Nestled deep in the Cambodian jungle, not far from the bustling town of Siem Reap, lies the enchanting and hauntingly beautiful temple ruins of Ta Prohm. As you approach this 12th-century temple along a forest path, you can already feel its mystical aura inviting you in. Overgrown with massive tree roots and ensnared by the dense jungle foliage, Ta Prohm stands as a testament to the inexorable power of nature and the passage of time.
This UNESCO World Heritage site, unlike many of its contemporaries, remains largely as it was found: a blend of man-made architectural grandeur and natural wilderness. Each corner of the temple tells a story, with walls etched in ancient inscriptions and corridors where history whispers tales of bygone eras. Walking through its grounds is like taking a step back in time, immersing oneself in a world where nature and heritage entwine in a mesmerizing dance.
The Origins of Ta Prohm
King Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm in the late 12th century and dedicated it to his beloved mother. At the time, it was one of the most impressive and largest temples in the entire Angkor complex. As described in the temple’s inscriptions, Ta Prohm was a small city in its own right, with over 12,500 people living there to maintain and run the temple operations.
The inscriptions give us a glimpse into the immense wealth and extravagance of Ta Prohm during its heyday. It possessed 4,540 precious stones, over 35 diamonds, 500 kilograms of golden dishes, and even 615 dancing girls to perform for the gods. The sprawling temple compound was highly organized, with 260 statues of gods, 39 towers with pinnacles, and 566 groups of residences for priests, dancers, and other staff. Truly, Ta Prohm was a majestic sight to behold in its prime.
However, after the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Ta Prohm was abandoned like many other Angkor temples. Soon, the jungle began its slow and steady process of reclaiming this magnificent complex.
A Temple Reclaimed by Nature
Today, Ta Prohm remains in the clutches of the jungle that has made it so famous. Enormous kapok and fig tree roots, some as big as a person, wrap around the temple walls like giant tentacles. Their branches high above intertwine to form a natural canopy, shading the temple corridors below.
It’s a rare and beautiful scene where nature and ancient architecture collide in poetic harmony. The giant trees play a dual role, both destroyer and healer, as they slowly split stones apart while also binding the temple’s wounds with soft mosses. Masses of tree roots completely cover some temple passages, while other crumbling walls seem to be held together only by the root systems embracing them.
While the intertwined roots make for incredible photos, they also pose challenges for visiting the temple. Some areas are now completely impassable, barred by thick tree trunks and piles of rubble. Other passageways require ducking under roots or turning sideways to squeeze through. A large central courtyard provides some open space, but is also shaded by the surrounding forest canopy.
Exploring the Temple Layout
The main temple complex is surrounded by a 1 km rectangular wall, of which only fragments remain. At the west entrance, a stone terrace shaped like a cross marks the first glimpse of the ruins within. From here, the view is breathtaking, with the temple spires just visible above the jungle growth.
The central section is reached via connecting towers and galleries. Lining the walls are niches with Buddha images, serpent balustrades, and mythical creature carvings. The central sanctuary has an unadorned interior with evenly spaced holes suggesting it once had a wooden or metal covering.
Walking northeast, you reach a tree-entangled gallery framing the temple’s important founding inscription. Dark passageways meander to further small courtyards and what may have been dancing pavilions. The east entrance is shaped like a cross with decorated pillars and passages lined with intricate carvings.
There are many corners to explore within Ta Prohm’s sprawling courtyards, towers and galleries. However, only by sticking to the designated visitor routes can you safely navigate through the maze-like interior without getting lost.
Tips for Visiting Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm is best visited in the early morning hours when the light filtering through the jungle canopy creates a serene and mystical mood. Following the designated visitor route or staying with a guide is highly recommended for the best experience.
While nature has reclaimed much of Ta Prohm, patience and imagination is required to glimpse the temple’s faded glories underneath the encroaching tree roots. Running your hands over the intricate carvings and picturing the temple as it once was brings its history to life. The calls of birds and insects resonating through the corridors enhances the magical atmosphere.
Ta Prohm is a one-of-a-kind temple where nature and architecture blend together in mysterious harmony. For an experience you won’t soon forget, make time to visit this jungle-entwined wonder on your trip to Angkor’s many breathtaking temples.