Some of us wanted something to smoke, so I headed to the local market on the advice of one of our moped guys. This itself was an experience, the market completely covered by patterned cloth supported on bamboo poles, the flimsy roof constantly rippling in the breeze, the sun shining down through the gaps between. Underneath the locals sat on the floor mostly, with their wares spread out about them on more sheets. In some places even more cotton strung up like walls separating the different stalls, the purpose to protect from the sun and wind, no help in the rain. You entered from the edge and wandered through, careful to step between the various piles of goods, food, clothing, a mixture of household goods. I made my way through, asking the locals quietly, but directly for Marijuana, it wasn’t very subtle, but it didn’t take long to find some, so I was obviously in the right place. An old lady pulled out a handful of crystallised buds, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, pot related that is. I can’t remember how much, but it was a few dollars for the best pot I’ve ever smoked. I’m not saying the strongest, but the trippiest, most satisfying smoke ever. Perfect for a day or two in the temples.
Spread out across a huge expanse of jungle, the temples play a game of hide and seek with the world. For centuries they lay in this natural environment unable to defend themselves against the harsh jungle. As trees forces their way into and through the structures, a second enemy, the weather started its attack. This unyielding assault of nature creating one of the most wonderful place on Earth, a union of stone and jungle, hidden from the world. Eventually man returned to rediscovered what had been lost, and slowly started to carefully reconstruct the temples, without clearing too much of the surrounding jungle, and this is how we found Angkor in 1998, a monument to time, to man and to nature.
The various temples and complexes cover a large area of jungle, with one site very rarely visible from the next. The area is so large that you need transport to be able to do it justice. Our options were limited, you couldn’t really hire a car anywhere, or even your own moped, but there was a proliferation of young men on bikes willing to ferry you around for the day, for a price, and with our budget this suited us fine. They acted as a kind of guide as well, taking you from one temple to the next, helmetless, cruising through the warm tropical air of the surrounding jungle. We would choose which temple to see next without any real idea of where they were, so it really helped these guys knew how to find them all as without them we would probably get have got lost pretty quick, so large was the area to cover. It’s not like there were any signs, it was all very unorganised, the feral land, and that was perhaps what made it so fabulous, the feeling of being part of a great discovery in time. And when we arrived at the next temple the moped guys just melted into the background, to reappear when you were finished like magic. They understood their roles.
The jungle was dense, the monuments in varying states of decay and disrepair. Probably the best to see are those that have been allowed to be run over by plant life like the Ta Phrom. Here, crumbling walls of huge stone blocks over run with vines and creepers, yet largely intact. In places trees had grown on top of the buildings, the roots having stretched down over the decades to reach the ground, meshing with the stone to leave pillars half organic and half masonry, the huge roots of the trees stretching out like dinosaur limbs, now supporting the weight of the buildings they had sort to undermine. An amazing, beautiful symbiosis of plant and stone. In places stone was revealed inside the wood itself, where the two had fused together over time. The trees that reached up from these limbs stretched 50 feet in the air. They had sat there, untouched for decades.
The overall impression was of ongoing and constant life, where nature had moulded man’s attempt at conquering the land, into its own form, where the buildings could no longer exist without the support of the jungle. The randomness of nature superimposed upon the straight lines of architectural design.
The temples themselves are 800 years old, and the site built upon older temples that date back ten thousand years. There is a feeling of agelessness to the place, and if you are standing in time immemorial in the primeval jungle. Other than the odd buzzing moped, there are no sounds of man, the denseness of the flora filled only with the perpetual cacophony of cicadas and tropical birdlife. Trails run off here and there into the jungle, but there are too many unknowns to explore and we stay close to the temples, for that is what we have come to see.
We had stopped at one temple, surrounded by dense forest. Trails ran off to who knows where at various points around the perimeter. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a policeman appeared. He had the normal side arm, but in his hands, he carried a Kalashnikov rifle, an AK47. He approached us directly and for a moment we were concerned about his motives. A man with a gun, hidden in the forest, had he seen us smoking pot? Where we in shit? But no, he offered the gun to us and asked if we wanted to buy it. I mean, both relief and surprise simultaneously rushed through our minds. I could tell Kevin was interested, but even Kev could see there was no way we were getting that through the airport in Bangkok! So, we politely declined and the policeman with no further comment just melted back into the jungle and we were left to our startled state of shock. We smoked a joint to calm our nerves.
If you want to read more about this trip or just look at some photos, please click this link.