Stepping over the rubble of blackened stone choked by a creeping vine, a magical sensation tingles up my spine. I am surrounded by 100 years of Cambodian Khmer history, captured in stone and strangled by nature. Reflective of this country’s violent and bloody battle, here in the temples of Angkor, a battle continues. Now, it is the battle of human verse nature as trees and vines swallow the temples. The winner is nature as it takes back its space.
Built during Khmer civilisation at its height of power are the temples of Angkor. Just moments outside of Siem Reap in an area of about 400 km² are hidden nearly 100 temples amongst the surrounding jungle. After the collapse of the Khmer civilisation, Angkor was abandoned and left for the jungle to devour.
In this land of history, a land which the western civilization had forgotten, the jungle thrived on its containment of these magnificent temples. Described by the locals as ‘temples built by gods’ these temples were discovered in 1860. Over time, more people came to this lost city of a Cambodian empire and in 1992 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Considered the biggest temple complex in the world, exploring these temples today will cost you USD$20 for a Day Entrance pass. There are specialised tours with a guide, however, you can just as easily pick up a local Tuk-tuk driver for USD$15 for the day. While you can do a shorter circuit of the main temples in one day, it is recommended to take at least three days to really discover the majority of the temples.
Angkor Wat is the most recognised temple in the area and is considered the biggest Asian pyramid. Its several layers tower 65 metres high at its most central point, which resembles the shape of a lotus flower. Angkor Wat’s sheer size is breathtaking, defined by intricate decorations of heavenly nymphs, the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Army of Suryavarman II, Heaven and Hell, Churning of the Ocean of Milk, Elephant Gate, Vishnu Conquers the Demons, Khrisna and the demon King, Battle of the Gods and the Demons and the Battle of Lanka.
Exploring the other temples in the area begins with the magical sun-kissed Bayon Temple, depicting the everyday life scene of Cambodia in the XII century.
The charm of the nearby Ta Prohm temple is you do not know where nature ends and the man-made structure starts.
Aptly named Elephant Terrace, the next temple sits at the end of a 350-meter long terrace of elephant statues. Once used as a giant viewing stand during royal and public ceremonies, this temple still holds a magic that captures the imagination of such an event.
Quite far from the rest, Banteay Srei temple is worthy of the visit. This well-preserved temple displays declarations of delicate women carrying lotus flowers, and epic scenes.
Wandering through these temples ruins I cannot help but see the reflection of this country’s history. The tired, tormented rubble of a once magnificent structure lays broken and destroyed. Yet, amongst this destruction, springs new life. Green leafy vines intertwine and reach from nooks and crannies to seek the sunlight. A country re-born with a hope for new life.