Siem Reap, Cambodia: Ta Prohm, the "Tomb Raider temple"

Feeling the Lara Croft fantasy at the "Tomb Raider temple": Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Root of it All: Feeling the Tomb Raider Fantasy at TA PROHM in SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

It is indisputable that the centuries-old temples of the ancient city of Angkor in what is now called Siem Reap is what put Cambodia on the map of many a wanderluster. Two places immediately come to mind: the iconic Angkor Wat (itself on the flag of the Kingdom of Cambodia) and Ta Prohm, famous for its ruined walls intertwined with giant tree roots. In the second part of my Cambodia photo diaries, I walked among the remnants of history and learn what makes the “Tomb Raider temple” so unique.

Feeling the Lara Croft fantasy at the "Tomb Raider temple": Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Feeling the Lara Croft fantasy at the "Tomb Raider temple": Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The first thing that struck me as I stepped out of the scorching Cambodian sun and into the complex of Ta Prohm was how eerie it was. The sun was mostly blocked out by towering century-old trees with a few errand rays filtered through the leafy canopy, casting a greenish pall on the few patches of dappled sunlight that cut through the gloom and shadows. Coats of creeping plants, lichen, and moss that seemed to sprout from every wall added to the sepulchral tones. Unlike the other carefully pruned and restored temples of Angkor, Ta Prohm has very much succumbed to the jungle. Ta Prohm's appearance has remain more or less unchanged from when it was rediscovered following its abandonment after the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century. 

Without the 80,000 people who maintained Ta Prohm back in its heyday, the jungle returned with a vengeance. Tree roots tore through walls, pavilions, and structures with strangulating formations; strong-arming the abandoned buildings in a vice-like grip. The most famous of these chimaeras is the so-called ‘Tomb Raider tree’.  It’s easy to see how this atmospheric setting was the root of Angelina Jolie’s obsession with Cambodia. More so than being a place of historical and cultural interest or a setting made famous by Hollywood, Ta Prohm is poetry in (very slow) motion - of the cyclical struggle between man and nature. It begins, as always, with humanity first destroying nature in a bid to expand and create; then nature winning in the slow game it plays so well, before finally both intertwined  with each other in a precarious symbiosis.

Although Ta Prohm's main draw and unique feature is its decrepit appearance, a lot of thought and work goes into making it look effortless and abandoned. While the École française d'Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East, the big cheese in charge of conservation at the archeological site of Angkor) decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found, as a "concession to the general taste for the picturesque”, much work has been done to stabilize the ruins and to upkeep its "condition of apparent neglect." It used to be possible to climb onto the damaged galleries, but this is now prohibited for the protection of both Ta Prohm and her visitors as many of the precariously balanced stones weigh a tonne or more and are essentially loaded weapons of ass destruction. For that reason, the more hazardous areas of interest are roped off for safety with wooden walkways to guide the heavy traffic. 

Feeling the Lara Croft fantasy at the "Tomb Raider temple": Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia

That said, despite the swell of visitors flocking to Ta Prohm to live out their Lara Croft and Indiana Jones fantasies, there are many hidden nooks and crannies in this labyrinth-like complex, and even in peak season one can easily sniff out a quiet spot for photo-taking or peaceful contemplation. Just be sure to listen to your guide (should you engage one - I did, and my choice was worth every Cambodian Riel) when he points out which ruins are not be clambered on and which ones are safe to pose with. 


Go early in the morning when Ta Prohm is the least crowded. Doors open at 7:30am. Entry is covered by the 'Angkor Pass', which can only be purchased from The Angkor Ticket Office

Do respect any roped-off and/or fenced areas - they’re there to keep you from slipping on or dislodging a loose rock and breaking your neck (those things weigh at least a tonne).

You will encounter local children, sneaking past security, offering to guide you. As with children who try to sell you tat or beg (a prevalent issue in Cambodia) it’s best to not solicit their services as this encourages them to not attend school.

As with all places of religious interest in Cambodia, keep your shoulders and knees covered. 

Feeling the Lara Croft fantasy at the "Tomb Raider temple": Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia


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