The most beautiful place I've ever been might also be the most haunting. You have to see for yourself:
It's called Ta Prohm now, but its original name was Rajavihara – the royal monastery – and it was dedicated to the Buddhist personification of wisdom. But what's more interesting than its construction to me is its current state: overtaken by jungle. Strangler figs and silk cotton trees merged with the temple structures during the 500-odd years it was abandoned. I stood there for a long time, shocked, filming its emptiness. We have better tools and technology now to stay in balance with nature, but that doesn't mean we're going to use them to prevent this from becoming our own fate, too.
This place was one of the many crown jewels of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire. Angkor was the largest and most advanced pre-industrial city in the world thanks to its impressive water management system. And though many factors contributed to its demise, the most interesting one should sound pretty familiar: changes in the climate.
How do we know? Some of the best evidence was found by a team led by ecologist Mary Beth Day — sediment cores from the soil of the West Baray (a giant, five-mile-long reservoir that served Angkor) seemed to confirm other data about intensifying drought, and then flood, in the region, which would have weakened this "hydraulic city."
Of course, great documentation and conclusive evidence is scarce — and there certainly were other, less surprising contributing factors to Angkor and Ta Prohm's demise, like political upheaval and war. But I just can't shake the emptiness of this place, now a ruin when it could have been bigger than New York City.
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