Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Beng Mealea's Guardian - Chheng Chhun

Not quite as famous as Choun Nhiem, the leaf-sweeper of Ta Prohm, but an institution in his own right is Chheng Chhun, the 72-year-old guardian/conservateur/guide at the temple of Beng Mealea, some 40kms from the Angkor complex in Cambodia. This is Chhun and myself at our reunion in January this year, some seven years after we first met, in December 1999. Back then Chhun took me around a very overgrown Beng Mealea - boy was it hard work though he made it look easy - before it became the sanitized version you see today. However, this time around I wanted Chhun to show me some of the temples that lie further east along the old royal road and with his help, we managed to visit Prasat Teap Chei, Prasat Kongpluk and Prasat Chrey as well as two laterite bridges enroute. Born near Beng Mealea, he knows the area like the back of his hand and despite his advanced years, he thought nothing of a twenty-minute slog through seriously dense undergrowth to reach Prasat Teap Chei. If you do venture out to Beng Mealea - visitor numbers can reach 50+ per day - seek out Chhun, as no-one knows that area better than him.

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