You can see what look like small shrines on poles outside buildings all over Siem Reap and the surrounding villages. These are called Neak Ta and the tradition dates from pre-Angkorian times ie before the 9th Century, when people had animist beliefs.
It is important to build one before you build your house, to ask the spirits if this is a good place for you to build … a sort of request for celestial planning permission. Then you need to look after it and put out offerings to keep the spirits housed and happy.
Some, in the villages, are quite rough and ready, and obviously home-made –
– while others are very elaborate, and can cost up to $5,000 dollars, which is an absolute fortune over here.
It is important not to incur the wrath of the spirits, so some people try to keep their Neak Ta dry in the rainy season.
Most people in town seem to buy theirs from the Neak Ta superstore, and there are quite a few on the road out to the school.
They come in a variety of colours, but yellow appears to be the Neak Ta choice among the cognoscenti.
Some people seem to have spent more on their Neak Ta than on their house.
and some people’s Neak Ta seems to last longer than their house.
This one is standing next to a pile of stones which are completely overgrown with creepers, but even the foliage seems wary of angering the spirits, and is staying away from the spirit house.
And, human nature being what it is, some people feel that a gold spirit house with carvings, statues, ornamental balustrades and four gold pillars is not enough, and add a few extra decorations of their own.
I’m sure that these people would be attaching a neon Santa in a hot-air balloon to the front of their house every December if they lived in England.