One great thing about photographing Angkor from the West at sunrise is that the structure itself is silhouetted. That can be important as there is nearly perpetual restoration work on the temple itself so there are always some unfortunately colored green tarps somewhere on the towers that are hard to hide and painful to remove in Photoshop. But of course with a silhouette shot it is much easier to ignore them.
Since much of the source of power for the Khmer empire was their irrigation system—allowing them to have two or three rice crops per year, freeing up citizens for the army and temple building—and the temples are in many cases built to help glorify those efforts it is always special to see them in their natural condition with the various ponds and reflecting pools clean and full.
But the legacies of decades of war are still visible. One of the most horrific was the seeding of the country with millions of landmines from the literally dozens of different armed groups that were involved in the string of conflicts that raged through Southeast Asia in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Temples off the Beaten Path
It is hard to believe when you first see the mammoth stone edifices but the Khmer never invented the arch, so all of the temples are made of stacks of large blocks of rock using either lintels or corbelling to create interior space.
More incredible is that they did not use any type of mortar so the structures were all “dry-stacked” together, in many cases so carefully hewn that a piece of paper would not slide between blocks each weighing many tons—and hauled as far as 60 miles from where they were originally quarried.
Stairs in this temple, like many, were steep on purpose as the “stairway to heaven” was supposed to be difficult. Today many of them are protected with wooden overlays which will preserve their rock faces and make climbing much easier for visitors.
We always take a day to venture a little further afield and visit both the Rolous Group of temples—the pre-Angkorian Khmer temples—and the surrounding towns, monasteries and markets.
By: David Cardinal