There’s no doubt we came to Cambodia to visit the famed Angkor Wat. But in the end, it was witnessing the power of Mother Nature to destroy man’s constructs at Ta Prohm that turned out to be the most interesting of all.
The temples of Angkor were built between the 9th and 14th centuries, and rival the Egyptian pyramids. The entire complex covers approximately 400 square kilometres and contains more than 200 temples.
Among the 30 temples accessible today the most famous is Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple in the world. Built in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat took an estimated 37 years to build.
The temple functioned as the state capital and was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It was eventually converted into a Buddhist temple, and monks still use it for religious purposes today.
UNESCO named Angkor as a World Heritage site in 1992. This allowed UNESCO to launch a major campaign to restore and safeguard the temples. We saw many projects funded by the French, Germans, Chinese, Japanese and Indians.
UNESCO also works with the Cambodian government to ensure that tourism and development do not compromise this important archeological site. Approximately one million people visit Angkor Wat each year creating employment for 4,000 tour guides alone, not to mention employment in related industries such as transportation and the hotel business. It’s important to balance this opportunity for Cambodians with protection of the overall temple complex.
While Angkor Wat is certainly pretty from the outside, we found the actual temple itself to be a bit boring. Possibly because we had visited Ta Phrom earlier in the day, which is also known as the “Tomb Raider” temple for its use in the movie.
Like Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm was also built during the 12th century. It served as the royal monastery and was dedicated to the King’s mother.
The striking difference between the two temples is that Ta Prohm has been left in its natural state as an example of how Angkor looked when it was rediscovered in the 18th century. The temple is literally being eaten by the jungle – gigantic roots and branches are making their home right on top of the stones and devouring them whole.
Ta Prohm has been sufficiently repaired to stop further deterioration, and the inner areas have been cleared of bushes and undergrowth. But the temple has been left to the power of Mother Nature, and it’s a good reminder of how nature always wins.