Cambodia

magnificent, mysterious, spectacular Khmer inheritance (Angkor, Sembor Prey Kuk)

After 150 km on a difficult road (from the border), where we fight with dust, holes, more dust, more holes, we finally arrive in Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor. It is still dark outside as we ride our unloaded bikes (it's so good!) to this famous site, whose name only stimulates imagination.

As we wander through those temples, we can only wonder what gives Angkor this unique character, so imposing but still so welcoming, and so admirable. Is it the actual construction of these buildings - between the VIIIth and XIVth centuries - so great (Angkor wat is the biggest religious building in the world), so well built, so beautiful in their architecture, design and attention to detail that triggers our admiration? Or is it the incredibly good preservation of these temples over the years and numerous monsoons? Or is it the fact that here and there, the jungle has reclaimed the buildings, and roots and temples hug each other to create a new piece of art?

Angkor is not only a group of temples built over the centuries by the various khmer kings at a time when the khmer empire went from Vietnam to South China all the way through to the Bay of Bengal (at its best). Angkor gets us to think and reflect. We suddenly feel so small - time, history, nature dwarf us. The man has built, year after year, reign after reign, temples dedicated to various gods, according to the beliefs of the ruling emperors at the time. He has not only built, he has built well, so it lasts, he has engraved, carved, embellished. Magnificent buildings dedicated to such god or emperor - the man leaving his mark in time, in history. Or rather, one man (per temple) leaving his mark: today, only the emperor commissioning the work is remembered. On one hand, we can only admire and respect the ingeniosity, the beauty, the creation of such wonder by man. But on the other hand, we question the sense of it all: so many men, with no names or marks left today, forgotten with time, so many men who have died building, broken, destroyed.

But then again, we are brought back to the reality of time, passing, always: jungle has slowly reclaimed the land once cleared for those temples. All of this - work, creation, thought process, dead ones and a lot more - all of this but if you give it enough time, nature claims it back. Or not quite, not yet anyway. Some 1000 (only) years later, nature and man offer us a spectacle that is one of the most marvelous aspects of Angkor: by leaving temples and jungle to themselves for so many years, they have created their own piece of art.

The few photos we took that day speak better than any of our small words about these magnificent creations, with light and shadow playing, and their incredible carvings and details engraved on the rock. The only thing missing here unfortunately are the sounds of the jungle - for the moment anyway!

After Angkor, we head to one of the biggest pre-Angkorian era sites of Cambodia: Sembor Prey Kuk. Here again, in the middle of the jungle but with less tourists (because it is less famous than Angkor, and harder to get to), we discover these temples, ancestors of the Angkor monuments, some 1400 years old. They are aged and laboured by the wind, carved by hundreds of monsoons. But still, the site leaves us with eyes big wide opened, full of admiration - how great it is to be able to go from one temple to the next, and to try to imagine what life would have been here so many years ago. The concrete and brick buildings have not all survived well to the years, and the concrete certainly shows its robustness over brick. But here again, it is the meeting of nature and building that attracts us and wows us.

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