The tropical climate of South-East Asia greeted us warmly with the absence of monsoon rains as it was December. We had just left Osaka airport 12 hours earlier on a budget airline called Peach and after a brief stop-over in Hong Kong, arrived in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. This was my first time to Cambodia, during the first few days in the capital we visited the usual tourist sights: the Royal Palace, the National Museum & enjoyed an early evening cruise down the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers. Cambodian history was stained by the spectre of the Khmer Rouge and we felt we had to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. This mass grave of thousands of innocent lives was a chilling reminder of this dark past.
It was a short plane journey to the North-West of Cambodia to Siem Reap. The town had developed considerably in recent years as a gateway to explore the nearby ruins of Angkor Wat and other splendours of the ancient Khmer empire.
The quincunx of towers seemed to slowly emerge through the sunrise. The ancient bas-relief sculptures intricately carved into sandstone, retold scenes from Hindu mythology, tinted pink by the dawn. We walked into Angkor Wat which represents Mount Meru, the mythical home of the Gods, and admired carvings as well as the view of the dense jungle all around. Indeed this place deserved to be one of the seven wonders of the world.
We also visited Bayon, an architectural masterpiece built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. The temple was made of about thirty stone towers and on each stone tower were carved four faces either of a Bodhisattva or the King himself. It was a spell-binding marvel.
About a mile further east of Angkor Thom lie the incredible ruins of Ta Prohm. This temple literally merged with the surrounding jungle of silk-cotton trees and strangler figs. In fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the trees soar skywards under a green canopy, their endless roots coiling the stone ruins more like reptiles than plants.
“ruins of a temple –
entwined with the roots
of a strangler fig”
(Cambodia, Dec. 2013)