Cambodia’s temples captured in time and engulfed by nature
Stepping amongst the rubble of the blackened stone structure, choked by creeping vines, it is hard not to sense the magic that clings heavy in the humid air. A secret garden of overgrown trees that hide mystical treasures of carved stone, secret paths and opening canopies. This enchanting jungle whispers 100 years of Cambodian Khmer history, captured in stone but now strangled by nature. Reflective of the country’s time in violent and bloody battle, in the temples of Angkor, the battle continues. The once grand human structures are losing to nature’s force as trees and vines swallow up the crumbled remnants of these temples. Nature is taking back its space.
Just moments outside of Cambodia’s Siem Reap hides nearly 100 temples amongst 400 km squared of lush entangled jungle. Built during the height of power for the Khmer civilisation, these temples of Angkor were well advanced for the time. Despite the sheer magnitude of these structures, the collapse of the Khmer civilisation brought abandonment to the temples of Angkor. They were lost in time, forgotten and left for the jungle to devour.
Described by the locals as the ‘temples built by gods’, Angkor’s temples were re-discovered in 1860. As word spread of this lost city of a Cambodian empire, people became curious to see for themselves 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 around 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 in the area.
Angkor Wat is the most recognised temple and 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 nearby Ta Prohm temple is you do not know where nature ends and the man-made structure starts. It is probably the most contained of the larger temples.
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 travel to visit. This well-preserved temple displays declarations of delicate women carrying lotus flowers, and epic scenes of traditional Khmer life etched into the temple walls.
Wandering through these temples ruins brings a sense of reflection on the country’s history and struggles over time. 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. Just like these seedlings, Cambodia rose from tortured past to spring new hope and inspire those living there, or those just passing through, that time brings a rebirth of a new life.
About the Author: Kate Webster-Verberne is a travel writer and photographer who travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the places she visits. Born out of a life-long love of travel and fascination with the world around her, is Kate’s inspiration behind her writing and photography.
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