Neak Pean – a special temple in the middle of a sump landscape

Neak Pean – a special temple in the middle of a sump landscape

In the middle of the artificial reservoir Northern Baray is the artificial island of Neak Pean, just a few kilometers from Siem Reap at the site of Angkor.

Neak Poan Sumpf Weg

The surreal looking “swamp” on the way to Neak Poan is a highlight of the local fauna

Built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII towards the end of the 12th century. The island is home to the temple complex of the same name, which is a popular destination for many visitors when exploring the region around the historic Angkor area. At the time of its foundation, the temple bore the name “Rajyasri”, which means the “Happiness of the Kingdom”. The temple is Buddhist, which is not surprising because King Jayavarman VII is known as the ruler of the Khmer Empire who – as a practicing Buddhist himself – had numerous Buddhist buildings and temples built. The name “Neak Pean” means “intertwined serpents”, alluding to the representations on the sanctuary of the temple.

Neak Pean Frontansicht

View of the Neak Pean

The Northern Baray covers an area of 3500 meters by 900 meters and is said to symbolize the mythological lake “Anavatapta”, that lake which, according to legend, is located at the center of the earth and cures anyone who bathes in it of any illness.

For this reason, historians also believe that Neak Pean was intended as a healing place. The medical idea behind it was that swimming in the baray would bring the elements in the patient’s body back into balance, resulting in healing. For this reason, Neak Pean was also divided into a main pool and four side pools, these four representing the elements of water, earth, fire and wind. The sanctuary of the temple is located in the center of the main basin, a small tower on a round hill. This tower was made of laterite and sandstone, and on the one hand it is decorated with abstract representations, and on the other hand it is surrounded by serpentine creatures (hence the name Neak Pean).

Further, at the time of its construction, there were eight additional pools around it, but these are no longer preserved.

Even today, a visit to the island and the temple is something very special for tourists: to get there, visitors have to cross the quiet but very atmospheric water landscape on a rather long footbridge – which is probably an experience without equal. Especially the aquatic plants and fish that can be seen make the excursion something unique. Today the temple can only be viewed from the outside, unfortunately it is not possible to enter. The Northern Baray was restored in 2007, so Neak Pean is now again surrounded by water all year round.

Neak Pean überwucherter Tempel

Overgrown plant in Neak Pean