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Jerome Parisse

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Member Since: May, 2010

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Blogs by Jerome Parisse

The jungle temples of Angkor, Cambodia
10/13/2010 2:28:52 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

I came back last week from four, too-short days in Cambodia, on a visit to Siem Reap and its innumerable temples. What an amazing place! The temples were built during the 12th century, and the scale of the buildings and their geographical spread is staggering. There are hundreds of them, silent witnesses of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and of a capital city that boasted a population of one million inhabitants when London had only 50,000! Abandoned to the jungle for centuries, the temples are now surrounded by towering trees and thick vegetation. Some of them are well-preserved, some of them are just ruins, and others are still totally covered by vegetation. It is really an amazing sight. Many temples can be visited in a day from Siem Reap, Cambodiaís tourism mecca. In fact most tourists are quite happy with visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the best preserved and larger temples, about five kilometres away from town. We visited the area on rented bicycles and ended up riding around thirty kilometres in a day, which was fun except for the intense heat. However, some of the farther temples such as Beng Mealea are really worth a visit. The Cambodian people welcome you with open arms and a smile is never very far. Their recent history is quite amazing. The Khmer people have been to hell and back, and it is impressive to see how the country has survived and recovered, when a fifth of its population was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. You may have seen The Killing Fields, a film by Roland Joffe (1984) which tells the story of a New York Times journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia and of his local representative, who stays behind when the Khmer Rouge move in. Itís a great movie. As a consequence of these terrible years, many places are too dangerous to roam around, because of land mines. Fortunately, all land mines have been cleared around Siem Reap. You can reach the city by air, road, or boat from Phnom Penh. If you decide to travel up the river and Tonle Sap lake, you will come across an interesting - albeit far too touristy for my liking - floating village, with its own school, church and shops. Siem Reap is bustling with restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, but it hasnít lost its charm. Be warned, Khmer food is addictive! But it is an addiction that will not cost you an arm and a leg: for a few dollars, you will be eating like a king. Try amok, a dish of baked fish with coconut, lemongrass and chilli in banana leaves, and you will understand what I mean!

Here are, in decreasing order, my favourite temples:

Angkor Wat: the largest temple, and also the better preserved as it was never abandoned to the elements. You canít miss it, as you can see its outline from far away. It is surrounded by a huge moat full of water. Try to go early in the morning if you can, as it quickly swarms with tourists.

Preah Khan: a maze of vaulted corridors, fairly well-preserved. Walking around this temple is the experience of a lifetime, with the jungle all around, the songs of the birds, and with a little bit of luck (as was our case), no tourists.

Beng Mealea (60 kilometres from town) : this is the ultimate lost-temple experience. Beng Mealea has been left to the jungle on purpose, to give people an idea of what temples looked like when they were rediscovered. I am lost for words to describe it: trees, bushes, jungle mixing with old stones and corridors in an Indiana Jones atmosphere. Visitors are supposed to keep to the wooden walkways erected for the filming of Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud, but most stray from the well-worn paths, as we did. Itís an experience Iíll never forget. We got caught by heavy downpour and had to take shelter in one of the corridors for half an hour, feet in mud and water, hoping that the roof wasnít going to collapse on us. A few stones (each one of around one ton) fell on the ground not far from us, and as can be expected we were a little worried!

Ta Prohm is another jungle temple, but is well looked after, and close to Siem Reap. A very atmospheric ruin left to be swallowed by the jungle.

Angkor Thom was a city of around 10 sq km, with five huge gates. Bayon is a three level structure with huge heads carved into the stone. Here again we got lost in the jungle and came across several smaller temples.


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More Blogs by Jerome Parisse
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• Free e-books until 6 February! - Monday, January 31, 2011
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