Angkor 6

Entering the courtyards one comes into a new kind of vegetable world; not the one of branches and leaves with which one is familiar, but that of roots. Ta Prohm is an exhibition of the mysterious subterranean life of plants, of which it offers an infinite variety of cross-sections. Huge trees have seeded themselves on the roofs of the squat ... Read More »

Angkor 5

The causeway conducts one smack into the centre of the whole architectural composition. It could not be otherwise, since all considera¬tions had to be subordinated to that of symbolism; and to have built the formal approach from any angle but this would have been to risk throwing the universe, or at least the kingdom, out of balance, by sympathetic magic. ... Read More »

Angkor 4

With inexorable willpower at the service of mania the Khmer kings called into being whole populations whose only ultimate function, whether directly or indirectly, was the furtherance of their insatiable cult. In the early period, the economic basis of this efflorescence was the inland sea of Tonlé Sap, close to which all the successive capitals had been situated and which ... Read More »

Angkor 3

Savants of the late nineteenth century have argued with compelling logic that Angkor Vat took three hundred years to build, although the figure generally accepted at the present time is nearer thirty. Divergences of opinion regarding the completion dates of other monuments ranged over several centuries, and there was a similarly fierce conflict of theory over the purposes of the ... Read More »

Angkor 2

Perhaps the two most valuable and altruistic works the French have done in the Far East have been the creation in 1930 of the Institut Bouddhique at Phnom Penh (after Catholic missionaries had succeeded in several years in making only one convert), and the establishment in the same city of the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens. The latter institution has made ... Read More »


I GOT A LIFT on a French military lorry that was going to Siem-Reap, the nearest town to the ruins of Angkor Vat; arriving there without incident – by courtesy of Dap Chhuon – on the evening of the same day. Siem-Reap was another slumbering Shangri-La, perfumed slightly with putrid fish-sauce. In a palm-shaded river meandering through it both the ... Read More »

King Norodom’s Capital 5

That evening, which was my last at Phnom Penh, I had an extraordinary piece of good luck. In the course of my travels I was coming to accept that wherever I was I was fated to experience a subnormal amount of the customary activities. The theatre would be closed, the custom abolished, the service discontinued, the road cut by bandits, ... Read More »

King Norodom’s Capital 4

Thereafter there was some similarity between my experiences and those of the French explorer Mouhot – or at least the first part of his experiences – when he interviewed the king of Cambodia in 1859. Mouhot had just arrived in the capital and his luggage had not caught up with him. However, weary and travel-stained as he was, the king ... Read More »

King Norodom’s Capital 3

The Royal Palace at Phnom Penh, then, is a single-storey affair, and quite obscured, except from the river’s bank, by other buildings. It is pagoda architecture and one feels that if the pinchbeck glitter of the gilding could be subdued it would provide, perhaps, a charming and discreet lakeside ornament. We have seen buildings of this kind so often in ... Read More »

King Norodom’s Capital 2

General des Essars’s absence of confidence in the ability of Cambodia to stand on its own feet was certainly not shared by its Prime Minister, S. E. Yem Sambaur, whom I visited next. Since the accumulation of wealth is considered rather ill-bred in post-Khmer Cambodia, there are few large fortunes and little ostentation among the Cambodians. The head of the ... Read More »