February 2017 – When we began planning our trip to Thailand, our friend that inspired us to go sent me an email saying, “As long as you’re going that far, make sure you go see Angkor Wat in Cambodia.”
As soon as I saw images of the fabulous and mysterious ancient Khmer ruins that dot the landscape deep in the jungle at this breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site I was hooked and made plans for us to fly from Bangkok, Thailand, to the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia.
When we arrived in Siem Reap we were astonished by what we found.
Siem Reap hums with life and the streets are filled with people on motorbikes and tuk-tuks going about their daily business. We took a walk to the heart of town from our hotel and couldn’t believe the crazy traffic in the street as one motorbike or tuk-tuk after another whizzed by.
Whole families climbed aboard their motorbikes to get around town, often with mom, dad, the kids, and maybe even the baby all hanging on as the family zipped around town doing their errands. Sometimes even a teddy bear got to come along for the ride!
Cars mingled with the busy two-wheeled traffic, and we saw little buggies of all kinds that weren’t familiar to us. We couldn’t stop our cameras from clicking constantly as we tried to capture the wild scene.
Standing on an insanely busy street corner where four streets came together and crammed themselves into one before going over a bridge, I took my camera down from my face and closed my eyes to listen. Small engines and narrow tires whooshed past in a constant stream, but the air was filled with life and there was a peacefulness to it, a happiness and contentment I couldn’t put my finger on.
The rare toot of a horn was just a notice of “I’m here,” rather than an angry honk yelling “You’re in my way!” and everyone seemed to zig-zag around each other and get to where they needed to be without pushing or shoving or being mean.
I looked over at Mark to say something about this to him, and noticed he was no longer taking photos either and was in the same kind of trance I was in. “It’s like flowing water,” he said, mesmerized.
We began to stroll along the river and suddenly saw bunches of schoolkids walking home from school, smartly dressed and carrying huge backpacks on their backs. A group of boys raced each other and bounced around on the sidewalk, laughing and teasing each other, and then they swung themselves into a tree to dangle from the thick vines in total glee.
What a cool place and what a great vibe!
The traffic of motorbikes and tuk-tuks continued to flow past us endlessly, and we saw vendors going about their business selling their wares from bikes and carts.
And if anyone had a heavy load to carry but relied on a motorbike to get around town, well they just strapped it onto the back of the bike! Where there’s a will there’s a way!
Our friend who had suggested we go to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat had emailed me the most enchanting story of when he had hired a tuk-tuk driver to take him around town and show him the sights. I loved this idea and hunted around online for a tuk-tuk driver.
I found the website of a very sincere sounding young man of 25 that had started his own tuk-tuk business by investing in one of these unusual rigs and hanging out his shingle online as a driver (website here).
His name was Pisal, and I emailed him a few weeks before our trip. I was tickled to get an email right back with a quote for his services. It would be about $20 a day to have him chauffeur us around town and take us to any of the temples we wanted all day long. Signing up with him was a no brainer, and a few email exchanges later we had worked out the days and times and which temples we would go see.
He even came to the airport to greet us, and because I had sent him a link to our website he recognized us right off the bat! This was very handy because at least 50 cab drivers and tuk-tuk drivers greeted our plane holding up signs with names on them. All of us tourists were in a daze after going through customs and getting fingerprinted electronically (thumb and then all four fingers of each hand), and we stood there lamely trying to find our names in the sea of signs!
The next morning he picked us up at our hotel and took us to the Visitors Center where we bought tickets to the Angkor Archaeological Park. Just like the very formal process we had gone through at the airport where we had been fingerprinted in order to obtain printed visas in our passports to enter the country, our one day tickets to Ankor Archaelogical Park were adorned with our mug shots!
We hopped in the back seat of the tuk-tuk and enjoyed a quick ride to our first temple of the day. Almost all the vehicles on the road were tuk-tuks like ours with tourists sitting in the back. In various spots we saw groups of tuk-tuks parked, waiting to take someone for a ride.
And then we arrived at Ta Prohm temple, a magnificent group of structures built in 1186 by the ancient Khmer king Jayavarman VII.
Like most of the ancient Khmer ruins, the buildings are carefully positioned and laid out. Ta Prohm has entrance gates facing in each direction of the compass.
I hadn’t fussed over the history of these ruins before our arrival, preferring instead to let the experience of seeing them wash over me as if I were an archeologist discovering them for the first time.
As we looked down a hallway with columns on one side opening into a courtyard, I was struck by how the shape of the arches was identical to that of the Mayan ruins we had visited at Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico.
The ancient Khmer temples were built about three hundred years after the Mayan empire fell, so who knows! Certainly, many aspects of the ruins reminded me of the Mayan ruins at Yaxchilan.
We found all kinds of nooks and crannies to explore.
One of the things that is most impressive at Ta Prohm temple is that almost every stone used in its creation was carved with decorations. The carvings are on doorways, lintels, windows and in every corner.
I wandered down one hallway and found myself standing next to a wall that was intricately carved with a floral pattern from floor to ceiling.
Stepping outside, I noticed that the outer wall of one building had carved sculptures inset into the entire length of the wall.
The more we looked, both outside and inside, the more carvings we saw.
The doorways — and there were dozens — were truly ornate.
Oddly, the entire Ta Prohm temple ruin was strewn with enormous boulders that had once formed the walls and ceilings and floors of rooms that were no longer standing.
Looking closely at the rubble, we could see stones that had been carved.
It was like an enormous jigsaw puzzle that just begged to be put back together again.
But what Ta Prohm temple is actually known for is the gargantuan trees that have enveloped the ruins with their roots. It is known as a “Jungle Temple” because it has truly been engulfed by the jungle.
Walking along the outer wall of the temple, we saw the most incredible tree and root system snaking over the wall.
If this looks like a modest tree and a knee high wall, look again:
Trees like this were all over the place, their gnarly roots reaching out across the walls and buildings.
In some places it seemed like the roots were flowing from the tree down across the temple buildings.
I turned one corner and noticed the head of a sculpture peeking out at me from between the tree roots!!
Everywhere we turned, the trees and roots had taken over the temple.
The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the movie Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, and some of the places were recognizable to tourists and were favorite spots for selfies.
Ta Prohm is undergoing renovation and construction to put various bits back together again and to make it easier for tourists to get around, and we saw construction crews here and there with hard hats and cranes.
Eventually we wound our way back to the entrance gate where the crowds were growing ever bigger.
We spotted a sign suggesting we slow down a bit.
Nearby we saw lots of tourists who had been approaching Temple Sightseeing Overload (which is easy to do in this part of the world where Ta Prohm is just one of dozens of exotic ruins). They were taking a load off in the shade.
But we were still fired up. We found Pisal waiting for us and hopped in the back of his tuk-tuk for more temple adventures!
We’ve seen quite a few ancient ruins in our travels now, and I found it fascinating to put together a timeline of who was building and living in which places at various times in history.
The meso-American ruins of Mexico and Central America predate all the others by a few hundred years. Interestingly, the ancient Khmer temples and kingdoms of southeast Asia were built about the same time as the cliff dwellings of America’s southwest!
- 600 BC – 850 AD – Monte Alban – Zapotec step pyramids near Oaxaca, Mexico
- 100 – 650 AD – Mitla – Zapotec ruins close to Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Mexico
- 359 – 808 AD – Yaxchilan – Mayan pyramids on the river between Mexico and Guatemala
- 431 – 800 AD – Palenque – Mayan pyramids in Chiapas, Mexico. One of Central America’s major Mayan sites
- 580 – 800 AD – Bonampak – Mayan site in Chiapas, Mexico, with truly evocative fresco paintings depicting battles and coronations
- 921 AD – Koh Kher – Ancient Khmer temples (upcoming post)
- 1113 – 1145 AD – Angkor Wat – Ancient Khmer temples (upcoming post)
- 1182-1225 AD – Wupatki Pueblo – Sinagua People multistory stone dwellings north of Flagstaff, Arizona
- 1186 AD – Ta Prohm – Ancient Khmer temple described on this page
- 1190-1300 AD – Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings – Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southwestern Colorado
- 1200 AD – Angkor Thom – Ancient Khmer temple (upcoming post)
- 1330-1450 AD – Tonto Cliff Dwellings – Salado People in central Arizona
Never miss a post — it’s free!
More info about Ta Prohm, our tuk-tuk driver and our accommodations:
- Ta Prohm Temple – Wikipedia
- Siem Reap, Cambodia (WikiTravel) – A very cool town worth visiting for more than the 3 days we did!
- Tonle Tropic Hotel – Our hotel…Excellent!
- Pisal Rom — Tuk-Tuk Driver – He’s personable, prompt and goes the extra mile, literally! TripAdvisor reviews (all excellent!)
(email him here)
- Asia Air – The airline we took from Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Locations of Ta Prohm temple, Siem Reap airport, Siem Reap town, Tonle Tropic hotel – Interactive Google Map
Other blog posts from our travels in Thailand:
- Snorkeling Ko Rok with Dive & Relax – Underwater Magic in Thailand!
- Cheow Lan Lake Tour in Khao Sok with Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House
- Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House – Khao Sok National Park… Wow!
- Kanchanaburi, Thailand – History, Caves, Monkeys & Exotic Fruit!
- Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures
- Erawan Falls – Jewel of Erawan National Park – with Mellow Adventures
- Train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi – A Ride Through Thailand’s Countryside
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Bangkok or Disney’s Epcot Center?
- One Day in Bangkok – A trip on the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat!
More Glimpses of National Parks through our eyes:
National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites – North America and SE Asia
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