Temples as movie sets…..quintessential Angkor Temples

The temple of Ta Prom under attack by nature.Two of the most easily recognizable Angkor temples are The Bayon and Ta Prohm because of their use as action movie backdrops such as Laura Croft Tomb Raider.

 

The Angkor  temple of Ta Prom under attack by nature.

The Angkor temple of Ta Prom under attack by nature.

Ta Prom has become one of the most evocative and photographed of all the ruins in Angkor.  Enormous kapok trees have sprung up from the terraces and walls. Their roots spread out covering roofs, walls and doorways prying apart the stones and reducing the structures to ruin. While only one story the collapsed galleries and passageways makes it difficult to get a sense of the floor plan and it is hard to wander the temple in a systematic way.  One just has to wander here and there and hope to cover everything there is to see.

The enormous kapok trees engulf a wall at Ta Prom

The enormous kapok trees engulf a wall at Ta Prom

This Willy nilly method of exploration did not bother me as I found great doorway vista to photograph and many nooks and crannies that caught my attention. But it is also easy to become as fascinated with the giant kapok trees and their destruction of the temples as one big photo op that one overlooks the central sanctuary with its collapsed towers at the corners and it’s remarkably well preserved carvings

The central sanctuary at Ta Prom

The central sanctuary at Ta Prom

When Ta Prom was constructed in 1186 by Jayavarman VII it was a Buddhist Monastery which housed 12,000 monks and had an additional 80,000 people in the surrounding area to supply support and maintenance.  With the fall of Angkor to the Thais in 1431 the temples were abandoned until 1570 when they were rediscovered by King Satha who was enchanted and had the trees and underbrush cleared and brought the court here until 1594.  After that the temples while still used by the locals were unmaintained and the jungle overwhelmed the buildings and began to pull them apart.

Some of the many faces of The Bayon Temple

Some of the many faces of The Bayon Temple

If the images if giant trees with their roots dripping down the roofs of temples is a quintessential image of Angkor so too are the giant carved stone faces of The Bayon. The Temple was constructed in the late 12th century and it was intended to embrace all the religions of the kingdom.  When one crosses the causeway to arrive at the temple you begin to make out the 37 towers each covered with carved faces of Lokesvara.  It is said that there are over 200 in all…why they were carved remains unclear.

The central sanctuary of The Bayon

The central sanctuary of The Bayon

The temple consists of three enclosures with some interesting bas-relief carvings of battles and military scenes along the galleries.  Some of which are good but not as fine as the ones at Angkor Wat.  When one arrives in the first enclosure or central sanctuary you will be faced with a forest of four faced towers…each face wearing an enigmatic smile.

While peering through carved stone windows one can see the silhouettes of giant carved faces against a backdrop of kapok and palm trees. To hear the calls of exotic birds or an occasional monkey in the distance and see this great forest, is to be reminded that the jungle ever-present is being held at bay only with great effort and constant diligence.  The jungle could once again overrun these stunning temples and nature would dismantle these monuments stone by stone

Face against a backdrop of the jungle at The Bayon

Face against a backdrop of the jungle at The Bayon

My friend Barbara and I always arrived at temples as early as possible (often before the sun was up) to avoid the heat but also the tour bus crowd.  By ten o’clock, the busses would start rolling in packed with Japanese tourist… each one-stepping off the bus wearing a color-coded hat to identify on which bus they belonged.  On the day when we spent, a long time at Ta Prom shooting photos we became caught up in the arrival of several busses simultaneously. Had they not immediately stared to pile in front of the most picturesque spots in the temple it would not have been so bad, but they were swarming in taking a zillion pictures…young girls trying out poses and older couples doing group shots.  With the arrival of tour buses, you are dead if taking photos is your goal

The entrance to The Bayon temple

The entrance to The Bayon temple

Come to Angkor Wat in the off season to avoid the crowds but be prepared for the heat. Arrive at the temples before the sun comes up for the best light and great photos. However, when the busses start to arrive run as fast as you can before you are surrounded by little old tourist in pink baseball caps and sensible shoes. ….I is thinking, this does not look like the Lonely Planet crowd to me!

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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