Ta Prohm is best known as Angkor’s “jungle temple,” categorized as such due to all the trees — particularly the massive roots — that have become intertwined with the ancient architecture over the course of the past several centuries. To say that it’s an awesome sight would be an understatement.
I’ve visited Ta Prohm at least a half-dozen times over the past twelve years, but the last time I went there was seven or eight years ago, so I figured I was due for a return, which is what happened last week. It wasn’t any less magnificent, but a lot of that jungle vibe and magical atmosphere has now been lost; suffocated by the hordes of tourists who now descend on the site each day. Plus, there is a lot of renovation taking place, so much so that you can spot cranes and scaffolding in several parts of the area. Not surprisingly, parts of the temple complex are now roped off, to prevent the “curious” from pawing the sculptures and damaging the fragile structures even further. I realize that these architectural treasures need to be preserved, but it still saddens me to see Ta Prohm in this altered state.
If you’ve never been to Angkor in Cambodia, you are missing out on one of the most amazing travel experiences there is in Southeast Asia. No matter how you feel about traipsing around ancient ruins in the hot sun, it’s almost impossible not to be awestruck by the historic temples scattered throughout the Angkor archeological park. Angkor Wat, of course, is the most famous, but there are dozens (actually, hundreds, if you want to get picky) of other spectacular temples, big and small, in the park and surrounding countryside; Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean, and Beng Melea … to name just a few of the most impressive. A 3-day pass offers the best overview of Angkor’s highlights, but even if you buy a 7-day pass, you might find that you still didn’t have enough time to properly see all that there is to see.
Over in the Angkor Thom section of the park, near the two terraces (Elephant and Leper King), is the small but awesome Bayon, my personal favorite site. Walk around Bayon and marvel at all those giant, majestic, stone faces towering above you. Depending on the time of day, and the sun’s rays, the faces take on different tints and shades. No matter where you look or turn, you find yourself surrounded by those enigmatic faces, staring back at you. Just what are they thinking?