Within Angkor Archaeological Park
Daily, 7:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: Included in Angkor Pass ($37/$62/$72)
Washroom On Site: No
A few seconds of silver screen time was all it took to propel Ta Prohm to international attention. Tomb raiders from around the world have been lured to this site ever since Angelina memorably dashed from out of its depths with webby tree roots strangling the temple’s doorway.
Ta Prohm very much “feels” like a tourist attraction – more so than Angkor Wat, I would say. Normally, you can wander pretty much where ever you want except for areas being restored. After having free rein at all the other temples, it can be mega frustrating that Ta Prohm forces you to follow a route.
At the main terrace, the “front doors” are blocked off to visitors or far behind rope barriers. Instead, there will be a sign with big text that reads “THIS WAY” and an arrow pointing to the right. It’s like you’re arriving at someone’s backyard garden party. You can be a faux rebel and go the opposite way than you’re told.
If you’re like me and never watched the Tomb Raider movie, you have no idea what “that tree” looks like. There are so many impressive-looking strangler figs and spung trees at Ta Prohm. If you don’t know what the hell the Tomb Raider one looks like, you’ll be taking selfies in front of a dozen different trees thinking that it’s the one. Mark and I had to ask each other about a dozen times “is that it?” wondering if it was the much-fabled famous tree. It seems ridiculous that a tree has become so famous that people are flocking specifically to see it. Treebeard from Lord of the Rings must be kicking a hobbit in a jealous rage right now.
All of these trees are nice, but not famous
The tree is obvious when you see it. For now, the first of many cool conifers is the one right at the start of the route. A crown-shaped hollow has been gouged out at its trunk, with the inner roots making a perfect (if not lumpy) bench for you to sit on and have your picture taken. Be aware that bugs and spiders have made a home in this moist nook that you’re sitting now on. Creepy-crawlies – truly, nature’s “hands-off” sign.
As you curve around the temple, there is still no entry point into the temple to be seen. There is a neat photo opportunity (the first of many of a similar nature) of a tall tree oozing down over the stone. “Is this it?” A wooden fence prevents you from getting right next to it, but the deck they’ve built gets you close enough.
Eventually, the route becomes less rigid and you can take detours. Not surprisingly, when you don’t follow the route, Ta Prohm is a bit maze-like and it might become difficult to remember where you’ve been. At some point, you’ll find yourself in the courtyards surrounded by free-standing gopuras and, yes, awesome trees.
You’ll have chances to duck inside tunnel-like passageways that snake this way and that, spitting you out somewhere in an unknown direction. When you look out of the window in one of the corridors, this Buddha head will be just visible through a hole in a tree trunk. I got horribly lost and turned around while meandering through these tunnels, so I can’t say exactly where this was. Do some exploring to try and find it for yourself!
If you’re roaming about and suddenly notice that you’re stuck in some sort of traffic jam of humans, well done! You’d made to THE tree. “Is this it?” Yes! Surrounded by other spung trees that are similarly growing on stones but getting no recognition for it, the telltale sign that this particular one is a thing are the hordes of people in front of it.
The tree at Ta Prohm has striking white roots that are much thinner and finer than the other trees around. It does look very much like a spider’s web being spun over the temple door to cover it up. Delicate, hairlike strands of roots can just be seen dangling above the doorway. The fanciful artwork of the colonnettes and lintels are in a losing battle against Mother Nature, with the tree slowly swallowing them up.
Whereas at one time you could authentically replicate the scene from Tomb Raider, my guess is that too many people have done just that and damaged the tree or the temple at one point. No longer can you pose adventurously on the temple threshold as a rope fence has now been erected a couple of metres from the door to keep the scores of wannabe Angelinas at a safe distance. Now you can only stand in front of it, with the barricade inevitably marring your picture.
Be prepared to wait if you want a picture with the tree. You’ll have to seek a deep inner well of zen if you’ve had the misfortune of being caught behind a Chinese tour. “Let’s get a photo of the group! Now let’s get one of these twenty people in EVERY. SINGLE. PERMUTATION. POSSIBLE!” Look for a makeshift queue that hopefully exists and naturally begins forming off to the side where you can wait for your turn.
If there is no line and it is a buzzing nest of entropy, you will have to be a little bolder. There are always so many people around taking pictures or watching the tree, waiting for an opportune moment. Almost anyone would feel super self-conscious about standing in the spot where everyone is staring at. Unless the entire crowd is filled with the type of person who readily puts their hand up anytime an emcee asks “Can I have a volunteer?” there will be timid people like this in the jumble. If there is any hesitation at all, seize it and dash in to get your photo. If you don’t, a Chinese bus tour will, and you’ll be stuck waiting for another fifteen minutes.
If you’re not interested in a selfie and just want a picture to remember this spot, even a photo with no one standing in front of the tree will be a challenge for your reflexes. There are just about 1.5 seconds in between someone leaving the photo spot before the next person runs in when you can ninja a shot.
After you’ve moved on from the main attraction at Ta Prohm, don’t ignore the sights nearby. There are plenty of other awesome trees that will be happy to have you snuggle up close to them for a photo. The majority of the wall carvings are also nice, and it’s a shame that they take a backseat to nature.
The tree does bring in a lot of tourists to the site, but a happy side effect is that it makes restoration works here a top priority. The carvings and towers, even the afterthought ones in the courtyard, look like they are in steadfast condition. This is also one of the more lush temples in Angkor Park, with vegetation growing every which way they please. It does give the feeling like you are deep in the jungle though you are only a twenty-five minute ride away from Siem Reap. Even if it didn’t have “the famous tree,” Ta Prohm should be on your priority list for visiting.