A temple you might recognize, even if you haven’t been to Angkor – Ta Phrom, Jungle Temple

Ta Phrom is one of my favorite temples in Angkor, Cambodia – and I’m not alone! Ever since Angelina Jolie’s move “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was filmed here in 2000, everybody seems to know about it and even the guards (who are way to young to have been around for it) can point out where the best scenes were filmed. I could have sworn that that movie was filmed on a Hollywood set – but the film was made in the natural temple environment without too many changes!

TaPh09The construction of Ta Phrom was started late in the 12th century. A total of 5 rectangular walls, with the outer one enclosing a space of 1,000m x 650m, surround the inner sanctuary. The temple is the flat Khmer style, not the (hindu) mound found elsewhere, You are most likely going to enter from the Western gate, there is an Eastern gate as well – make sure you remember which way you came, because it’s easy to get confused in the maze of hallways in the forrest!

TaPh15When Ta Phrom was (re-)discovered, it was decided to mostly leave it as it was found, with trees having overgrown the temple walls and buildings, roots all around and nature taking back its space. Only paths were cleared for visitors, earth removed to see walls and buildings and structural strengthening inserted to stop the deterioration of the temple: The huge tree roots are splitting walls or pushing up parts of the building. You can see trees on top of buildings, with roots growing down on the sides. It feels a little bit like an explorer uncovering the temple (ok, well, minus your closest thousand tourist friends doing the same). Seeing the silent struggle between nature and mankind’s creation is a rare sight to behold and continue to amaze me, even after many visits! It’s a great place for photo fans: I have taken hundreds of pictures – from the most-shot ones every marketing add, fashion shoot or tourist snap includes to the details of tiny roots making their way between two stones, starting the certain split of that wall in the far future…

TaPh10Ta Phrom is one of the temples best experienced with as few people around as possible. The mystique of it left in the natural state, the unsettling feeling of walking through the narrow, low and dark hallways that lead you like in a maze to the inner buildings of this huge complex, the humidity of the forrest and the expectation that there surely must be wild animals here somewhere (ok, don’t worry, you’ll be safe!)… Talk to your driver/guide about what’s currently the best time – early morning, when the tour crowds are watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat might be a good option!
Also, if you are looking to buy some local art, there are usually students creating and selling their work near the entrance during the day, so check it out when you are there. Their work is a little more unique than what you find in the markets in Siem Reap.

So, pack your camera and add Ta Phrom to your list, it’s a temple experience that you won’t find elsewhere, unless you do set out to find an undiscovered one…

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