Tomb raiding in Cambodia
Tombs, Tombs and more Tombs
We knew that Tomb Raider and The Killing Fields where big hit movies both recorded in Cambodia and we knew that they both gave two very different views of two so different parts of the history of the country. Once we got there we realized that those two movies gave a very true picture to the country itself and what it had to offer.
Filed Under: Cambodia by Katrine January 27, 2013, 19:06
Cambodia, the country of deep jungles, hidden temples and a pretty horrific history. This was all we knew about this Asian country placed between the more touristy Thailand and Vietnam. We were so eager to see the temples, and we imagined them just like they were portrayed in Tomb Raider; wild, ruined, hidden in the jungle with some precarious paths to fight your way through shrubs and leeches to get to them. Well, it was very far from what we thought when we discovered the tourist invasion with big tour buses and hundreds of tuktuks on the roads, cramped temples and many of them with big parts covered in scaffolding and paved roads leading up to them.
We decided to do a tuktuk tour for three days around the temples outside Siem Reap and our personal driver Mr Johny picked us up bright and early the following morning for sunrise at Angkor Wat. After buying a temple ticket pass for all the temples we walked up a pitch dark road with another 1000 people into Angkor Wat and waited for the sun to appear. Once the sky started to light up and we eagerly awaited to see the details of the silhouette of the mighty temple, but we’re somewhat disappointed when the whole left front revealed green plastic sheets and scaffolding… Walking around the inner temple grounds was very cramped. There was so many people there that we just felt annoyed and disappointed.
As we continued our tour to the next temple The Bayon, an area with several temples and decorative walls within the area we soon learned that scaffolding and restorations and tons of tourists were a common theme. The following day we had changed our thoughts somewhat telling ourselves that unless we accepted that the temples were a commercial tourist attractions and that we needed to ignore those parts to really look and appreciate the temples instead. And our new mind set worked! The second day we went to the smaller temples and some of them were empty of tour buses and people which really helped us enjoying the beauty and ancient mysterious feeling of the wondrous buildings.
The symmetrical design with the five towers and one or several moats surrounding the inner temple core were present in almost all of them, but beyond that they were as unique as anything. Some were built of rose stone, a pink and hard rock that revealed immaculate and intricate carvings of flowers and patterns on pillars, roofs and walls. Some had enormous faces carved into the facades or towers, there were some with giant tree roots entwined in the walls, window frames and even through the rooftops. In some of the temples the ruins were covered in green, glistening moss and on a few walls there were a hint of red and green colours among the carved out dancing women prooving that the walls of the temples must have been vibrant in colour once upon a time. Some of the temples could be found hidden in the middle of big lakes, complete with a squeaky wooden pathway half submerged in the mirror still water finding its way like a labyrinth to the treasured temple grounds. Need less to say that the Cambodian temples are something astonishingly out of this world, that we can’t recommend enough to go and experience for yourself.
When we left Siem Reap on the bus towards the capital city Phnom Phen we knew that we were now headed towards the more destructive part of Cambodias history, the reign of the infamous Pol Pot and the genocides his government committed only as recent as 40 years ago. We started our tour by renting a tuktuk for the day and headed of to see “S-21“, an old high school in the middle of the capital which was turned in to secret torture chambers and prison during the Khmer Rouges reign. It was extremely eerie and moving walking through the empty former class rooms now preserved as the cells they turned into. The concrete buildings had a menacing feel complete with barb wire and hand built small cells in one of them. We learnt that 17000 prisoners were held, tortured and finally killed here. Their photos were all over the rooms, faces of so much fear, sadness and hopelessness. When we left the haunted block to continue our tour out to one of the Killing Fields we were somber and speechless. We knew this would be a difficult but also very important day. The killing field had a more peaceful feel to it, with all evidence of a military killing station erased by the people once the reign had been overthrown. Left was only a memorial temple containing thousands of human skulls and bones that had been found in the area. The killing fields existed in their hundreds all over Cambodia, and still not all are believed to have been found. They were in fact secret locations where no longer wanted prisoners were shot and buried in their thousands by the Khmer Rouge. The genocides in this country took the lives of 2 000 000 Cambodian people during as little as 4 years…
When we left for the border to Vietnam the following day we were left with both exhilaration from viewing the fantastic temples, but we were also full of sadness from the more recent history of the country. It made us wonder how different events in time must affect so much and how the outcome of a country and it’s people could have been so different if allowed to be. Hopefully with the new government Cambodia will continue to blossom and grow and heal for a brighter future.
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