Travel Report: Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia.
Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia.
One of the many things I liked about my first day touring Angkor’s amazing temples is that each structure we visited had a clear identity that set it apart from the others. As one of the so-called modern wonders of the world, Angkor Wat was an experience of pure grandeur and scale.
Furthermore, the intimate Bayon Temple was all about its collection of stunning face sculptures. Our third structure of the day was Ta Prohm Temple, also known as The Tomb Raider Temple. That’s right, this place served as a filming location for the Angelina Jolie movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Dating back to 1186, Ta Prohm Temple was dedicated to the mother of Cambodia’s most powerful ruler, King Jayavarman VII. As one of the smaller Angkor temples, historians reckon between 12-13000 people lived here. Among them were around 20 high priests and over 600 entertainers, including singers, dancers and musicians. This suggests the king often used the temple for grand celebrations.
Wherever you look you’ll see incredible ancient trees twisting in and out of the ruins. The temple is also bursting with wild bushes, plants and flowers. As a result, some of the staircases and alleys are impassable due to thick vegetation and mounds of rubble.
In fact, the pioneering Angkor historian Mauricie Glaize claimed that of all the Angkor temples it was Ta Prohm that had most seamlessly merged with the surrounding jungle.
Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia.
Tomb Raider really helped put Ta Prohm and indeed Cambodia itself on the map. Indeed visitors from all over the world are keen to check out The Tomb Raider Tree. This is where Lara Croft (played by Angelina Jolie) famously stops to pick a Jasmine flower before the ground cracks open and swallows her up.
Another spot to seek out is Ta Prohm’s curious dinosaur carving, the source of much debate among historians. What exactly were the Angkorians doing creating images of a stegosaurus?
There are all kinds of wild theories if you dig around the internet. However, many experts have simply concluded it’s a hoax of some kind. We hadn’t heard anything about the dinosaur prior to our visit. When my Cambodian friend first told us about it, my buddy Henry made a bet that no such carving existed. But of course we discovered it and consequently dinner was on Henry that night!
You can visit Ta Prohm Temple with The Angkor Pass, purchased both online and in person at The Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket office.
For more on this incredible area of Cambodia, check out my other travel reports on The Temples of Angkor.
You can also check out my exhaustive guide to the sights, cafes, restaurants and hotels of Siem Reap.
Or maybe delve further afield with my articles from across Cambodia.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
We can think that all the temples of Angkor were covered by nature. One can imagine the work involved in clearing them without damaging the structure. It’s quite amazing to see one of them in its original state.
Yes, what incredible skills needed to restore these temples and reclaim them from nature. Ta Prohm, although lacking the scale of other temples, is so distinctive for having retained its merged jungle elements.
The tomb raider tree is mesmerizing 😍
It’s a beauty eh? Thanks for reading Natty.
I liked how you described the mystery of Ta Prohm and were able to gain access to the structure in spite of its location in the jungle. Don’t remember hearing anything about the dinosaur mold when we visited in 2013 – when do ‘experts’ think it may have been placed there, do you know?
Hey Annie, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. As far as I understand it, some historians believe they were included when the temple was first constructed. Others think they were cheekily added hundreds of years later. This is an interesting article worth reading about the mysterious moulds. https://answersresearchjournal.org/stegosaur-engravings-at-ta-prohm/
The trees are amazing. Nature will take back its own. Man can try to take it back, but its only a matter of time. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan
Thanks for stopping by Allan! This temple is just wondrous and probably deserves its place in the so-called Angkor Top 3.
It just boggles the mind to think of trees that big taking root and literally growing out of the rock of the temple. How many decades of time lapse photography would you need to see it stretch its way to the sky? So, only 12-13,000 people. Those must have been some fabulous parties.
Yeah pretty rowdy I would imagine. The time lapse idea is a fascinating prospect. Cheers Memo!
Every single post we ever read just increases our desire to get there, we’re getting hopeful for next year now. This looks a fabulous and fascinating temple, I think the biggest lesson we’ve learned from your recent posts is that when we do rearrange, we’ll plan to spend longer in Siem Reap than was on our original schedule. Of course, the movie significance of the tree would have completely passed me by but we won’t dwell on that. When I come to draw up our Cambodia itinerary your site will be our first point of reference.
That’s very kind Phil. After the temples I’ll be taking a much needed break from Siem Reap but actually there’s a whole other series to come believe it or not ha ha. Siem Reap overload?!
It is so interesting how the jungle encroaches and pays no mind to what’s in its way. The roots fingering their way through the temple have a certain eerie beauty. By the way, I’ve seen pines, oaks, maples, but never a helluva tree before 😉 The stegosaurus is a bit mind blowing. Did it look like it was carved at the same time as the other carvings? I need to research this because I’m intrigued, and I also wonder how they know that so many entertainers lived there. Thanks, Leighton, for another fascinating post.
Hey Kellye, yes the helluva species is under appreciated I feel ha ha. There is a lot of conjecture regarding that mysterious dinosaur. Check out the link I sent to Annie in this thread. Appreciate your readership!
I’ve been loving this series and I feel like I’ve been traveling vicariously through your posts. The pictures are stunning and your posts are all full of interesting information. I also enjoyed the Tomb Raider reference 😁 I must have watched that movie 10 times as a teenager.
Thank you! There are plenty more temples to come. 🙂
I can’t wait to discover them 😃
Ta Prohm Temple looks mysterious and ancient. The vegetation makes the place seem as if it is alive and evolving. I’m glad this part of the complex wasn’t fully reclaimed from the jungle.
Hey John, yeah I’m glad that there is enough of it unclaimed that we get to stroll around and explore. Such a mesmerising temple, no wonder Hollywood came calling.
Looks like such a mystical place to visit. It’s mesmerising to see how nature always takes back – it does create the perfect set for Hollywood!
Hey Nic, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
Loved the appearance of the Beluva tree Leighton and of course the Ta Prohm Temple. It must have been a delicate task to restore the temples without damaging parts of them at the same time.
Yes, an almighty project I’d imagine. Thanks for stopping by to look at Ta Prohm Temple, Marion.
I love how the jungle is growing around, on and through the temple; and the tree is stunning! It must have been an incredible experience to visit. Lucky you!
Hey Tricia, yes it was a real pleasure to experience. I had never seen such trees, nor have I since come to think of it. Thanks for reading.
Those trees that are so intertwined with the ruins … that’s quite spectacular! I actually looked a couple of times through your pictures – it’s so unusual. Thanks for another great post Leighton.
Thanks Corna. The photos in this article are literally everything I had, not a shot to spare. In contrast, when Sladja and I did our day trip in 2020 I made sure to photograph the heck out of all the temples we saw. Those are coming next… 🙂
So much to see in Siem Reap – this temple looks amazing, the trees are incredible.
This is so cool! The twisty roots of the tree reminds me of the Anping Tree House in Tainan, Taiwan, which has a similar theme– all the same, very fascinating! The stegosaurus carving was a surprise, as it seems that people knew about dinosaurs existing back then?? Any case, glad you won the bet! XD
Just checked out the place you mentioned in Taiwan, very cool too. Yes, it was a hearty dinner that night at Henry’s expense. Even I was a little surprised when we finally found the dinosaur.
I love how it’s so intertwined with nature, how cool! I especially love the last picture.
Thanks for taking a look Lyssy.
Exploring Ta Prohm really felt like we were discovering something special. I actually didn’t see the movie so appreciated it for other reasons. Maggie
Hey Maggie. The movie…. meh. It’s a pity they couldn’t make a better film considering they bothered to come all the way to the Cambodian jungle to shoot. Thanks for reading and hope your trip is going well!
This is amazing. Your posts are making me want to plan a Cambodia trip – what’s the best time of year to go?
Hey Holly, I’d say the best time to visit the Angkor Temples is during the dry season from November through to mid April. During those months conditions are at their best, though you’d still be dealing with some pretty serious heat. Early morning and sunset excursions would probably be the best.
Oh fantastic! Might look into going next year November or spring 2024 then!
Your pictures of the Tomb Raider Temple are gorgeous. I love how nature is trying to reclaim this space and all the trees growing amongst the ruins.
Thanks for stopping by Ta Prohm Temple!
This temple is so beautiful, and it seems so connected to the environment as well!
Thanks Allie, I appreciate you keeping up with my Angkor temple series.
Hi Leighton I’ve enjoyed your post so much. It’s superb!
Thanks for reading and commenting Nelly. And for following Leighton Travels!
Stunning blend of nature and architecture! I just love how the trees are so much a part of the structures that you would think they were purposely built that way. 🙂
Just realised I missed your comment Meg. You are absolutely right that you couldn’t have designed these trees better than what nature has managed to achieve. I think you’re also gonna like the next one too. Not quite the same dramatic trees, but a charm and vastness all of its own.
I just finished your next one, but for some reason it wouldnt let me leave a comment on it so I thought Id tell you here. I love the more simple beauty of it and anywhere that you can enjoy virtually undisturbed is a win 🙂 have a great weekend
Oh Meg, what a mess WordPress has been for me these past days. After I posted my Banteay Kdei article, I noticed a bunch of very familiar sounding comments coming through as “anonymous”. I knew they weren’t anonymous, but from regular readers. So I did a bit of detective work and found out that one was from The Hungry Travellers, another from Kellye Hefner (One For the Money Two for the Road). The 3rd comment we never managed to identify who it was, in fact we thought it may have been you. Anyway, I got in touch with WordPress support who are pretty clueless, coming up with explanations that are obviously wrong like (maybe the anonymous comments were because they all forgot to log into their accounts). Finally, the engineer’s suggestion was that I tick some security boxes to say that everyone has to be logged in to comment. Now, surprise surprise, I read that you can’t comment. I’m sure you haven’t been the only one. The last thing I wanna do is make my blog difficult to comment on, so I’ll just untick the security boxes and cross my fingers that the anonymous stuff was a weird one-off. Sorry for the inconvenience Meg!
What a pain! Sorry to hear that youve had such a time with it. Spending hours on wordpress help is not a.fun way to spend the day. Good luck getting it all worked out!
Having trouble leaving comments on other sites, so I’ve found I can go back and do it from the reader. I love the blend of nature and ruins. Carefully preserved, yet allowing the trees to make their statement without completely taking over. Ta Prohm was such an amazing place to see.
Hey Ruth, I appreciate you battling through to leave a comment. WordPress had been a mess this past week but for me things seem to be back to normal now. Ta Prohm is a real beauty, glad you got to see it.
I found the trees here fascinating and your photos have brought back lots of memories. I was irritated by all the people queuing to take selfies of the Tomb Raider tree but found so many others even more photogenic only a few steps away and with no other visitors in sight! But although I photographed lots of carvings, the stegosaurus passed me by!
Hey Sarah, I often feel there’s a huge slab of luck involved when it comes to how we experience these kinds of sites. The Tomb Raider tree was luckily quiet when I stopped by, but I have heard of similar accounts to yours. And you’re right, it is hardly the most impressive tree in the complex. Indeed I remember your own excellent shots from Ta Prohm. Once again I am reminded of how few photos I took on my first visit to the Angkor Temples. It was the early days of the blog and I was still finding my way. I certainly made up for it the second time around in 2020.