Angkor and its Silent Protectors

SIEM REAP — Set in what became a jungle as nature invaded the site over the centuries, the Angkor Archeological Park is more than just stone monuments. Its natural ecosystem has become an integral part of the site and its sustainable future. With the impact of climate change and the incremental ageing of the temples, green spaces have become a long-term remedy to protect the region of Angkor.

Caption: The view of Baksey Chamkrong and Bakheng temple at the bottom left, the southern side of the Angkor Thom city on the upper right and the extensive Western Reservoir at the top. Photo: Sem Vanna

Despite the challenges that appear with each solution, if balanced correctly, trees at Angkor not only help protect the monuments but also maintain the setting beyond compare that magnetises hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.

Caption: Chou Radina, deputy director of the Department of Water, Forestry and Infrastructure Management at APSARA National Authority, during an interview at the Angkor Botanical Garden. Photo: Lay Long

During an interview on April 2, Chou Radina, deputy director of the Department of Water, Forestry and Infrastructure Management at APSARA National Authority—Cambodia’s government body that manages Angkor Park-- explained the importance of the trees at Angkor.

Sem Vanna: Why are trees and the natural setting so crucial in Angkor Park?

Chou Radina: As we all know; trees are important and have become increasingly crucial in this period of climate change. As of now, the APSARA National Authority…have worked with other government sectors and private enterprises to protect the remaining greeneries and to expand green spaces inside the park. All in all, these green living things help tackle the effects of climate change in general as well as protect our temples—these landmarks—as well as people within the premises.

Large trees that have become part of history, such as those of the famed Ta Prohm temple or of the Preah Khan temple, provide our park a unique signature. However, despite their beauty, they also pose a certain amount of risks and challenges when not taken care of properly, and especially during monsoon seasons as the ground becomes soft and the wind picks up.

Sem Vanna: How do you deal with the older trees?

Chou Radina: One of our first jobs is to patrol the area. The Angkor Archaeological Park, as a whole, is about 400 square kilometres. If we rely on the forestry experts at the APSARA Authority, there are not enough of them to cover the entire land area effectively. So, we also rely on our extensive networks…including the tourism agents and security officers to locate and report issues.

Our objective is to preserve the trees as much as possible without compromising the safety of our temples and people. We conduct regular trimming on large trees using mechanised vehicles if the areas are far from the temples. If it is close to a temple, we use scaffoldings to reach the top branches.

In the past, wooden scaffoldings were made using…wood. Now, metal scaffoldings are much more customary. Once trees are trimmed, we apply natural adhesives or other natural materials to prevent too much water from getting into the trees [through the sections trimmed]. Then, we supply nutrients to the roots for better growth.

At the temple of Preah Khan, for example, a tree was struck by lightning twice and its dead trunk tilted to an alarming 45 degrees. As experts in this field, we do feel the loss of our historical trees but, just like any other things in nature, things come and go. Finally, the tree was taken away in 2020.

The decision to remove such trees has to be made through the leadership in the country or UNESCO via the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor [overseeing Angkor Park].

Helping those Protecting the Natural Setting

The Angkor Botanical Garden, which is located south of the Angkor Wat temple, has been providing some shade throughout the day and adding green spaces in Angkor Park’s ecosystem. Located south of the Angkor Wat temple, the garden will soon offer a 4-kilometre hiking trail.

The trail will go across a forest, which spreads over 150 hectares containing a great many animals and plant species.

According to Chou Radina, fences are being built along the trail to protect wildlife from possible disturbance by passing tourists as well as to ensure that visitors can encounter these animals in a pleasant and safe manner.

The Angkor Botanical Garden will contain around 200 plant species with plans to later add varieties of luxury woods, edible plants and wildflowers.

The opening of this trail will be announced at a later date.

Conducted in Khmer for ThmeyThmey Digital Media, the story was translated by Luy Sireyreaksa and Ky Chamna for Cambodianess.


Related stories:

Ta Prohm: Maintaining the Trees to Protect the Temple

The Varied Origins of the Bodhi Trees at Angkor

Water, Forests and Temples: The Inseparable Elements of Siem Reap

Simple Tools and Patience Keep the Old City Clean

To watch the original interviews in Khmer, click here and here.

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