Ta Prohm: jungle and ruins

After spending two weeks there, my thoughts about Cambodia are to do with the relationship between people and nature, or culture and the landscape.

The recent history of Cambodia has been tragic. After being colonized by the French for 90 years, there was an incredibly brutal civil war that ended in 1975 leaving millions dead and more traumatized.

The Angkorian period, from about year 802 to 1431, was a time when Cambodia was a great and powerful empire. Its capital was at Angkor, and a succession of kings built many grand and beautiful temples there. After 1431 the capital was moved, and the temples started to be overtaken by the surrounding jungle. The ruins were discovered by French missionaries in the 1850s, and since then much effort has gone into restoration.

Except for Ta Prohm. This temple was built in the middle of the 12th century by a Cambodian king called Jayavarman VIIth who dedicated it to his mother. It was decided not to restore Ta Prohm but to leave the gigantic fig and silk-cotton tree roots that grow through, around and over the stones.

Nowhere else have I seen such a dramatic example of the powerfully assertive force of nature. The roots look like weird giant insects in a deadly intertwine.

This is the way Lonely Planet describes the temple of Ta Prohm:

There is a poetic cycle to this venerable ruin, with humanity first conquering nature to rapidly create, and nature once again conquering humanity to slowly destroy.

The same idea was expressed in a poem by published by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


  1. What great pictures. If I remember rightly that was one of the few ruins the Kmer left alone.

  2. thanks Hermes for the compliment. I'm getting a bit freer at experimenting with the camera. I'm not sure about the Khmer - I'm reading a history of cambodia and haven't got that far chronologically yet! We did see bullet holes at Angkor Wat caused by the civil war. Cheers, catmint

  3. That poem gave me goose bumps. I love seeing the world through your vision. Beautiful post, I'm sure that journey will stay with you always. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Cheryl, I'm so pleased you liked the poem. I will do more posts about Cambodia when I get my head and photos together. Cheers, catmint

  5. This is really really cool. Will the roots ever harm the temple I wonder? Or does it more hold it in place? I bet seeing it must've transported you to another time.

  6. omg. I can't believe there are these beautiful places in the world. I love the way you've described this and given us the brief history. It's so incredible looking and tragic as well.

  7. I've heard that some of some of those trees were fig trees completely covered by thick vines..you think you are looking at the tree but it's the vine instead that has molded itself around the poor tree. Really beautiful stuff.

  8. Hi Tina, yes it's really cool. I think eventually the roots will destroy the temple, but the time scale is so vast.

    Thanks Wendy for your comment. I never thought of it as tragic but I guess it's essentially about loss and death.

    Hi Rohrerbot, I think that's the way the roots of fig trees grow, but maybe they are separate vines. As you say, beautiful, but also very weird.

    cheers to my dear cyberfriends, catmint


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