Set in northwest Cambodia, Siem Reap is best known for being the gateway to the Angkor ruins, a sprawling World Heritage complex of more than 400 ancient temples with the magnificent Angkor Wat as its focal point. An old city that had been the seat of power for the Khmer empire beginning in the 9th century. Ancient temple ruins, awe inspiring historical sites, rice fields and picturesque villages. In a demonstration of raw power and the interplay of man versus nature is Ta Phrom, the temple constructed by Jayavarman VII in the 11th century. Now overtaken by immense trees that are in one place supporting the walls and in others tearing them down.
The crowds who come to Cambodia’s Angkor region are spoiled for choice when it comes to temples to visit. Within kilometres of the tourist town of Siem Reap are dozens of sites which can take days to explore. It’s no great surprise that visitors feel there’s enough to see without venturing too far – and fair enough, a lot of these people don’t have much time to spare. The Angkor temples are by far the biggest draw for so it’s hard to escape the tourist masses and find a site less trodden. That’s why the trip to Beng Mealea is so worthwhile. An hour in the car from Siem Reap is all it takes to discover a temple far from the crowds and in such a state that you can believe you are the first to find it, hidden and lost in the Cambodian jungle.
For us, Ta Phrom’s additional claim to fame was secondary – a location for the Tomb Raider film. The eerie quality of the trees growing out of the walls is the dinstictive feature of the ruins. The temple is near the location of Angkor Wat (Khmer for capital temple) and the largest religious monument in the world. When construction first began it was as a Hindu site dedicated to Vishnu, but transformed into a Buddhist temple. An interesting feature of the enormous site (about 4 acres) is the moat and the immense wall surrounding the temple complex a continuation of the grandeur of Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom, it’s neighbor is even larger.
Within the walls of Angkor Wat are several other sites. The Bayon ruins and The Elephant Terrace two of the most popular stone relics & ruins. We explored Bayon on our first visit to Angkor Wat but checked out the Elephants after viewing Ta Phrom.