"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor Siem Reap.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Following our life-changing adventures in Belgrade, Sladja and I drew up plans for a future together. With her living in China and myself based in The UK, it was all a bit complicated. Nevertheless, we managed to book up what we thought was going to be a 1-month stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia. After which… you know… we’d take it from there. But then a mischievous spirit called COVID arrived, signalling the chaos that was the early months of the global pandemic

To cut a very long story short, we ended up “stuck” (very comfortably) in Siem Reap for seven months. This series, first published in real time, documents our lengthy adventures. With most of my readers having subscribed well after these original posts, I thought it was high time to republish. Thanks to everyone, as ever, for your amazing support of Leighton Travels.

Srah Srang Lake Siem Reap Cambodia

Srah Srang Lake, Siem Reap.

January 2020.

I really have met some fascinating people here in Cambodia these past seven 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. His name is Mr. Dy Proeung and he lives on a quiet Siem Reap side street, a short walk from The Royal Independence Gardens.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

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. His sunbaked face meanwhile seemed positively stern at first glance. But then lit up as he smiled, offering us his hand.

Dy Proeung Cambodian architect and sculptor.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

With introductions out of the way, Mr. Dy Proeung 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 with translations and explanations. But overall, we were glad we’d done our research before we came.

Dy Proeung’s Story.

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.

Hanging out in the garden of Dy Proeung Siem Reap

Hanging out in the garden of Dy Proeung.

By the mid 1970s he’d become one of Cambodia’s most renowned historical artists. Which of course 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, Siem Reap.

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.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor garden Siem Reap

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

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 wear the same black costume as they toiled in the fields. Somehow, through hard work, faith 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, 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 showed 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 heritage.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor.

Miniature Replicas of Angkor, Siem Reap.

Touring the miniature replicas won’t take you very long. There are about half a dozen on display, all handmade to scale using cement and mouldings. Here, they sit in various states of decay after decades of 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.

A Treasure Trove of Historical Art.

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. Some he made himself, others he has collected over the years from his travels around Cambodia. 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 2020, just a few months after our visit. At the time of writing, it appears the garden is still open for visitors. May he rest in peace.

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  • Memo

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

    September 2, 2020 - 11:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Memo! I have no idea why I never responded to your original comment but hey, thanks for reading. I guess a reply nearly two years later is better than no reply at all.

      June 5, 2022 - 9:41 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    True genius and commitment will find a way to shine through darkness and oppression. What a horrible period to have lived through, but what a miracle to have survived. Thanks for sharing the story Leighton. Happy Sunday. Allan

    June 12, 2022 - 1:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you ‘liked’ this story, so to speak. An underrated gem of Siem Reap and one so many overlooked. I’m glad we got to meet him before he passed, cheers Allan!

      June 12, 2022 - 1:58 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Wow, what an incredible person to meet! Reminds me of how in the pandemic some people thought masks were so oppressive, but that was nothing compared to what people in other countries face.

    June 12, 2022 - 5:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      This kind of oppression is just off the scale. Makes you feel incredibly lucky, thanks for reading Lyssy!

      June 12, 2022 - 6:04 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Leighton, what a wonderful life you and Sladja are having! Getting to enjoy and learn from all of the cultures you have immersed yourselves in leaves us a bit envious, but we are also glad that you share your adventures with us. Sladja unearthed a treasure when she found Proeung! How lucky that you were able to meet him and learn his story. Obviously, he was a very talented man who lived through unimaginable hardship. His ability to bounce back is a testament to the human spirit’s ability to thrive in good times as well as bad. Thank you so much for sharing his incredible story with us!

    June 12, 2022 - 6:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Kellye, Cambodia was a great period for us, despite the stress of the pandemic. Meeting Dy Proeung was one of the first things we did in Siem Reap, kicking off a highly memorable 7 months. Thanks for joining us at the beginning of this blogging journey.

      June 12, 2022 - 8:04 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    What an incredible story of Dy Proeung … one can only describe this as absolute perseverance to achieve all of this in his lifetime. Wow, 6 years to complete those miniature replicas of Angkor – quite amazing. And what an honour to meet this remarkable man just months before his death.

    June 12, 2022 - 6:46 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Corna, his story is one that deserves to be told far and wide. Hope you are enjoying your new home!

      June 12, 2022 - 8:07 pm Reply
      • wetanddustyroads

        Thanks … we’re getting there! If all goes well, we will move into our new home this coming weekend. Which mean there is not really time for sightseeing … and doing the thing I probably hate the most, namely shopping 🤨. Getting furniture (and all other household stuff) … hopefully once we’re in and settled, we can start enjoying life here!

        June 12, 2022 - 8:56 pm
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Still great to re-read Leighton!

    June 12, 2022 - 8:46 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Marion.

      June 13, 2022 - 7:44 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    This brings memories back of our visit at Siem Reap. Such an incredible site we saw. Thanks for sharing this.

    June 13, 2022 - 2:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Anita.

      June 13, 2022 - 7:00 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    What an incredible opportunity to have met him and hear his story. It’s amazing that he survived that horrendous time.

    June 13, 2022 - 10:11 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you, I’m so glad I got to share this story. Even in a city as small as Siem Reap this attraction didn’t seem to get much coverage. Meeting him, hearing his life story and seeing his creations was a highlight of our time in Cambodia.

      June 13, 2022 - 6:01 pm Reply
  • ThingsHelenLoves

    What a privilege to meet a man with such an interesting past. To have experienced such hardship and still be open and committed to sharing his life work with others is quite something.

    June 13, 2022 - 11:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely Helen, an incredible life lived and one of the great stories of Siem Reap. So fortunate to have met him when we did, thanks for reading!

      June 13, 2022 - 3:15 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Dy Proeung seems like an interesting man who saw and experienced a lot. It sounds like meeting him was a really memorable moment of your time in Siem Reap.

    June 13, 2022 - 3:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      What a guy, what a life. This was pretty much the first thing we did after arriving in Siem Reap and ranks among our most special experiences. Thanks for reading!

      June 13, 2022 - 4:14 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    What an incredible story! Hard to image such a sad history lies behind that smile. What an honor to meet the man himself and to record his story and see his work. On a different note, I always love that moment when you look back on a relationship to when you’re saying ‘we will see how it goes’ and realize everywhere that followed from it 🙂

    June 13, 2022 - 3:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Lovely comment Meg. Thanks for reading so carefully and for also reading into the feeling of the article too. That’s precisely where we were at after Belgrade. Just wanting to spend some more time together and figure out a path forward.

      June 13, 2022 - 4:16 pm Reply
  • Stan

    This is the Siem Reap story very few bloggers write about, which is crazy really. Well done to you for a) knowing about it b) going to see him and c) writing it up so well. Excellent Leighton, as always.

    June 13, 2022 - 6:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah thanks, Stan. Somehow I knew this article would be right up your street.

      June 13, 2022 - 6:24 pm Reply
  • KhmerStyle

    thank you for writing about dy proeung he will really be missed by cambodia

    June 13, 2022 - 6:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You are very welcome. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series, thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

      June 13, 2022 - 6:24 pm Reply
  • ourcrossings

    He certainly lived an amazing life, and I am glad to see you were able to meet him!

    June 13, 2022 - 10:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Aiva!

      June 13, 2022 - 10:39 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    I’m so glad you are reprising these stories. I started my new blog in March of 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, and it took me a while to find all these great posts. So amazing, the life of this historical artist, and that he was able to avoid becoming a victim to the violence of the time. I visited Angkor Wat years ago (and didn’t have time to get to explore the town) and it was quite overwhelming. Seeing his miniatures would help to see the plan of the site.

    June 20, 2022 - 6:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That’s really kind Ruth, thanks for dipping into these reposts. In truth the reprisals were inspired by needing an extended break from writing new content. Both Sladja and I were recently hit with COVID pretty hard and energy/concentration levels have been decimated. Actually we are still recovering, so it’s great to put out these Cambodian tales for those who didn’t see them the first time around. Dy Proeung was an amazing man, it’s a privilege to share his story with others.

      June 20, 2022 - 6:39 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve both been hit with this. It’s a slow recovery for some. 🙁 I wish you both well. Take care.

        June 20, 2022 - 6:45 pm
      • Leighton

        Thank you Ruth.

        June 20, 2022 - 6:48 pm

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