One of Angkor’s most popular temples must be Ta Prohm, sometimes called the Jungle Temple or Tree Temple. Its unique combination of stones and trees growing out of the ruins with roots coiling and blending into the walls of this Buddhist monastery has made it one of the most visited temples in Cambodia.
Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries (1186) by the King Jayavarman VII, Mother Nature shows that she is still all-powerful as Destroyer and Healer. Over hundreds of years, she has silently but surely strangled and split the carved stones apart, dressed their wounds with branches, leaves and mosses, and then bound them with her tendrils.
When Ta Prohm was discovered in the late 19th century, it was already extensively ruined. The giant trees had become so intertwined with the temple’s walls, that wood and stone had forged together. Restoration of the temple was not possible without destroying the trees that were enveloping the injured monument in their firm grip. So visitors to these unique temple ruins are actually seeing Ta Prohm in the same condition of neglect when it was first discovered, except for the wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings that have been put in place to protect the temple from further deterioration and damage due to the large tourist inflow.
Despite its condition, you can still explore numerous towers, closed courtyards and tight corridors behind the encroaching foliage. Some of the corridors are impassable due to the jumbled piles of stone blocks that clog their interiors. Others are accessible only by narrow, dark passages. You can get lost inside the ruins so it’s best to have a local guide or keep to the directional signs.
The scenes of Ta Prohm remained quite faithful to the temple’s mysterious appearance during the filming of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”. I was watching a re-run of this movie a few days ago and had a good time identifying and matching some familiar scenes from the film with the photographs I had!
Ta Prohm was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1992.