Have you ever watched the movie Laura Croft: Tomb Raider? If you have then a must stop is the Tomb Raider Temple, as it is often referred to, within the Angkor Wat area in Cambodia. Its official name is Ta Phohm, but due to the movie’s success and popularity rarely is it referred to in that way. I think I had seen the movie years ago and all memories and expectations from it were lost. Others come because it is one of the temples where the large trees still cover the walls and give it a lost/explorer type atmosphere as you wander through the combination of recently preserved walkways and parts that still lay in ruins.
This was the one temple I was most looking forward to. The photos and stories I had seen and heard made it sound mystical and magical. As we approached the temple along a wide sandy path I wasn’t disappointed. The small stone temple complex with some crumbling stone masonry around gave it an incredible atmosphere. Unfortunately it was under restoration and over run by tourists, so the atmosphere was quickly lost.
Soon as you enter the main area a large cloud of dust greets you. A main temple is surrounded by scaffolds and small cranes as workers reconstruct the fallen. Stone masons carve and add designs into the stone by hand to recover the lost motifs and images. Restoration is important since the large trees that reach up high have taken their toll on the delicate stones balanced to form walls, paths and pillars. The tongue and grove and indents that fit each piece together like a puzzle is no match for the large roots that snake under the foundations, over walls and through roof tops. Ta Prohm has many areas that have collapsed and fallen over time. I found it surprising how piles of stone were casually strewn about and covered with mosses. The fallen walls, arches and columns a result of time and nature.
We came here after a morning of the elusive sunrise at Angkor Wat. It is a short drive around the Angkor complex. It was getting close to noon, so the sun was bright and high in the sky. It is recommended, to make the most of your photos, as the best time to visit due to the thick foliage that causes darkness and shadow at other times of the day. Numerous tourists and tour groups swarmed the most photogenic areas. I patiently had to wait to get a photo in numerous areas only to be frustrated as I was jostled by the crowds or someone would walk into your shot without as much as an apology when it was finally my turn. The crowds made the temple less enjoyable and it certainly lost its mystique.
I wandered the many passages and paths that were like a maze within the complex itself. Many passages were narrow and shallow making me wonder how small the former Khmer people were. I got lost as I went inside and out from darkness to light, only to find my way when I encountered the small Buddha statues dressed in a variety of ways. Each Buddha was decorated slightly different helping me recall my route. The smell of intense in the air would tell me I was getting close to such a small altar with a local person passing you incense sticks for good luck, but then requesting a donation after doing so.
I found John again after getting separated in the large crowd earlier and we retraced our steps to leave. Outside the inner passages we walked along part of corridor one which was recently restored the other still crumbled and fallen. Few people ventured this way and it was much more enjoyable and serene. From here we could see the many walls that were set like mazes making me wonder what other secrets and passages we left unexplored. I wished to return to Ta Prohm again, hopefully without the crowds.
Stay tuned…. more temples from Cambodia