Neak ta: Preah Ang Chek, Preah Ang Chorm and General Dap Chhuon

neang chek and neang chom, famous boramey from Siem Reap_DSF6160

Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm

A neak ta is a guardian spirit. Some of them guard a patch of forest, others become domesticated and guard a village (every village has its neak ta), and some go on to greater things and guard cities and provinces. Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm are the neak ta of Siem Reap – their shrine is by the river and near the Royal Palace.

An article in the Siem Reap Post has background: the two were discovered at Angkor Wat in 1950 and later kidnapped by a local warlord named Dap Chhuon. This man was a fascinating figure – see here – he pretty much ran the northwest and sounds rather like Mr Burns from The Simpsons, “cadaverously thin with unblinking, deep-set eyes.”

The CIA thought he might be a good candidate to replace Sihanouk, but Sihanouk got to him first and he died in not-very-mysterious circumstances in 1959. (According to an official announcement at the time he died “of injuries” while assisting Sihanouk’s men with their inquiries). “One of Chhuon’s brothers, Kem Srey, was closely associated with him in his political activities and another brother, Kem Penh, was an international arms dealer.” Sounds like your average CIA plot all right.


Dap Chhuon surrenders to Sihanouk, 1953; by 1959 he was history.
Time Magazine from KI Media

When the pair returned they determined never to leave the shrine again, and when the Khmer Rouge tried to remove them they made themselves too heavy to lift or move. Today the shrine is constantly busy, and especially popular with newly married couples


Shrine of Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm

What are the statues made of? The Phnom Penh Post quite casually calls them “golden” – their colour is black, so is it saying they’re made of gold? Certainly they’re very heavy – 150 kg according to the Post, though Dap Chhuon had superhuman strength and could carry one on each shoulder. The Post continues, quoting a local official:

[A]ccording to Sem Tap, … “Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm contained great magic, to help protect Dap Chhoun from his enemies,” … “Dap Chhoun could foresee that the king would like to kill him.” Tipped off about [the] impending arrival [of Sihanouk’s troops], Dap Chuuon made plans to flee to the Thai border and attempted to take the statues with him.

“He swooped into his camp and tried to take those sacred statues with him, however he could not carry Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm on his shoulders as he could before. The statues grew heavier by the second until they reached such a weight that Dap Chhoun was unable to move them.”

With his powers gone, and insufficient men to transport the Buddhas, Dap Chhoun was reduced to breaking off five fingers from the right hand of the Preah Ang Chek statue and fleeing to his farm at Tbeang Kert, enroute to the Thai border. It was here that Dap Chhuon, accompanied by his wife, was cornered by Sihanouk’s soldiers.

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