I left the main Angkor Wat temple complex relatively early in the morning in an effort to beat the crowds to the scenic and shady Ta Prohm. I was successful in this plan as I had the temple relatively to myself during most of my visit. The only other tourists were a few Europeans (some from Italy, a couple from Estonia, and a few Englishmen) but towards the end of my stay I encountered hoards of Chinese. Why do they have to shout ALL THE TIME (disturbing the tranquility of the jungle) and why do they feel compelled to climb all about the stones and trees?
Still, Ta Prohm is my favorite of the ruins that I visited during this trip to Siem Reap. A decision was made early in the twentieth century to leave this site in it’s “natural state” and it does remain largely unrestored. The massive strangler fig and silk-cotton trees growing out of the towers and corridors of the temple lend a “jungle atmosphere” and some of the best “tree-in-temple” photo opportunities to be found anywhere. However, much of the ground vegetation has recently been cleared, large wooden walkways have been installed, and there are numerous “off-limits” signs as areas have collapsed and walls are being propped up by various forms of supports and scaffolding. That, and the crowds taking refuge underneath the shady trees does detract somewhat from the experience but Ta Prohm is still worth extended exploration of it’s dark corridors and open plazas.
Ta Prohm was constructed from the mid-twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII as one of his first major temple projects. He dedicated the site to his mother (nearby Preah Khan honored his father) and it was originally built as a Buddhist monastery. In its time, it was enormously wealthy having control over 3000 villages with thousands of support staff and vast stores of jewels and gold.
Having located my driver outside on the “mainland” side of Angkor Wat’s moat, I hopped in the back of the tuk-tuk for the fifteen minute ride through the jungle to Ta Prohm. I was dropped off at the eastern gate and began walking along the wide dirt path through the forest. After walking for some 350 meters through the shady forest I came upon a large terrace in the shape of a cross. There are many remains of stone lions, serpents, and mythical creatures lying in ruin in this area as well as huge laterite blocks scattered about. The only other person I saw at this point was the blue-shirted girl who checked my pass.
I spent only a couple of hours or so exploring Ta Prohm, much of it accompanied by only a few other tourists which was nice. I only bumped my head on a low ceiling once! I was improving on my navigation in the semi-darkness of the corridors. I came close to reaching the western gate before doubling back (my driver was waiting at the eastern gate). Many times, I veered off the center path to check out various plazas and interesting piles of rubble with trees sprouting out of them.
As time went on, more and more tourists arrived which made it increasingly difficult to snap photos without capturing some stray person or persons. Most were relatively polite and would stand aside while you took a turn at photography. I also learnt a bit more by listening to some of their guides. I never would have found the “dinosaur” bas-relief if it hadn’t been for my eavesdropping. Once the Chinese began “taking over” the place, I decided it was time to leave. I became particularly frustrated when attempting to snap a quick photo of one of the more notable doorways. It took me a full thirty minutes of waiting before I finally had a clear shot. I suppose it’s all in the timing…
Next up: The royal city of Angkor Thom and, especially, The Bayon…