Bang Malea temple sat seventy kilometres north-east of Siem Reap, appearing as though a huge concussion wave from a B52 strike had caved in its square-kilometre grounds, before rebounding again and collapsing everything into a ruin. Its sandstone blocks lay in huge piles of jumbled carved stones in impossible puzzles, with its Aspra looking quizzically at the sky. Jungle trees had taken the opportunity to regain their territory, their roots weaving spider-web nets that held the stones together and carved themselves over the remaining walls. The twelve-headed Naga snakes now rested speechless and unmoving, incapable of protecting the temples. The temple quarries several kilometres east, with their unreachable uncut rocks, lay abandoned.
Bang Malea Temple
To protect numerous minor villages, Vietnamese army forces had uprooted the villagers, combining them at Bang Malea pagoda, beside the ancient temple. The Vietnamese firebase built around it used the temple, with its surrounding lotus-filled moats, as one side of its perimeter defences. Surrounding the firebase in the other three directions, in front of bunkers and trenches, minefields expanded outwards in a no-man’s land of dead and dying trees, mown down, torn in pieces and resting above shell-cratered holes. Corpses stranded in the middle steamed in the unforgiving sun, turning to skeletons over time. Caught in jagged razor wire, their retrieval was near impossible. The sickening smell of rotting flesh and sulfur blew back, with its heavy scent flowing over the bunkers.
Bang Malea Temple
There were so many snakes, every stick picked up to hit a snake seemed to be another snake. Uncountable scorpions lived here as well; they didn’t kill but their terrible bites created infection, making soldiers nauseous and finally bedridden. Sinarth initially spied them early one morning, only weeks after arriving, as he sat hidden in a bunker, drenched from the incessant rain that had fallen all night.