For those experiencing crowd and temple fatigue while exploring the Angkor Archaeological Park, Neak Pean (or Neak Poan) might be a good respite as it is not as popular as the "big name" temples such as Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. While small and simpler than those temples, Neak Pean stands out thanks to the interesting meaning behind its structure, and the fact that it was built on an island, in the midst of a reservoir.
A Snippet of its History
Built while King Jayavarman VII ruled in the latter half of the 12th century, Neak Pean was initially built as a place of healing. People used to go to Neak Pean as they believed that the water there had healing properties.
The Walk to Neak Pean
Getting to Neak Pean involves a walk on a paved boardwalk across the reservoir. The scenery that you see on this walk is quite unique, with half submerged trees growing out of the water. Personally, I felt as if the views on this walk overshadowed the temple itself. You can take your time here, looking out for interesting plants and watching little fish swim in the waters.
A quick heads-up though that the walkway has no handrails, which might make the temple difficult to access for those who need the extra support when walking.
The Structure of Neak Pean
Neak Pean consists of one square shaped, central pool, with four smaller pools on each side. The central pool is meant to represent Lake Anavatapta, a mythical lake from ancient Buddhist beliefs, said to be located in the center of the world. In the center of this large pool, you'll find a circular pedestal topped with a small temple. At the base of the pedestal are two entwined serpents which is actually where the name Neak Pean (literally meaning 'entwined serpents') comes from.
The large central pool is the water source that feeds the four smaller pools via spouted sculptures of a horse head, an elephant head, a lion's head, and a human head. The four small pools represent the elements of earth, wind, water, and fire, and those seeking healing would come for a dip in the pools as they believed the water had curative powers.
When I visited, we unfortunately couldn't get up close to the structures and could only view them from a distance. I am not sure if the fencing keeping people from getting up close will be a permanent fixture. We couldn't see the spouted sculptures from where we were allowed to stand, but were able to witness some locals worshipping while we were there. It was interesting to see as it involved quite a bit of screaming and so, it was very different from ways of worshipping that I've seen previously!
Neak Pean is part of the grand circuit of the Angkor Archaeological Park, and if you're doing some research to see if it's worth the visit, you'll see that reviews are mixed. The site is small, and you won't be able to see the structures up close so if you don't have much time, you might want to see other temples in the park instead. But if you have a bit of time to spare in your itinerary and think you'd enjoy a walk across a reservoir, it might be worth a stop there.
Want to get here?
Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Getting here: Neak Pean is part of the grand circuit.
Admission: Admission to Neak Pean is included as part of your Angkor Pass.
Bonus tip: Between the parking area where your tuk-tuk will drop you off and the walkway over the reservoir, there are a number of stalls selling very well-priced souvenirs. If you're looking to get some tourist pants, this is a good place to pick up a pair!
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