To the north-west of majestic Bayon temple is a small Buddhist shrine called Preah Ngok (sometimes spelled as Preah Ngoc). Even though small in overall size, it houses a rather large statue of Buddha sitting with his legs crossed and eyes only slightly open. The shrine appears to be reasonably modern, but the statue itself is believed to have come from late Angkorian era. Some say the statue has been there since the 13th century even though the chapel itself has been rebuilt several times over the centuries.
Because of its small size and apparent insignificance, the Preah Ngok shrine is missed by most visitors to Angkor. I had the whole thing for myself when I made my brief pause to take a few pictures of it, however a few Cambodian nuns sporting shaved heads and white robes kept me company. Through my own eyes, the most significant part of Preah Ngok appeared to be its similarity to more famous shrine called Tep Pranam which is located just north of the Terrace of the Leper King and aside from looking strikingly similar, it also houses a statue of Buddha that looks virtually identical to that of Preah Ngok.
I don’t know the reason behind such similarities and I’m quite likely the only person in the world who noticed that. None of the locals I spoke with seemed to have noticed or cared and none of the guide books to Angkor ever compared the two. But that’s probably because none of the guide books ever mentions Preah Ngok in the first place.
I bicycled through the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom and rode my way across straight road lined on both sides with many trees and dozens of inquisitive monkeys. This was without doubt one of the busiest roads in Angkor Archaeological Park. Connecting two of the most iconic sites in the area – Angkor Wat and Bayon, the number of tuk tuks and buses with organized tours was overwhelming.
About a kilometre into Angkor Thom, I was approaching a T intersection that split the road I was on to wrap around Bayon temple, standing proudly right in the middle. At the south-west corner of the cross roads was a pagoda with statue of Buddha and many locals praying inside and preying (on tourists) outside. Bayon is the largest state temple at Angkor and I knew it will take a while to explore, so I decided to pull over and take a breather from frying sun in the shade of the pagoda. I asked the locals and was told that the pagoda is called Preah Ntep. Somebody spelled it out for me this way even though the pronunciation suggested that proper spelling would be Preah Entep.
The pagoda was vastly insignificant and was one of many found within the Angkor Thom complex. Stopping for a breather obviously meant exposing myself to the relentless harassment of kids clearly sent to prey on tourists by their parents and instructed to say certain things to maximize chances of a score. I sought peace of mind but did not find it. I did get slight escape from the sun but touts forced me to quickly move on. Below are few pictures of Preah Ntep, a pagoda that doesn’t even exist on any map of Angkor Thom.
After I have passed the funeral procession that was walking down Pokambor Avenue in Siem Reap, I headed straight north up the avenue, along the Siem Reap River until I got to a bridge which continues as Street 23 on the east side. The bridge was unlike others I have seen in Siem Reap – it looked well maintained, brightly painted with undamaged decorations containing Buddhist symbols. West side of the bridge had a large gate which nicely supplemented the splendour of the gate at the opposite side of the road – the gate to Wat Preah Prom Rath Temple and Pagoda, the largest and most astounding pagoda located directly in Siem Reap town, Cambodia.
Even though Wat Preah Prom Rath is nothing special when it comes to pagodas, I was attracted to it and found it jaw dropping as it was the first real deal pagoda of this sort I have ever seen. The gate was open and there were people inside, yet I was reluctant to enter. Temples are obviously houses of worship for Buddhists of Cambodia and as many times before – I had no idea what proper etiquette in temples is. The last thing I wanted to do upon my first day in Cambodia is to offend the locals, who are said to be strongly spiritual, closely following the teachings of Buddha.
I stood by the gate, yet nobody seemed to mind my presence, so I allowed the temptation to prevail and stepped right inside the gated and fenced compound of Wat Preah Prom Rath. I was ready to bow down and apologize while pacing my sorry self out of there should I hear someone yelling at me for staining their holy temple with my unworthy presence. But it never happened.
Wat Preah Prom Rath is beautiful. Located within quite large area, there were several colourful, oriental looking buildings surrounded by lush, well maintained gardens with palm trees and decorative statues. Several benches placed alongside walkways offer resting spots for weary bodies, while temple itself offers soothing for bothered souls.
As foreigner and obviously Caucasian, I stood out like a sore thumb again, but not only have my presence not bother anyone, many locals, including countless monks offered their greetings and smile to me. It made me feel very welcome and shook off my initial uneasiness as I was uncertain whether entering temples was allowed for the likes of me or not.
I spent a lot of time in the Wat Preah Prom Rath compound and for a moment it became my second home. I grew appreciative of the Buddhists and aside from becoming more spiritual, Wat Preah Prom Rath was also a sanctuary for me as a tourist where I would not be bombarded by money hungry Tuk Tuk drivers and the likes. Wat Preah Prom Rath was a whole different world within Siem Reap, which is otherwise extremely hostile towards tourists giving out strong impression that everyone is after your money, whatever it takes. You are constantly jumped and harassed by just about everyone – straight in your face and never taking “NO” for answer. But these people seem to not exist in Wat Preah Prom Rath – or perhaps they simply respect the pagoda as a holy ground where abuse would surely bring upon bad karma.
History of Wat Preah Prom Rath
While Wat Preah Prom Rath is vastly unspectacular as far as the looks and age are concerned, it is spectacular as far as location goes. Located right in the center of Siem Reap and right by the river, Wat Preah Prom Rath gets far more attention than any other temple or pagoda in Siem Reap.
Wat Preah Prom Rath was founded in 1915 making it one of the younger pagodas in Cambodia. The construction of main vihear was finished in 1945 and today proudly hosts larger than life statue of reclining Buddha. Within the grounds of Wat Preah Prom Rath there are also two cannons which are said to have belonged to famous Cambodian warlord Dap Chhoun.