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Ta Prohm - My Favorite Temple

I’ve been to ruins in many parts of the world. In some respects, they’re pretty much the same: large blocks of stone stacked together in interesting ways. But what makes Cambodian ruins unique is the vegetation that’s grown up, over, around and on top of the ruins. Specifically, it’s the massive roots of the silk-cotton tree and the vine like trunk of the strangler fig that create a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel to the setting. Laura Croft Tomb Raider was actually filmed at one of the sites here.

Within no other place in the Angkor park are there more trees left intact than at Ta Prohm. At many locations, the trees were removed leaving the ruins almost sterile (kind of like at Angkor Wat). In contrast, Ta Prohm has been left in a mixed state of ruin, overgrowth and rebuilding. Bottom line, it’s really cool. It’s the one place that really captured my imagination. I’d love to return to discover more of its photographic treasures!

At this point in the trip, I’ve grown weary of the of the locals, mostly young children, constantly pestering me for a sale. “One dolla! One dolla!” is the incessant refrain as they push guide books, postcards or some bright trinkets in my face. These kids, cute as hell, just don’t stop. They try and wear the tourist down so that eventually he coughs something up.

They’ll work their cuteness and ask my name and tell me theirs. Next thing you know, I’ve got a five year old insisting, “John buy this one dolla.” It sucks to be cold and ignore them but there just got to be a point I couldn’t deal with it anymore. Now, it’s head down and head straight to the temple.

The roots of this tree are from the silk-cotton tree. Unfortunately, the caretakers of this site chose to put up a platform with ropes next to most of the interesting tree formations. The platform is great for the casual tourist who wants a snapshot next to the spot, but it absolutely ruins any sort of meditative photograph. Dave, my guide, frequently joked about how they hate photographers here. After scene after scene was ruined by the inconsiderate placement of posts and ropes, I too began to swear at the misguided caretakers.

The root of the silk-cotton tree imitates the long odious slither of a massive constricting snake. Being alone amongst them feels a little spooky, even sinister.

Here the roots of the strangler fig cover not only its host tree, which the fig will eventually kill, but also overrun the ancient temple.

If you can, come here at first light so you’ll have plenty of time on your own. Sit. Feel the solitude. There are spirits here that you can feel if you’ll let them touch you. Once the lines of Russian tourists show up, much of the experience is lost - unless you consider white beer bellies and big boobs clad in gaudy fashion to be in sync with the spirit of the place.

This view was one of my favorites of the trip. I love how the sinewy curves of the tree contrast with the blocky ruins of the foreground and background. I just wish I’d spent more time just sitting and reflecting.

To get to this little nook, my guide led me over some rubble. No one else was near as we were off the main path at this point. It seemed as though there was something more fantastic around every corner. This is what I’d come to Cambodia for!

Talk about the Land of the Lost. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a sleestak come trolling around the corner.

When I got to this spot, I stopped in awe. More exotic and yet more real than any movie I’d ever seen, it appeared like a giant stage. The light filtered through the trees as though intentionally placed for effect. Usually when I get to this point in a temple tour, I’m pretty much done as it all starts to look the same. Here the effect on me was just the opposite. I felt rejuvenated and emotionally moved by the scene - like I’d been transported to another world where fantasy lives. I just hope they never rope up this area.

As we walked out of the temple site back to the Landcruiser, we passed a spot where workers were in the midst of reconstructing a building within the complex. On the ground lay huge chunks of cut stone marked with numbers written in white crayon. Imagine a jumbled 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with each piece the size of a coffee table and you’ll get the idea of scene. How they put it all together is beyond me.

Most of the construction is financed by foreign countries, be they China or France or whomever. Which ever country sponsors the work gets to have signs in their language. Seeing that investment in Cambodia gave me a little hope because not only does it bring in money, it trains the work force for something other than asking plump tourists for “one dolla.”


5 Responses to “Ta Prohm - My Favorite Temple”

  1. Gene Higa Says:

    GREAT shots John! Thanks for sharing.

  2. David Sanger Says:

    For sure John, such a delightful place to shoot, even if it is the hottest place I think I’ve ever been. Very nice atmospheric images.

  3. April Says:

    These are stunning! It looks like a really magical place.

  4. kristen gill Says:

    Great shots! I, too, loved to photograph the temples of Angkor. Eerily beautiful place…

  5. Seth Rubin Says:

    John, great photos and enjoyable write-up. I dig your post-processing here, great mood and complements the images well. I’m headed to Ta Prohm tomorrow and was looking for what to expect. The white ropes are a good heads-up to minimize disappointment in the moment! No sun around these parts now during the rainy season… I’ll have to see what I come away with. Thanks for the insight and inspiration! Cheers

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