Neak Pean or the entwined serpents is one of the ancient sites that has gained a lot of attention due to its astonishing architecture. It is an artificial island with a Buddhist temple on a circular island in Jayatataka Baray. Base one its architecture this temple is thought to be associated with Preah Khan temple; It is the “Mebon” of the Preah Khan Baray. This temple was completely constructed in the 12th century, during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.
As the study has shown that during King Jayavarman VII reign, he had built many hospitals. Neak Pean is also one of those, which means it was constructed for medical purposes. Neak Pean is also believed to present Anavatapta, a mythical lake in the Himalayas. Water contained in this mythical lake is thought to have the ability to cure all illnesses. Neak Pean is one of several sites described by Zhou Daguan. In the 13th century, he was a Chinese emissary who visited Angkor in its heyday. However, what we see today does not correspond to Zhou’s description of the site does not fully correspond. Hence, it suggests that either Neak Pean was remodeled or Zhou misremembered.
You might also interested in: Beng Mealea | Hindu Temple In Siem Reap
Visit Neak Pean | Ancient Hospital of the Angkor Era
The Buddhist temple on the artificial island also called Neak Pean. It has a unique character amongst the other impressive and monumental temples within the Angkor Wat area. Neak Pean temple is worth a spot on your itinerary if you have more than one day for Angkor temples. Neak Pean Temple was dedicated to the Buddhist religion and Lokeshvara, a bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is set on a circular stone base, encircled by two Naga serpents, guarding the East entrance of the temple. At the west, their tales intertwine, thus created the name for the temple as Neak Pean or “the entwined snakes”. Having an outrageous structure, this temple has the shape like an elephant’s head to the north, a horse to the west, a lion to the south and a man to the east. According to the Hindu belief, each shape symbolizes different things.
First, the elephant head symbolizes water, the horse head represents the wind, the lion head evokes fire and lastly, the human head reflects the earth. Neak Pean temple originally had doors on each of the four cardinal directions. However, three of them are false doors, leaving just the East entrance. The false doors were decorated with large carved depictions of Lokeshvara, believed to possess the powers of healing. On the pediment over the East entrance is a depiction of the Buddha. In front of the East entrance, there is an interesting statue standing, Flying horse Balaha. The flying horse Balaha depicts a story from one of the Jataka tales, the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha. The story serves as a reminder not to focus on worldly matters and temptations and instead reach for lasting happiness by following the teachings of the Buddha.
Besides the 70 meters main pond, there are other four smaller ponds surrounded the main pond. The central pond is the water source for the four surrounding pounds. The water is transferred through gargoyles shaped like a lion, and an elephant, a horse, and a man. It is believed to represent the heads of the Four Great Animals. If the theory is correct, it is uncertain why one of the gargoyles was fashioned as a man and not an ox. According to the Hindu belief of balance, the four surrounding ponds represent four different things such as water, earth, fire, and wind. The ancient Khmers seem to have believed that bathing in its successive pools would have restored balance within the body and cured, as people believed that water in these is a medicinal virtue.
Atmosphere & environment
This place offers a rather different experience you could find somewhere else. The temple itself is small and parts of it are currently not accessible, but what makes it different is that the ponds that comprise the bulk of the temple ground. As this temple set on the island, to approach it one has to cross over a lake by a wooden bridge of 800 m. Neak Pean is definitely a breathtaking and relaxing temple where your visiting doesn’t have to be rush. Instead, you can take your time, walk around slowly, and appreciate Mother Nature surrounding the temple. The view along the way to the island is pretty photogenic; you will find a lake submerges with trees.
The trees and massive sky’s reflection in the lake create a spectacular backdrop for a photograph. You will find peace within yourself with the serenity and calm of the lake during the walk. Travelers mostly actually enjoy the walk to the temple rather more than the temple ground itself. However, as it is located close to Angkor Wat and popular amongst the travelers, this place mostly packs with the crowds. You should choose time to go wisely like the early morning so that you will be able to roam around the site freely. Also, to be able to see the site in its most beautiful time, you should visit it in the wet season, May to November.
Location & ticket
Neak Pean located in about 2.5 km east of Preah Khan, Siem Reap. The ticket to enter this temple is included in the ticket for Angkor Park. As per the revised rates, a single-day ticket pass costs $37, a three-day ticket pass costs $62 and a seven-day ticket pass costs $72. The three-day and seven-day passes have to be used on consecutive days.
After spending a day or two exploring the temples in Angkor Park, Neak Pean is the best place you should visit for a nice change of scenery. This site is more than just a temple. It will leave your jaws drop and wondering how could such a place was built in the past. It is priceless architecture with a combination of an artificial island, temple, and ponds. You can’t find its unique structure anywhere else in Angkor Park. Neak Pean is an extraordinary place, a place to admire how Buddhism and Hinduism combine harmoniously. Like how Neak Pean was built for medical purposes, a visit here will heal your mind and soul with the atmosphere it offers.