Ta Prohm is magnificent. Walking the path back to this Temple is a journey to the past. You walk down a wide, well trod path through dense jungle. Though the path is full of tourists (mostly Japanese), you still get a sense that you journey towards another world. Another time. At the end of the path, you come upon a stone bridge spanning a moat. An ancient tree has ripped through the middle of the bridge. All of the larger Angkorian temples are surrounded by moats and walls. Some of these larger structures of Angkor seem more fortress than temple. Ta Prohm and the surrounding area was actually built to support some 12,000 inhabitants. This group included the royal family and the royal retinue, priests and guard force and the usual group of royal eunuchs, concubines and servants.
Once across the bridge, you enter the Temple grounds through a small portal. Just wide enough to allow two people side by side. The portal is leaning and looks as if it may not last long enough for you to pass through to the other side.
Some of the Wats (temples) of Angkor have signs like these that provide the visitor with background information. Many of them are written in English that is so confused and mangled that it’s difficult to determine the intended message. This was one of the more accurate signs that I saw in Cambodia. The aerial photo-map was a great addition. The third picture is the bridge of which I wrote earlier. Notice how the tree has grown through the middle of the moat bridge.
The West entrance is dilapidated. Leaning to and fro. It was a bit intimidating as I felt as though I were walking towards my imminent death and entombment as the walls look as though they might collapse at any moment. The Wat has been left mostly as it was found. It is a great effect. It is as though you are discovering it for the first time. It’s a little dangerous if you wander from the tourist path, though, as can be seen from the warning in the photo below. I wandered off anyway. It’s more fun and there were fewer of my fellow tourist clogging the way.
The roots of these magnificent trees wind their way at will in an effort to reclaim the jungle from the grasp of men.
The Wat is fairly large with many corridors leading you to recently emplaced Buddhist shrines. The shrines are maintained by locals for the most part. You’ll also see some of the poorer local Khmer on the inside. Strategically placed in their attempts to sell small charms or water and soda.
Above is one of the shrines mentioned earlier. This particular Buddha, I was told, is part of the original Wat. The trees have made the temple grounds their own. Those roots have ripped apart walls that are 12 feet thick. One of the local tour guides said that one of the reasons that they left Ta Prohm as they found it was that to repair it would most likely mean destroying it. My personal opinion is that it would be a great disservice to remove the jungle. This particular Wat is made more beautiful, more majestic with natures touch.
And, or course, there are always the children. This particular part of your travels through Cambodia will leave you with feelings of great joy and deep sadness. Such overwhelming poverty. Parents and others who use children to earn the families money. Many of these children are so, so cute. That is exactly what the parents and the more decrepit element count on. Empathy and kindness of the tourist leads to many of these children going uneducated. This perpetuates the problem of the lack of education of the majority of the Khmer peoples. It’s a catch 22. Most of the local tourist guides will advise you to not purchase from the local children. Purchase from the souvenir and drink stands in the markets around the temples. Purchase from the handicapped adults that are all around the various sites and in town. But do not finance and encourage the abuse of the children. It’s difficult to follow through on that course of action. Especially when one of these beautiful little children are holding your hand and looking into your eyes like a sweet little angel. My friends and I would more often buy food for the children and let them sit with us and eat. We found that a better way to aid them. It was our own small way of helping.
Quotation from Maurice Glaize:
Ta Prohm should be visited either in the afternoon or the early morning, and crossed from west to east according to the itinerary that we have traced on the plan. This precaution will prevent the visitor with limited time from becoming disorientated, due to the relative simplicity of a clearly marked route. In contrast, those who wish to spend several hours exploring the monument will find here the potential for an adventure – but without danger of ever getting lost, since the main axis is clearly defined from place to place by an uninterrupted line of rooms and vestibules, almost always made inaccessible by their collapse but providing nevertheless a good point of reference. We would advise, however, not to wander but with extreme caution in the areas of crumbling vaulted galleries remote from the normally frequented passageways.
Maurice Glaize was the conservator of Angkor from 1937 to 1945. His book, The Monuments of Angkor Group, was published in 1944. It is still used by thousands of visitors each year as a guide to the Angkor Temple Complex.