Home Other Countries Cambodia Siem Reap: Day 03 part 02 – Tomb Raider Time at Ta...

Siem Reap: Day 03 part 02 – Tomb Raider Time at Ta Prohm

In 2001, Tomb Raider came out with Angelina Jolie gracing the big screen as the swashbuckling, gun-slinging and treasure hunting Lara Croft. While regular moviegoers and critics were busy applauding or criticising the movie from all angles, I was busy replaying the temple ruin scenes over and over in my head. I was like, gosh they did really well with that set…

This scene especially made an impression. Humongous tree roots, ruins, Lara's daring poise - what's not to like?
This scene especially made an impression. Humongous tree roots, ruins, Lara’s daring poise – what’s not to like?

Then I found out it wasn’t a set at all but a real temple in Cambodia! The moment that realisation hit was the same moment my longing to travel to Cambodia was born. For the next years, visions of crumbling ancient structures locked in constant battle with the jungle continued to tantalise me. Imagining how it would feel to be right there clambering over the tumbled rocks, feeling the giant gnarled roots growing over the ruins, and breathing in the special scents of the forest – all these fuelled my wanderlust.

And so I was elated when finally I was able to visit Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yes, Ta Prohm is none other than the Tomb Raider temple and, although crowded when I visited, it was as amazing as I thought it would be! Not only did I have several Lara Croft moments there, I was able to scratch further the surface of Cambodia’s history and culture. Indeed, it was all worth the time and money. My only regret? That I’m just the typical point-and-shoot photographer. If only I had more skills to capture the serene and somewhat heartbreaking beauty of Ta Prohm. Oh well, my pics will just have to do.

ta prohm01

Ta Prohm is part of the Small Circuit tour offered by many travel agencies and enterprising tuktuk drivers in Siem Reap. Included in the tour are visits to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, both of which are also grand temples deserving dedicated posts, later when I get the energy hehe. As mentioned in my other posts about Cambodia, this tour is already part of the package we got from our guesthouse – Ta Som Guesthouse. A guide was with us, which I appreciated because an attraction always comes to life for me when I hear its history and stories from a reliable and knowledgeable local source.

monks at ta prohm
These monks were kind enough to take a picture with me. I’m looking rigid here because women aren’t supposed to touch them and the last thing I wanted to do was offend them. Oh, yeah monks these days have smartphones too, modern world and all that.

Apparently, Ta Prohm was built around the late 12th century to the early 13th century under the orders of King Jayavarman VII. The temple was dedicated to the king’s mother and functioned as a Buddhist monastery and university. It’s quite thought-provoking to know that when kings of old need to remember and honour their deceased relatives, they don’t just stop at creating a simple memorial. They have to create huge temples that will take decades to build and will require the efforts of hundreds of workers.

King Jayavarman must be really devoted to his mother. But considering he also commissioned temples for his other relatives, maybe he did all of that for economic purposes? Or serious commitment to their religion? No matter the reason, as a 21st century person, I am thankful that these immense structures, even though they are already ruins, still exist on earth. They certainly make living on this planet more interesting. 🙂

interesting carvings and sculptures at Ta Prohm
Speaking of interesting, these carvings really caught our attention.

There are so many things to look at and investigate around Ta Prohm. However, I feel like the above deserve special mention. Top left looks like a dinosaur, particularly a Stegosaurus, doesn’t it? Mind-boggling because dinosaurs have long been extinct by the end of the 12th century when this temple was built. Or did the inhabitants of this place at the time really did co-exist with Stegosauruses? Questions, questions. The Smithsonian postulates though that this carving is just a rhino or boar surrounded by leaves.

Then there are the highly detailed carvings on the top right picture above. Those definitely require skills! As for the lower left sculpture, she is an Apsara dancer. Yes they carved barely dressed women on their temple walls. It just goes to show you that cultures and religions vary and what might be right for one group won’t always sit well with others. So we must all learn to be tolerant and open minded as much as we can because not all that we’ve been taught since we’re young is the final or only truth. Finally, there’s that Buddha sculpture peeking from behind the tree roots. Soooo mysterious!

My friends and I spent around an hour or two at Ta Prohm just listening to the stories of the guide, clambering over tumbled rocks and of course, taking pictures!

Feeling tomb raider haha. 14 years after the movie was made, the very same roots still exist in the temple. In fact, I think is has grown bigger!
Feeling tomb raider haha. 14 years after the movie was made, the very same roots still exist in the temple. In fact, I think they have grown bigger!

More important and despite the heat, I had such a great time absorbing all the Tomb Raider moments! The jungle was also fascinating. There were these giant deciduous trees called Spung that are growing over the temple ruins. Their humongous roots were everywhere – boring holes through stone walls and trampling over roofs. Truly, Ta Prohm deserves its other moniker – The Kingdom of Trees. Saying that aloud gives me goose bumps!

giant spung tree at Ta Prohm temple
The Spung towering over mere mortals and their buildings. As if serving as Nature’s messenger announcing to one and all that Her victory is just a matter of time.

Since the temple can get super crowded during peak seasons, particularly in the middle of the day, it is advisable to go there early in the morning (maybe 7 or 8 AM) before the buses bursting with tourists arrive. We were there during peak hours though because we scheduled a visit to Angkor Wat that morning to witness the sunrise. It was crowded and hot when we arrived, and people were lining up to get photos of the Tomb Raider tree. Still, the beauty of the place cannot be denied and I did enjoy myself.

tomb raider tree ta prohm temple in Cambodia
The Tomb Raider Tree that everyone was lining up to take a picture with. If you watch the movie, there’s a scene where Angelina stands there on the top left corner of this photo to survey the ruins. Then she follows a little girl who leads her to a door framed by jasmine flowers. Yes that’s the door behind me! But no, the ground did not collapse from under me as it did in the movie. My travel insurance wouldn’t have covered that.

All in all, Ta Prohm also known as the Tomb Raider Temple or the Kingdom of Trees is a must-visit in Cambodia, especially if you love history or ancient architecture. I highly recommend seeing it.

33 COMMENTS

  1. That Buddha statue behind some roots is really interesting! I love to go, when possible, to places where movies were filmed – it looks like you had fun at this temple – and there is so much more to it than the fact that some scenes were filmed here.

    • It was indeed fun and you get to learn a lot too. And yeah that Buddha statue behind the roots was one of the highlights there. All the guides will point it out to visitors. Do visit it if you can, you won’t regret it 🙂

  2. This is another nature wonders I ever see. The roots are so huge but the branches are not proportionate to the roots. I don’t know if this is already answered why it is so. I am too curious about it.

  3. This was one of my favourite temples in Siem Reap! Totally loved wondering the ruins, thanks for the reminder on a Monday morning of one my fave trips – one that I have never gotten to write about yet!! 🙂

  4. Angkor Wat is such an amazing place. The old temples and their stones carving are slowly deteriorating. I hope the UNESCO will help to restore it.

  5. I think you did a fantastic job with your photos. And I too believe that was a stegasaurus. I think it’s so cool how you gave us a history lesson. I was very into your article. Thank you for posting and keep up the great work.

  6. I have been here before and after the Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm is my other favorite place in Siem Reap. The gigantic roots overgrowing on the temples are really a very memorable sight to see. – Fred

  7. The place looks scary and haunted. 🙁 Haven’t been out of the country but hopefully I get to travel and see these places soon!

  8. Admittedly, when I watched Tomb Raider I didn’t think this place do exist. I thought its all graphically designed for production purposes but hell, yeah I’m wrong upon further researching about the location.- KarenT

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