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Cambodia 2013: Affirming my appreciation for ruins in the Temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm

I know a lot of people who don’t appreciate old and rustic things, but to me these are the things that are most interesting if only for the reason that they are soooo full of history and character. Just looking at them can make your imagination soar. They have the ability to form images in your mind of past events that could have occurred within the walls. Did this person or some other from the history books stand in this very spot; lean against this very pillar I am touching right now? You stare in amazement at how the people back in the olden days- when ideas of construction and engineering were rather primitive- could have built something so grand and so beautiful.

I’m part of the group that actually appreciates these things. Perhaps it has something to do with my love for history as well, but I really love seeing with my own eyes all the things I until that very moment have only read about. Even if what I’m seeing are ruins, my mind can fill in the gaps in the walls; return the debris to their original places like puzzle pieces. Somehow it makes the images of the historical events I’ve studied turn as vivid as a high-def movie in my mind. I’ve always been this way so it added to the awe I felt upon visiting the temples in Siem Reap.

Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was the last capital city during the time of the Khmer empire. Literally translated, it means “Great City”. Located in a lush 9km² compound, it’s easy to imagine the former glory of Angkor Thom as a bustling capital during the rule of King Jayavarman VII. You get a glimpse of the many monuments in the distance, but the landscaping in this area is spectacular. It gives one a sense of peace while at the same time highlighting the beauty of nature.

It saddens me a little that some of the statues lining the bridge towards the main entrance are missing heads. Apparently over the years some treasure hunters had stolen the heads and sold them to the black market or secret art collectors for a hefty sum. Otherwise this would have been perfectly lined with statues of gods on one side and demons on the other.

You enter the compound through the gigantic stone gate carved with the looming face of Bayon, looking on like a guardian.

Heading to Bayon Temple, we take another very brief car ride inside the compound and the closer we got to our destination, the more I felt the build-up of excitement. Bayon Temple from the outside is absolutely breathtaking, and I was lucky enough to get to shoot it in this light.

Bayon Temple is without a doubt my favourite temple, thanks to the multitude of massive stone faces bearing different expressions clustered around the central peak of the temple. Apparently the faces of Bayon resemble the last Khmer king, Jayavarman VII, quite a bit. The faces are well-preserved thanks to the help provided by Cambodia’s international friends. I simply let myself wander around as I snapped photos of my favourite stone faces, imagining how much more glorious this temple had been in its heyday. Imagining as well the artistry of people in the old days, and how they were able to use simple tools to carve such intricate sculptures.

Here’s a closer look at the details of the stone faces:

But the stone faces weren’t the only ones smiling here. There were also locals dressed in traditional Cambodian costumes ready for photo ops. 🙂

You really can’t help smiling along when you’re in a place like this.

Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm is probably most famously known as the temple where the Tomb Raider movie was shot. Built by the same king responsible for the Bayon temple, Ta Prohm has very prominent elements in the Bayon style as well, starting from the stone face that greets you at the entrance. But what I find most interesting about Ta Prohm are the number of mazes and the fact that nature and stone seemed to have formed some sort of treaty to live in perfect harmony rather than fight for territory.

The trees that curl its roots around a structure do so in an artful way that one can’t help but admire how well they come together. There’s something in the way that the green jungle grows and morphs itself around the grey stone that is fascinating, and I guess many people agree since this place was packed when we visited.

This trip was quickly erasing from my mind the very idea that temples are “boring”. My dear friends, they are not. And you’ve only to come to Cambodia so that I may prove that to you. If this isn’t convincing enough, watch out for my next travel post which will feature Angkor Wat and the Ton Le Sap Lake.

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Here’s a little travel video I made of all the places we visited in Siem Reap!

To see the other places we visited in the video, check out the other posts in this travel series:

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