small it can also get quite crowded at busy times of the day. There is a barrier for visitors — it is not possible yet to walk around the site — so groups tend to bunch up a bit here.

There are two ways to access the temple. The first is by road, then walking the last 500 metres on a wooden walkway over the water, which makes for a change to climbing up steps at many other temples. The alternative is by boat – the only option that would have been around for the Angkorians. The community-based tourism initiative Baray Reach Dak arranges boat trips, made possible since the re-flooding of the North Baray, which was done partly as a flood preventative measure to protect Siem Reap town.

What next?

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Location map for Neak Pean

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