The Buddhist temple of Preah Neak Poan is a petite yet perfect temple constructed by Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. It has a large square pool surrounded by four smaller square pools. In the middle of the central pool is a circular ‘island’ encircled by the two nagas whose intertwined tails give the temple its name.
It’s a safe bet that if an ‘Encore Angkor’ casino is eventually developed in Las Vegas or Macau, Preah Neak Poan will provide the blueprint for the ultimate swimming complex.
In the pool around the central island there were once four statues, but only one remains, reconstructed from the debris by the French archaeologists who cleared the site. The curious figure has the body of a horse supported by a tangle of human legs. It relates to a legend that Avalokiteshvara once saved a group of shipwrecked followers from an island of ghouls by transforming into a flying horse. A beautiful replica of this statue decorates the main roundabout at Siem Reap International Airport.
Water once flowed from the central pool into the four peripheral pools via ornamental spouts, which can still be seen in the pavilions at each axis of the pool. The spouts are in the form of an elephant’s head, a horse’s head, a lion’s head and a human head. The pool was used for ritual purification rites.
Preah Neak Poan was once in the centre of a huge 3km-by-900m baray serving Preah Khan, known as Jayatataka, once again partially filled with water. Access is restricted to the edge of the complex via a wooden causeway, so a visit takes only 30 minutes.