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…
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 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.
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. 🙂
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!
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!
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.
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.