The question of overcrowding at Angkor Wat is becoming a serious one, and efforts are being made by numerous bodies to try to address it. One Cambodian artist has been doing his own bit too as his work offers a novel way of viewing Angkor: in miniature. Dy Proeung, 75, is one of the few artists to survive the Khmer Rouge regime and is today considered an old master and an important part of Cambodia’s cultural landscape.
Before the horrors of the 1970s took hold in Cambodia, Proeung worked as an architect for the École Française de l’Extrême Orient (EFEO), which at that time was overseeing all of the restoration and conservation work at Angkor. During this time, he drew architectural floor plans and elevations for Angkor Wat, Ta Keo, Bayon and Banteay Srey temples. Fortunately, these survived the war and Khmer Rouge, unlike the plans made for the Baphuon temple while it was being dismantled in order to stabilise the structure.
With the end of the 1970s and liberation by the Vietnamese that finally turned to occupation, Proeung was free to undertake an extraordinary endeavour: a painstakingly precise recreation of some of Angkor’s largest and most beautiful temples in concrete, and these can be found in a small overgrown courtyard on the east side of the river.
Either Proeung himself or a member of his family will be there to cheerfully guide you around these remarkable testaments to tenacity. They’ve certainly seen better days (the temples, not the family members), though that does little to detract from the novelty and fun of being able to look down on Angkor Wat without having to fork over 250 quid for a helicopter ride. Here, alongside Angkor Wat, you’ll also find Banteay Srey, Ta Keo, and Bayon looming out from the undergrowth.
Proeung’s work recently went on exhibition at the Hotel de la Paix, where Banteay Srey took centre stage. But he doesn’t just satisfy his homage to the past with temple reconstructions, and visitors were treated to his recreations of intricate statues, vases, urns and lanterns, all of which are still available for sale through the hotel.
Perhaps it can never replace the Angkor experience, but for a few riel a visit to Dy Proeung’s little garden of Angkorian delight, this is definitely a fun and worthwhile diversion. To get there simply follow the east river road, past the junction with Route 6 and turn right at the corner with the Catholic Church. The garden is half-way up the second block on the right hand side.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 4th February, 2015.