The pinks and purples of sunrise share the landscape with the yellow and orange robes of a group of monks outside the temple ruins at Angkor. Prior to the ascension of the Khmer Rouge, there were some 80,000 Cambodian monks but when Buddhism was restored in the 1980s, there were only 3,000 left.
Cambodia – Been There

City of a million people swallowed by the jungle

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Cambodia – Been There City of a million people swallowed by the jungle

After my first trip to Cambodia, friends chastized me for not visiting the temples of Angkor. Now, several trips later, I realize my grievous oversight. What was I thinking?

Willem Dercksen
Willem Dercksen Journalist

Nothing compares to the dozens of gorgeous, crumbling relics that are scattered over a vast area spanning 400 square kilometers and have been a World Heritage Site since 1992. “The Bayon Temple touched me deeply the first time,” says Cécile Califand. She is a French native who now works for the Siem Reap APSARA, the government organization responsible for protecting the Angkor region. “Only later did I develop a keen eye for the Angkor relics, finally grasping the underlying symbolism,” she says. “But it is only now that I am beginning to get a sense of appreciation for the enormity of the area, the splendid bas reliefs and all those identical smiling faces.”

Faces have been carved into each of the 54 towers (37 of which still stand) representing the former provinces of Cambodia. Each tower has four carved faces, one for each direction the wind blows. The images were likely modeled after the faces of Buddha and King Jayavarman VII, who reigned during the construction of the Bayon at the end of the 12th century. “Look at all the water reservoirs and irrigation canals,”Cécile says. “The complexity. At their peak, they allowed more than a million people to live in and around Angkor Tom, the capital of the Khmer Empire until 1432. Without this infrastructure, these temples never could have existed.”

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The iconic rooftop towers of Angkor Wat temple dominate the view from Phnom Bakheng. The towers have become so synonymous with Cambodia that they have been a central part of the national flag since 1850. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon F5

Aperture
ƒ/4.5
Exposure
1/500
ISO
50
Focal
200 mm

The iconic rooftop towers of Angkor Wat temple dominate the view from Phnom Bakheng. The towers have become so synonymous with Cambodia that they have been a central part of the national flag since 1850.

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