Ta Prohm, of Tomb Raider fame and often referred to as the ‘one with the trees’, is a phenomenal example of the interplay between man and nature and should not be missed. The decision by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient to leave Ta Prohm in its original state was inspired, as although in places the trees are slowly destroying the monument – with some having to be chopped down in 2014 — in others they’re holding it together. Although well-travelled wooden walkways meander through the monument, plenty of nooks and crannies, alleys and backways are around to explore.
Built by Jayavarman VII for his mother, and consecrated in 1186, Ta Prohm was the centrepiece of a city of more than 10,000 people and was also an active Buddhist monastery. While some interesting lintels and pediments are distributed throughout the temple — keep your eyes peeled for a medallion that oddly looks like a stegosaurus — for the casual visitor here the main attraction is the trees. In some places they’ve displaced the walls completely, leaving their roots to form the archways and roofs that were once made of stone.
Ta Prohm is a favourite among both professional and amateur photographers. For the serious shutterbug, rising early and exploring the temple before 07:00, the only time it is close to quiet, will pay dividends, otherwise you may have to wait around for crowds to move out of the way of your shot. Be aware that although postcards show images of the temple and trees au natural, since tourism management action began, there are now several wooden platforms and ropes (more were added in 2014), which keep visitors from clambering on the sites, but also make it a little trickier to replicate those images exactly.
Ta Prohm, after Angkor Wat and Bayon, is probably the most popular monument, and while best visited in the early morning or afternoon, any time is interesting. Take it slowly, finding spots to sit and take in the atmosphere as the crowds ebb and flow. Ta Prohm is large, so unlike Bayon it is more able to absorb large groups of people and there is usually a short window between groups when you can take a moment to get your photos and admire the temple in a momentary serene state.
A visit to Ta Prohm is a ‘must see’ along with Angkor Wat and Bayon for any first-time visitor to Angkor. Yes, it’s a heavily visited site, but despite visitors flocking here it hasn’t lost all the magic – there’s a reason this temple is memorable. Practically everyone enters the temple from the west entrance, but those in the know will head in through the less-frequented east entrance; you can ask your driver to meet you at the west on exiting.
The site combines well with a trip to Srah Srang and Banteay Kdei, which are close by. Start at Srah Srang, then walk through Bantaey Kdei before entering Ta Prohm through its eastern gate. If twisting tree roots and moss-swathed ruins sound appealing, then you’re likely to also particularly enjoy Preah Khan and Beng Mealea.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.