Quiet Awe at Ta Prohm

ta-prohm-tree2As my driver pointed out, everywhere I visited on the first day, except for Angkor Wat, was rather devoid of tourists. Outrunning the tourists made my visit to Ta Prohm even more amazing than it would have been had I been with a tour group. It was my third stop after the sunrise at Angkor Wat and the southern gate of Angkor Thom.

Ta Prohm is a huge temple that is more overgrown with wilderness than other other temple in the region. It was made more famous by the Angelina Jolie movie “Tomb Raider,” which is used in Cambodia to advertise the tourist attraction (really, it doesn’t need the movie to make it cool). Until the day that I become famous in Hollywood, I can claim that visiting Ta Prohm is the closest I’ll ever get to Angelina Jolie.

Built in the late 12th and early 13th century by King Jayavarman VII, it’s just a short distance east of Angkor Thom. The temple was to serve as a Buddhist monastery and university.

After entering the gate to Ta Prohm, it’s a long dirt path to the actual temple. The path is surrounded by thick wilderness–it’s hard to imagine that there’s nothing between the gate and the temple. It feels like an adventure just approaching the temple.

I can't see the temple from here
I can’t see the temple from here

Unlike much of the Angkor Wat temples, Ta Prohm is overgrown with trees, most of which were never removed. However, there is an effort now to restore parts of the temple before the trees tear the stones apart. Countries including China and India are lending resources to maintain and/or restore parts of the temples–in some cases it’s just holding walls together so the temples don’t collapse.

Sometimes reconstruction requires holding up the trees
Sometimes reconstruction requires holding up the trees

The crumbling walls and trees growing in and around the the stones are beautiful. I’ve never seen nature overtake civilization in such a way.ta-promh4

The best part of my stop at Ta Prohm was that it was nearly empty–I probably saw about 20 people before I walked out, at which time I saw a few groups enter and was thankful I didn’t have to tour the temple with them.

The vacant halls of Ta Prohm
The vacant halls of Ta Prohm

Only a few of my photos from Ta Prohm have people in them (some were deliberate to get a sense of scale). For the most part, I just had to wait a minute or two for the people to move on so I could get a better shot; sometimes the people politely moved out of the way because they saw that I also wanted to clear picture.ta-prohm-ruins2

Without the tour groups, Ta Prohm was also much quieter than other temples–it was mostly solo tourists like me or families on private tours. Most of the people in the temple rarely spoke.ta-promh2With solitude and beauty like this, it’s no wonder that it was my favorite temple in Cambodia. Most people also enjoy visiting Ta Prohm more than the other sites, which is why it gets much more crowded later in the day.

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