Dubbed the Tomb Raider temple because it provided the mystical backdrop for the 2001 Hollywood hit starring Angelina Jolie, root-riddled Ta Prohm continues to capture the imagination of tourists.

Ta Prohm was catapulted onto the international stage when scenes of the ancient city engulfed by the jungle were screened across the world in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

This cemented the temple’s status as an iconic tourist attraction and helped lure millions more visitors to Cambodia, desperate to stand beneath “the tree” made iconic by Angelina Jolie in the movie after snapping the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

While nearby Angkor Wat may well remain the king of Angkor Archaeological Park, Ta Prohm deservedly sits in the top three – alongside Angkor and Bayon – and by far wears the crown of being the most atmospheric.

Background

Ta Prohm is the undisputed capital of the kingdom of the Trees'. It has been left untouched by archaeologists except for the clearing of a path for visitors and structural strengthening to stave of further deterioration.

Because of its natural state, it is possible to experience at this temple the wonder of the early explorers when they came upon these monuments in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Shrouded in dense jungle the temple of Ta Prohm is ethereal in aspect and conjures up a romantic aura. Fig, banyan, and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over stones, probing walls and terraces apart, as their branches and leaves intertwine to form a roof over the structures. 

Trunks of trees twist amongst stone pillars. The strange, haunted charm of the place entwines itself about you as you go, as inescapably as the roots have wound themselves about the walls and towers', wrote a visitor 40 years ago.

A Sanskrit inscription on stone, still in place, give details of the temple. Ta Prohm had 3,140 surrounding villages. It took 79,365 people to maintain the temple including 18 great priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants and 615 dancers. 

Among the property belonging to the temple was a set of golden dishes weighing more than 500 kilograms, 35 diamonds, 40,620 pearls, 4,540 precious stones, 876 veils from China, 512 silk beds and 523 parasols. Even considering that these numbers were probably exaggerated to glorify the king, Ta Prohm must have been an important and impressive monument

Ta Prohm Temple History

Foundation and expansion

In 1186 A.D., Jayavarman VII embarked on a massive program of construction and public works. Rajavihara ("monastery of the king"), today known as Ta Prohm ("ancestor Brahma"), was one of the first temples founded pursuant to that program. The stele commemorating the foundation gives a date of 1186 A.D. 

Jayavarman VII constructed Rajavihara in honour of his family. The temple's main image, representing Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom, was modelled on the king's mother. The northern and southern satellite temples in the third enclosure were dedicated to the king's guru, Jayamangalartha, and his elder brother respectively. As such, Ta Prohm formed a complementary pair with the temple monastery of Preah Khan, dedicated in 1191 A.D., the main image of which represented the Bodhisattva of compassion Lokesvara and was modelled on the king's father. 

The temple's stele records that the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 80,000 souls in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies. The stele also notes that the temple amassed considerable riches, including gold, pearls, and silks. Expansions and additions to Ta Prohm continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 15th century.

Abandonment and restoration

After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 21st century, the École française d'Extrême-Orient decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found, as a "concession to the general taste for the picturesque."

According to pioneering Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize, Ta Prohm was singled out because it was "one of the most imposing [temples] and the one which had best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming a part of it". Nevertheless, much work has been done to stabilize the ruins, to permit access, and to maintain "this condition of apparent neglect." 

As of 2013, Archaeological Survey of India has restored most parts of the temple complex some of which have been constructed from scratch. Wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings have been put in place around the site to protect the monument from further damages due to the large tourist inflow.

What to see at Ta Prohm Temple?

Buddhist temple

The Ta Prohm was built during the last decades of the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. Where the older Angkor temples were Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, the Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple, as King Jayavarman VII was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism. The King dedicated the temple to his mother.

The stele of the Ta Prohm

A lot of knowledge about the Ta Prohm is gained from the stone stele dated 1186 written in ancient Sanskrit language that was found in the temple. The stele praises King Jayavarman VII, Lokeshvara (a Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism), Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom) and the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddhist teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community).

It contains a list of all products used for religious ceremonies and lists the number of villages, priests and dancers that were to serve the temple. The stele also mentions that at the time there were 102 hospitals spread over the Khmer empire and a list of items that each hospital was to keep in stock. The stele then cites that there were 121 rest houses spread over the empire, along the major routes from Angkor to places as far away as Phimai in Thailand or the Kingdom of Champa in present day Vietnam.

Layout of the Ta Prohm temple complex

The Ta Prohm’s fifth enclosure, which is the most outer one, is more than one kilometer long and 600 meters wide. The large gopuras (entrance gates) were decorated with large faces of Lokeshvara in all four directions, similar to those of the Bayon. Lokeshvara is a Bodhisattva representing the compassion of the Buddha. Only the Western gate is well preserved.

From the main Eastern entrance, a 350 meter long path leads to a terrace with guardian lions and Naga balustrades that crosses the moat. In front of the terrace is a rest house for pilgrims visiting the temple. According to inscriptions of the temple’s stele thousands of men and women who were attached to the Ta Prohm temple as priests, dancers or servants lived within the fifth enclosure.

The 4th enclosure with the Hall of Dancers

The East gate of the fourth enclosure contains depictions of several Buddhist scenes. The faces of most images of the Buddha were destroyed halfway through the 13th century when king Jayavarman VIII reinstated Shaivism as the official religion. Only a few have survived, maybe because they were mistaken for a Hindu figure.

The fourth enclosure that measures just 110 meters by 100 meters contains a moat surrounding the temple. Inside the walls of the enclosure are 93 small cells for the Buddhist monks of the temple. On the East end of the temple, which is the main entrance, is a structure called the “Hall of Dancers”. It got its name from the many dancing Apsara figures that decorate the structure.

Buddhist scenes of the 3rd enclosure

At the East end of the third enclosure are cruciform galleries that delimit four small courtyards. Around it is a number of small sanctuaries. Carved panels show depictions of several Buddhist scenes.

One of them displays a scene from one of the Jataka tales. It depicts Prince Vessantara pouring water in the hands of the Brahmin Jujuka after he gave away his two children to work as servants. Vessantara gave away everything he owned in order to practice the virtue of charity.

At the center of the North and South enclosure wall are satellite temples, that were probably build later. The South temple contains several Buddhist scenes, including Buddha’s great departure. It tells of the Gautama Buddha, who was born a Prince named Siddhartha and lived in a Palace until he was 29 years old. Siddhartha decided to leave the Palace to live a life of abstinence and meditation in order to finally reach enlightenment.

Central Sanctuary

Follow the plan and walk through the Central Sanctuary, recognizable by its undecorated interior. The stone has hammered, presumably to apply a coating probably of paint or gilt. Evenly spaced ' holes in the wall from floor to ceiling suggest a covering of wood, stucco or metal.

Walk across the central courtyard towards the left (northeast) and through the door of a gallery that is framed by the roots of a tree. Turn left and walk through a dark passageway and a courtyard. Enter the aisle with pillars, turn right, walk straight between twin towers and to the right into a very narrow passage which houses the inscription of the temple.

Return by the same passage, turn right and continue straight, passing through a vestibule. The false doors on the north and south sides of the large rectangular enclosure with high walls are finely decorated. There are four small courts with galleries and pillars (12). Ritual dances may have been performed in this area.

Walk across the courtyard and into the entry tower of the enclosing wall, at the east entrance. It is in the shape of a cross with pillars on the interior, four wings and two passages on the side. The walls of these passages are decorated with relief. To the left there is a hall with pillars placed close together. They probably provided the base for a structure built of wood. Beyond are small rectangular cells, which surround the exterior of Ta Prohm.

One leaves Ta Prohm by a path (400 meters, 1,32 feet long) leading to the exterior enclosure where section of the wall are visible.
So the temple is held in a stranglehold of trees. Stone and wood clasp each other in grim hostility; yet all is silent and still, without any visible movement to indicate their struggle as if they were wrestlers suddenly petrified, struck motionless in the middle of a fight, the rounds in this battle were not measured by minutes, but by centuries.

Representational art

Ta Prohm has not many narrative bas-reliefs (as compared to Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom). One explanation that has been proffered for this dearth is that much of the temple's original Buddhist narrative artwork must have been destroyed by Hindu iconoclasts following the death of Jayavarman VII.

At any rate, some depictions of scenes from Buddhist mythology do remain. One badly eroded bas-relief illustrates the "Great Departure" of Siddhartha, the future Buddha, from his father's palace. The temple also features stone reliefs of devatas (minor female deities), meditating monks or ascetics, and dvarapalas or temple guardians.

Trees

The trees growing out of the ruins are perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ta Prohm, and "have prompted more writers to descriptive excess than any other feature of Angkor." Two species predominate, but sources disagree on their identification: the larger is either the silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) or thitpok Tetrameles nudiflora, and the smaller is either the strangler fig (Ficus gibbosa), or gold apple (Diospyros decandra).

Angkor scholar Maurice Glaize observed, "On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants."

Ta Prohm Tomb Raider

The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. Although the film took visual liberties with other Angkorian temples, its scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance, and made use of its eerie qualities.

What about the dinosaur?

Yes, you read that right. Ta Prohm is home to a mysterious stone carving of what appears to be a stegosaurus. The carving has triggered a flurry of debate over whether it is a hoax – I mean what would Angkorian artisans be doing drawing dinosaurs in the 12th century, right? See if you can find it and see for yourself.

Ta Prohm Temple at Tonle Bati

Being built the same time with Ta Prohm Temple in Angkor by famous King Jayavarman, Ta Prohm Temple at Tonle Bati was a sanctuary for Hindu deities at the same time. Since the sixth century, this place used to be a Hindu place of worship which belonged to the maritime “empire”. The temple was located on the road to Tonle Bati, a small lake and popular picnic spot for the locals. You can get there by local buses from Phnom Penh or rent a private vehicle to explore this temple and the surrounding nature.

Practical Information

Where is Ta Prohm Temple?

Ta Prohm sits on Angkor’s small circuit, which is the usual route of one-day Angkor Archaeological Park pass holders. Most start at Angkor Wat for sunrise before heading to Angkor Thom, which includes Bayon temple, then Ta Prohm.

Located about five to 10 minutes away from Angkor Wat or Bayon temple by tuk tuk, a car park sits at the entrance to a short path that cuts through the jungle Ta Prohm calls home. The site is made up of a series of one-storey buildings that sit inside a crumbling, rectangular 600m x 1,000m wall.

Most visitors enter Ta Prohm from the west gate, where a stone terrace acts as a walkway across a narrow moat. From here, guests enter the site, which is made up of courtyards, towers and passageways – with many off limits due to their ill state of repair.

The Tomb Raider tree can be found in the central sanctuary. This is where Jolie’s Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower in the iconic scene – expect to also find a snaking queue of people waiting to be photographed in front of it.

Best time to visit Ta Prohm Temple

The best months to visit Ta Prohm are November through February, when it is cooler and drier. However, this is also peak season so expect large crowds. It is hot and steamy in April and May. If you want to skip most of the crowds, travel here June through October but expect to have wet, warm weather. 

Ta Prohm is usually left to last on the small circuit, meaning the mass of visitors tend to flock there at the same time. This means the narrow walkways and corridors inside Ta Prohm can get crowded and frustrating to navigate.

While we know sunrise at Angkor Wat is pretty special, the mounting crowds are increasingly taking away from the experience. If you don’t mind missing out, then shake it up and swop sunrise at Angkor for Ta Prohm and you’ll have the temple pretty much all to yourself.
Alternatively, enjoy sunrise at Angkor Wat but leave the exploring for later on in the day. Once the sun has risen, the majority of tourists spend the next few hours exploring the expansive site. Instead, head back to your transport and hit Ta Prohm way ahead of the crowds.

How to get to Ta Prohm Temple?

There are a couple different transportation options when it comes to visiting the temples of Angkor. We’ll review the pros and cons of each transportation option along with pricing.

There are few transportation options to visit Ta Prohm temple. You can consider these below options:

By bicycle

The cheapest way to get around Siem Reap is by bicycle, which may be free at your hotel or hostel or if rent, the rent free is from US$1 – 8 per day depending on types and quality of bike. Please be prepared for a long ride if you want to combine Ta Prohm temple with other temples. Since the weather in Siem Reap is quite hot and humid, nevertheless to say, bring enough water with you.

By tuk tuk

Tuk tuk seems to be the most convenient way to get around Cambodia, especially in Siem Reap. You can easily find tuk tuk drivers everywhere along the side of the road in Siem Reap. The price is ranging from US$15- 25 per day for temples located near by the city center.  A tuk tuk can hold up  4 people so you can always split the cost between friends. Most of tuk tuk drivers can speak English and know where to take you to.

By private car

If your budget allows, the most convenient way is to get a private car with A/C, especially if you are going to visit places far from center such as Kulen Mountain or Beng Mealea. Depending on the number of people in your group and how many temples you visit, the cost is around US$35 – 50 per day. Furthermore, private car is a good way to combine your visit to Ta Prohm temple with Angkor Complex, Roluos group or Beng Mealea.

Ta Prohm entrance fee

Ta Prohm is included in the temple pass for Angkor Archaeological Park, there is no separate entrance fee to visit temple. Please find further details as below:

  • 1 Day Pass: US37 per person, only valid for 1 day.
  • 3 Day Pass: US$62 per person, valid for seven days from the day you bought your ticket. You can use it to visit the temples on three separate days.
  • 7 Day Pass: US$72 per person, valid for one month from when you bought your ticket. You can use it to visit the temples on seven separate days.

Ta Prohm opening hours

The opening hours of Ta Prohm is from 5:00 am to 18:00 pm. If you want to get away from the crowd, let’s wake up early to see the temple. While most of other people go to Angkor Wat to witness sunrise, you will have much quiet atmosphere here in Ta Prohm. Also, remember to carry your valid ticket with you since it will be checked upon each park entry of the temple.

Ta Prohm Temple photos

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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