Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tomb Raiding in Ta Prohm

The next temple we visited was Ta Prohm.  It was built by King Jayavarman VII ("the best king") in the late 12th century.  It is one of the three most popular Angkor temples.

Idyllic setting for front entrance to Ta Prohm

This temple was made famous by its appearance in the movie "Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider," starring Angelina Jolie.  She fell in love with Cambodia while filming here, and she left a big impression on the locals.  In fact, she adopted one of them.  Angelina has a drink named after her at the Red Piano on Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Ta Prohm was as crowded as Angkor Thom

Ta Prohm is famous primarily because of the many trees that have grown in and around the stones in the temple.  Since many temples are built so close to the dense jungle, it was bound to happen eventually.  The gnarled roots of strangler figs, banyans and other trees seem to be attacking the walls.  Some sections of Ta Prohm are in pretty bad shape.

Tree or giant eagle talon?

Star Wars creature steps through Ta Prohm
Yet another twisted intruder competes for space

Ironically, some of the trees help to keep the walls intact because they would otherwise be crumbling down due to many decades of neglect.  It has been only in the last 20 years that many of these temples have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

During the anti-religion (pretty much anti-everything) Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 - 1979, the temples sustained even more damage than nature had previously wrought.  The restoration of the temples takes years, but luckily the current government is supportive of these efforts.

Sarah, John and housemate Julie in front of Waterfall Tree

This strangler fig is known as the Crocodile Tree

Our tour guide for the two days of temple tours was named Chek, and he was a great guy. He had a friendly manner and an infectious high-pitched laugh.  He told Sarah about an amusing Khmer game where men and women swing a frisbee-like object on a rope and try to hit each other on the butt.

On the second day, Chek was working on only 4 hours sleep, because his family kept him up late the night before for Khmer New Year's Eve festivities.  He told us that he tried going to sleep around 9 PM, but his high-energy aunt kept waking him up and saying, "You have to stay up and talk to me!  It's Khmer New Year!"  Aunts must be the same everywhere.

Chek moved his baseball cap sideways to take a photo of us

Chek, Sarah and Julie pound their chests in echo chamber

The Ta Prohm trees in our photos are pretty cool.  But the size and grandeur of the temple itself is definitely less impressive than Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and some of the other temples.  It was also hard to get up close to the Tomb Raider tree, due to all of the other tourists.

Angelina Jolie climbed this tree in "Tomb Raider"

We turned the religious icons up to 11

The experience of actually being at Ta Prohm didn't seem that much more amazing than seeing similar photos in a guidebook or watching a scene in a movie.  Maybe our expectations were too high, since this is such a hyped temple.  Or maybe we wished we had it more to ourselves.  But we were definitely glad we saw it.

Believe it or not, we have not yet seen the Tomb Raider movie.  But it will be one of the first things we do when we get back to Seattle!

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