Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Ta Prohm is nicknamed the Jungle Temple because of the massive tree roots ensnarling the 12th century ruins. This area is one of the most fascinating at Angkor Archaeological Park.

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1 Towering Face Sculpture Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

People casually familiar with the Angkor Archaeological Park might assume this large, four-faced sculpture is part of Bayon. Instead, this 13th century gopura is located along the fifth enclosure (outer wall) of Ta Prohm. The image represents Lokeshvara who is a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Some historians believe the likeness is of Jayavarman VII’s father. Dharanindravarman II was the King of the Khmer Empire from 1150 to 1160.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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2 West Entrance of Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

Ta Prohm is located about 1.25 miles east of Angkor Thom. There are two access points. The main one is from the east. Most people arrive in the west and walk through this entrance at the fourth enclosure. This enchanting and sometimes haunting monument is among the most popular within the Angkor Archaeological Park. So it is advised to come early to beat the crowds and the mid-day heat.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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3 Gopura at West Entrance of Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

A prominent feature of Bayon-style architecture, dating from 1181 until 1243, is elaborate doorways. They are often shaped as a monumental tower or a smaller yet no less ornate entrance. This gopura on the west side of Ta Prohm is a classic example. Notice the columns resembling balusters flanked by foliated carvings in stone with pink and green hues. In the lintel (horizontal block) is an elaborate frieze. They are crowned inside the tympanum with a bas-relief of meditating Buddha figures.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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4 Brief Description of Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

This is the Central Sanctuary (inner courtyard) of Ta Prohm meaning Ancestor Brahma. The compound was a Bayon-style monastery devoted to Mahayana Buddhism. Jayavarman VII, the King of the Khmer Empire, commissioned it in 1186 and dedicated it to his mother. When Ta Prohm was called Rajavihara, the King’s Monastery housed up to 12,500 people until it was abandoned in the 15th century. Although the entire complex is 160 acres in size, the area of most interest to tourists is about 2.5 acres.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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5 Movie Location at Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

The action at Ta Proham is mostly tourists being led through the maze by guides. You will also see an occasional monk. But fans of the action film “Tomb Raider” will recognize this popular archeological site as a location for the 2001 movie. This is where Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, searches for half of the Triangle of Light. This photo is from the Central Sanctuary. Notice the holes in this wall. These suggest they were once adorned by stucco or metal.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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6 Jungle Temple of Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

French naturalist Henri Mouhot is credited with “discovering” the ancient temples of Angkor in 1860. His actual accomplishment was popularizing these archeological ruins among Europeans. This sparked a major restoration effort during the 20th century managed by École française d’Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East). Many of the structures were reclaimed from the vegetation engulfing them. One of the exceptions is Ta Prohm, nicknamed the Jungle Temple. Much of this complex had become ensnarled in the roots of giant sprongs, strangler figs and silk cotton trees. Removing them meant destroying the buildings so the wooden tentacles were left in place. The result is an enchanting beauty.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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7 Builder King of Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

This exquisite gopura entangled by roots is a testament to the architectural achievements commissioned by the builder king: Jayavarman VII. During his reign from 1181 until 1218, he financed several major complexes within Angkor including Bayon, Angkor Thom and this one at Ta Prohm. Together they were the geographical pride of his Khmer Empire. His majesty was also a public benefactor. He is credited with over 100 hospitals plus 121 “rest houses.” The latter were spaced every nine to ten miles along major roads to shelter weary travelers. This unparalleled construction boom was the cornerstone of the king’s legacy.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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8 Carving at Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

I suspect this bas-relief above a doorway at Ta Prohm represents King Jayavarman VII flanked by his two consorts. Below him are female dancers. A stela (commemorative stone) found on the site suggests as many as 615 dancers lived at Ta Prohm along with 18 high priests. A highlight of your tour at Ta Prohm is the Hall of Dancers.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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9 Famous Spung Tree at Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

The name of the huge tree encircling this structure at Ta Prohm is almost as long as the roots: tetrameles nudiflora. This is the most famous and iconic spung tree in Cambodia. They have the capacity to grow up to 70 feet. This type of architectural spectacle is what lures millions of people a year to the Angkor Archaeological Park.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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10 Library at Ta Prohm in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

A common structure among the temples at Angkor is the library. They are typically built in pairs on either side of an enclosure. Their entrance always faces west. The word “library” is probably a misnomer. Scholars doubt they housed manuscripts. However, their actual purpose is unknown. This library is at the southeast corner of the third enclosure at Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
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