Angkor Wat: 1931 vs 2015, Part II

As promised, here is part 2 of the before and after pictures from last week. I won’t do all the blurb again this week, because I don’t want you to all drop off your chairs in boredom (last week’s post is here, so feel free to have a read for the full details) but the short version is: I recently travelled to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, following in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, FPM. He took lots of photos on his trip, and I set out to recreate as many as possible and see how things have changed since his trip in 1931.
Here I show our pictures side by side, so you can see as well.
I really hope you enjoy these pictures. I had an absolutely incredible time on this trip, and these pictures made it that much more special. And if you ever get the chance to visit Siem Reap, I highly recommend it – ancestors or no.
As before, the captions of the photos are his, and the more rambly commentaries are mine. You can also click on the photos for larger versions, should you wish.
[First glimpse of Angkor Wat from Western Gateway]

As predicted, it was impossible for me to take this photo without a fair few tourists also in the frame – and this was at 6am! I’m just impressed at the sheer emptiness of FPM’s photo. He must have had a wonderful time wandering around without a soul in sight. And certainly not a forest of selfie sticks at every turn! Nonetheless, this sight was enough to make me stop and catch my breath, tourists or no. It was every bit as impressive in real life as I thought it would be.
[Temple of Bakheng, Angkor Thom]

FPM seems to have got a bit mixed up with this one – this is Phimeanakas, the Royal Temple. The lions (or Kuchasey) have undergone a bit of restoration, especially the poor chap on the bottom right who looks like he’s been spliced with some table legs, although he seems to have traded proper looking legs in exchange for his face in the 2015 picture… A few Kuchasey and some colonnades at the top have vanished, but otherwise this is mostly unchanged. This temple was pretty, but not one of my favourites. It felt a little forgotten, and there were none of the intricate carvings or ornate walkways to enchant.

[Black stone image of Buddha Angkor Thom]

I’m really impressed our guide found this match. I thought the statue to the left was probably person sized, much like the Leper King statue. But no! This is actually a really very large statue of the Buddha. It has now been covered by a shelter and a steady stream of people come to pay their respects and leave offerings. Our guide told us that there were a few of these large Buddhas arranged around Angkor Thom, but this was most likely to be the one in the photo. I’d say it looks like a good guess to me. 
[Ruined causeway to Bakheng Palace, Angkor Thom]

This is one of my favourite side-by-sides. I love just how ruined the temple was before, and how neat it looks now! This is actually Baphuon, there is no causeway to Bakheng. There’s a story passed on to us by our guide about the grand re-opening of Baphuon in 2011, following years of restoration (as you can imagine, given the before photo!). Walkways had been built so you could climb right to the very top layer to enjoy the superb views. Unfortunately, shortly after the re-opening ceremony, a visiting Russian dignitary fell off the top of the temple and broke his leg in several places. The top layer is now closed to visitors…. 
[Ruined temple and monastery of Ta Prohm]

FPM has labelled this as Ta Prohm, but our guide disputed that. My picture is from Ta Som, which he believes is the true location of this picture. He was right about everything else, so I have no reason to doubt he was right about this, as well! Ta Som was restored between 1998 and 2012, with all traces of strangler fig absent from this entrance gateway. Our guide also mentioned that Ta Prohm was probably still inaccessible in 1931, as it was the last of the temples to be ‘reclaimed’ from the forest. He pointed out that tigers still roamed the area at this time, and it would have been too dangerous for a rare Western tourist to go tramping around in a still jungle-encased temple. So, Ta Som it is. I’m glad our guide took us here anyway, as I think it ended up being one of my favourite temples, alongside Preah Khan. They’re both beautiful of course, but also there was an absolute peace and stillness that pervaded the site.
[Entrance collonade to gate of Angkor Thom]

This is actually taken on the approach road to the temple of Preah Khan, from the East. It’s right next door to the Angkor Thom site, so you can forgive the mix up. In fact, S and I got very confused about exactly which temples we’d been to during our trip and had to write it down so as we didn’t forget! Anyway, what’s interesting in this before and after is the level of build up of silt and sand on the road. In the 1931 picture, you can see all of the statues which line the road, whereas on the right some are covered up almost halfway. Our guide told us that multiple floods had washed in this silt, causing much more serious devastation in other parts of the region. The damage had cost the country millions, and repairs were still being made – including tree planting in the partially dried up reservoir nearby.
[Near view of giants supporting Nag, Angkor Thom]

This is a close up of the actual causeway, once you advance further down the road towards Preah Khan. This causeway is similar to others, namely the South gate of Angkor Thom, however the gateway itself is very different. Our guide pointed to a tiny carving and the position of a window as being the giveaway on this one – better he than I! He even knew that this was the East gate and not the West gate. Anyway, what’s striking about these before and after pictures is that every single head of the Gods on the left is missing. Our guide informed us that these statues, which in 1931 would have been recent replacements for the originals, were made at a cost of up to $100 million. There was then a huge problem with theft, because a head from one of these statues would fetch around $1 million on the black market. He lamented these stone poachers, usually from Thailand, who ruin such valuable restoration work for a fraction of what these statues are really worth. I got the feeling he didn’t like the Thai’s much…
[Entrance gates to temples, Angkor Thom]

I’ve tried to recreate FPM’s jaunty angle here; let’s call it modern photography? This is once again the East gate of Preah Khan, which is still undergoing restoration. The main tower is looking quite spruce, and the side towers are coming along nicely, too. 
[Detached building (query library) at Angkor Wat]

FPM is back on his caption game with this one – this is indeed a library, which would have held religious scrolls. Libraries are found in most larger temples, and always run East-West. The door at the West is usually the only one that’s open, but as you can see here the libraries at Angkor Wat are unusual in that they’re open in all directions. Here I’ve got to apologise for my photography – don’t adjust your set, my photo really is that blurry. What can I say, I was cross at those tourists for stubbornly not moving out of my shot even though I waited in the blazing sun for ages! In terms of what’s changed, I’m impressed that things are largely the same here – one of the porches has collapsed a little, but other than that the place is looking pretty good. Even the colonettes are all the same.

[Bas reliefs temple of Bayon]

These bas-reliefs are still remarkably clear. There has been restoration work underway on Bayon, and this bas-relief shows some signs of a bit of a freshen up. Some bas-reliefs show scenes from mythology, and others show scenes from daily life. Further down the wall is a carving of a doctor helping a woman in childbirth, which I’m sure my great-grandfather would have liked as he was a doctor himself. There are also carvings of all the wild animals that the Khmer would have encountered in their daily lives, including crocodiles, birds and fish. There’s even an illustration of a man being mauled by a tiger! An ancient PSA, perhaps?!
[Temple of Ta Keo, Angkor]

I’ve not quite nailed the angle on this one, but I think you can see it’s the same place. This is the temple of Ta Keo, and we didn’t actually scale this one – our ever wise guide determined it wasn’t worth it. In one of FPM’s other photos he describes it as ‘primitive’, so perhaps we weren’t missing much! This one was restored just before FPM photographed it I think, and has stood the test of time very well. 
And there concludes our trip back in time, and for most of us in place as well, to the heartbreakingly beautiful temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. I really hope you’ve enjoyed your journey – I certainly have!
If you could go back in time, what historical monument would you visit and when?

Linking up with Christine, Sara, Lauren Bonnie for Travel Tuesday, with Malinda for Wednesday Wanderlust, with Angie for #Reasons2Travel and with Kate, Emily & Kerri for Wanderlust Wednesdays


  1. LydiaCLee
    9th June 2015 / 23:13

    I said it on part 1, but this is such a brilliant post. All those heads gone! 🙁

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:39

      I’m glad you liked this one, too! The missing heads made me sad. And vandalism of the site in general. Wear and tear due to tourism is bad enough, but wilful destruction makes me livid.

  2. 10th June 2015 / 00:59

    How wonderful to travel and try to recreate what your grandfather saw. It must have been such an amazing trip, I’m sure the guide and other tourists in your group were no doubt pouring over your old pictures and comparing each place.

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:42

      It was totally wonderful. I had the best time ever, I have to say. Our guide loved the photos, and kept looking through them. Luckily my husband and I had a guide to ourselves, so we could monopolise him and his photo sleuthing skills without feeling bad about the rest of the group! And although I’d have happily shared the photo experience, I’m aware everyone travels for their own reasons, and they may not have been interested in my family history!

  3. 10th June 2015 / 01:48

    I have to say this is the most brilliant travel post I have ever seen! What a great idea to recreate your great grandfather’s travel photos! I am impressed you (or rather, your guide) managed to find them all. It was enthralling to see the changes and nice to see that they improved rather than degenerated as is usually the case. I’ve been to Cambodia and the before photos have made me appreciate what I saw even more now.

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:37

      I’m so flattered! Thank you for your kind words. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it, I certainly did! I was mighty impressed at my guide, I’d recommend getting a guide to anyone who visits. It elevates the experience infinitely. And I’m also glad that things seem to have gotten better on the whole – except for all the crowds of people!!

  4. 10th June 2015 / 03:51

    WOW! This is such an amazing travel post and what must have been a very special journey for you! Love the combo of past vs present in the photos – very clever idea! I’ve never been to Angkor Wat but it’s definitely on my Wanderlust List! Thanks for sharing 😉

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:39

      It was indeed a very special journey. It was so cool to think I was standing in the exact same place as an ancestor who I’ve never met. I’d heartily recommend Angkor Wat, it’s such a unique place. I hope you manage to get there!

  5. 10th June 2015 / 08:21

    this would be such a good idea to do with mz pictures for future members of the family!!

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:34

      I wonder what our holiday destinations will look like in 2099…! What a scary thought.

  6. 10th June 2015 / 12:05

    I am so glad you had more of these, I am just fascinated!
    Thanks again for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:35

      And thank you for hosting! The whole trip just kept blowing my mind continually. I think I’m still recovering!

  7. 10th June 2015 / 12:07

    Truly amazing. What a wonderful thing to do. I love all the roots growing over the Ta Som/Prohm it gives a sense of what he would’ve seen and also how incredible the restoration work is. Thank you x

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:36

      I know! And in the last post there was a temple with a whole tree growing on top that’s not there any more. The restoration work was immense and has taken/is taking decades, and when you see it up close it’s no surprise! They have to train up new stonemasons and everything (abroad apparently, which makes me sad)

  8. 10th June 2015 / 13:30

    These side by sides are AMAZING. I love seeing how it’s changed. I’m mad about the heads missing. Why do people do things like that! Grrr.

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:32

      I’m glad you like them! I know, it really infuriated me – and obviously our guide a great deal, as well! Also, there were various holes knocked into intricate carvings and whole sacred statues literally turned upside down and broken apart because people thought there might be treasure hidden in them. SERIOUSLY.

  9. Kerri Taylor
    10th June 2015 / 13:46

    oh my word – gorg photos! and i love the side by side comparisons. the buddha one may be my fav 🙂 gorg, chica! amazing experience for sure xo

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:33

      I’m happy you like them – obviously I had heaps of fun making them too, but I’m biased! I love how different the buddha was in real life than I thought it would be. I was so surprised when I saw it!

  10. 10th June 2015 / 14:15

    This is so fantastic! Such beautiful pictures. What a fab idea to recreate your Grandfather’s travel, so amazing!

    • 10th June 2015 / 16:33

      I know! I’m so lucky to have such a well travelled ancestor to follow around!

  11. 10th June 2015 / 20:43

    Wow it’s amazing to see the then and now photos. Many of them looking almost the same!

    • 16th June 2015 / 09:42

      I know! I was really surprised about that. Glad you liked the photos!

  12. 11th June 2015 / 07:53

    Ok, this is a super cool post! I love seeing the old and new photos of Angkor Wat!

    Thank you for linking up with the #REASONS2TRAVEL linkup!

    • 17th June 2015 / 11:54

      Thanks, I’m happy you like them! I do feel like they don’t do the place justice though – it’s just so magical!

  13. 12th June 2015 / 06:14

    You obviously had a great guide who was super-knowledgeable about all the sites. I’m sure he loved the challenge of identifying them all too! I know our guide when we went to Siem Reap took a lot of pride in his knowledge. I know it was annoying for you that other people wouldn’t clear the frame when you were taking your ‘today’ pics – but I like that there are people in the shots – as that is what it is actually like. It gives your updated photos an historical accuracy. The day we were at Pre Rup for sunset, there must have been about 100-200 people also there watching the sun sink in the sky.

    • 17th June 2015 / 11:56

      Yes, our guide was incredible. He told us he was going to study for a Masters degree on the temples! That’s dedication. I see what you mean about the people, it’s true that it’s an accurate reflection of the site as it is today so it deserves recording that way. It’s just not very scenic 😉 and if I see another selfie stick…!! I do wish we’d gone somewhere for a sunset one day, but the sunrise crowds were quite enough for me!

  14. The Crowded Planet
    13th June 2015 / 00:35

    Stunning post and what a great idea. Angkor Wat is stunning – shame for the crowds! Thanks for joining the #REASONS2TRAVEL linkup!!

    • 17th June 2015 / 11:56

      Angkor Wat is indeed stunning. I just want to go back already!

  15. 28th June 2015 / 06:17

    This is one of the most moving travel posts I have ever read. I love the idea of following in your grandfathers footsteps and I’m surprised to see that many things have remained intact. And I laughed at the fact that those tourists didn’t move out of your scroll temple shot…some people are very oblivious!

    Thank you so much for linking this up with the #REASONS2TRAVEL linkup and hope to have you linkup other posts and join in again next Monday July 3rd. Feel free to really become a part of the community!

    Angie from reasons to dress,
    fashion, travel and life as a mom in Italy.

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