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Travel Report: Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor Siem Reap.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

January 2020. I really have met some fascinating people here in Cambodia these past eight months. Moreover, the experience of telling their stories on these pages will stay with me for the rest of my life. In January Sladja and I met a man with a story quite unlike any other we’d heard thus far. His name is Mr. Dy Proeung and he lives on a quiet side street, a short walk from The Royal Independence Gardens.

Dy Proeung Miniature Replicas of Angkor.

Dy Proeung.

We’d read about Dy Proeung’s amazing life achievements prior to visiting his celebrated Miniature Replicas of Angkor Garden. Hence we set off one morning with the express intention of seeing his intricate works of art. However, we hadn’t anticipated him actually being there when we arrived!

Patiently stationed in a wheelchair next to a tottering desk, his granddaughter by his side, it seemed like he’d been waiting for us. “Welcome our home!” she exclaimed, “this is Dy Proeung”. At 84 years old there was no doubting he’d had a hard life. His arms and legs were worryingly bony, although his sunbaked face lit up when he smiled and offered us his hand.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Dy Proeung Cambodian architect and sculptor.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

With introductions out of the way, he launched straight into an informal presentation of his incredible life. Unfortunately, his limited English and slurry speech rendered him mostly incomprehensible. He did have a few visual aids and his granddaughter tried to chip in here and there. But overall, it definitely paid to do some research before we came.

Dy Proeung Cambodian architect.

Photos of a young Dy Proeung.

Growing up in Phnom Penh, Dy Proeung dreamed of becoming an architect. After years of self study, he eventually enrolled at The Royal University of Fine Arts. Having graduated top of his class in 1960, he subsequently landed a job as a draftsmen doing survey work for Conservation d’Angkor in Siem Reap. There, he became heavily involved in the restoration of Angkor Wat, where he drew detailed architectural floor plans and elevations.

Dy Proeung’s Story.

By the mid 1970s he ‘d become one of Cambodia’s most renowned historical artists. Sadly, this made him a target when the murderous Khmer Rouge swept across the country. With the regime intent on creating a classless society of obedient peasant farmers, Proeung could only look on helplessly as his artist friends and colleagues were forced into labour camps and murdered.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor Cambodia.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Fully aware that his house could be raided at any time, he snuck out one night and buried his many drawings, paintings and documents relating to his architectural work. Today he displays a number of those pieces right here in his garden. As a result of his quick thinking, Proeung succeeded in saving himself and spent the following years working as a farmer under the watch of Pol Pot’s merciless soldiers.

Several online articles about Proeung paint a grisly picture of this terrible period of Cambodian history. A time when those who weren’t executed had to give up their personal wealth, renounce the right to go to school and all wear the same black costume as they toiled in the fields. Somehow, through much hard work, and more than a little luck, he managed to stay alive.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Miniature Replica of Angkor Wat.

Miniature Replica of Angkor Wat by Dy Proeung.

If his experiences under Khmer Rouge control sound like a horror story, then the years that followed the fall of the regime in 1979 certainly read like a fairytale. Free from oppression, he threw himself back into his work, painting, drawing and writing around the clock. In the mid 1990s he began work on the project he is now best known for, his amazing miniature recreations of The Angkor Temples.

Dy Proeung Miniature Angkor Replicas.

A trophy fit for a king.

During our brief chat, he shows me a trophy given to him personally by King Sihanouk. After hearing Proeung’s story, the king arranged for an exhibition of his work in Phnom Penh. He also wanted Proeung involved in cultural projects educating young Khmer people on their artistic and historical heritage.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

A Treasure Trove of Historical Art.

Touring the miniature replicas won’t take you very long. There are about half a dozen on display, all made by hand to-scale using cement and mouldings. Now, they sit in various states of decay due to years exposed to Siem Reap’s ferocious heat and rains. All he asks is $2 and you can wander around at your leisure. Not unreasonable when you consider he spent six years of his life creating them.

What to see and do Siem Reap.

Random treasures in Dy Proeung’s garden.

In addition to the miniatures, there are sketches, a few paintings and sculptures randomly scattered around. The garden also has its own Buddhist shrine where Proeung and his daughter lay daily offerings.

Buddhist shrine Dy Proeung Siem Reap.

The Buddhist shrine in Dy Proeung’s garden.

We are so glad we got to meet this inspirational man and to see his impressive miniatures. And it was all thanks to Sladja, who discovered his story online one afternoon. Sadly, Dy Proeung passed away in March and, at the time of writing, the future of his miniatures garden remains unclear.

May he rest in peace.

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1 Comment

  • Memo

    What a fascinating character. You are indeed fortunate to have met him.

    September 2, 2020 - 11:08 pm Reply

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