The dying trees of Angkor Wat

In March 2014 I visited the Ancient temples of Angkor while travelling in Cambodia. Being an arborist, I was particularly looking forward to the legendary trees of the Ta Prohm temple, as seen in the film Tomb Raider.

The temple was built in the 12th century for the Khmer king Jayavarman VII and is one of the most famous of Angkor’s many temples. It has become one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist attractions due to the spectacular trees (such as the Silk Cotton Tree and Strangler Figs) that grow in and around the stone constructions. Ta Prohm is visited by hundreds of tourists every day and the numbers are increasing year after year.

Trees in an unhealthy condition

As I approached the temple I was saddened to see the unhealthy condition of the trees, many of them were showing signs of root damage, with undersized leaves and sparse crowns, they were clearly in ill health. It was alarmingly apparent to me that the huge number of visitors are having a very negative impact on the ancient temple and it’s magnificent trees. The heavy pedestrian traffic streaming through the temple each day appears to be compacting the soil around the roots and slowly killing the magnificent jungle trees.

Sparse crown of a tree at the Ta Promh Temple

Sparse crown of a tree at the Ta Promh Temple

I asked a couple of the Cambodian tour guides about the trees but they had no idea what I was talking about. I can only assume that they are oblivious to the trees’ ill health because, to the untrained eye, they still look healthy and “alive”: they still have leaves and strong branches. But sadly the sparse crowns hint at chronic problems and, most likely, the eventual loss of these iconic giants. The problem is even more apparent when they are compared to the lush and healthy specimens that surround them.

I plan to contact APSARA (The Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) and see what else I can find out.



  1. Arborist Pol  May 13, 2014

    It saddens me to see these great tree giants sick and unhealthy. As an arborist I love the trees and nature in general. Can’t we do something about these amazing species?