THE trees reach out blindly as you pass, feeling their way as they slowly strangle the temple. Always on the edge of your vision, they inexorably steal another inch.
From a hundred dark doorways, shadows guard the secrets within as carved figures watch your every step. There is a deep hush broken only by the raucous cries of unseen wildlife.
As we celebrate Hallowe’en there is surely no better place in which to wander. And if it looks like a film set worthy of a Tomb Raider movie, that’s because it is.
Because Cambodia’s Ta Prohm is the real-life Lara Croft temple.
I’m walking warily with Samneang Ty, the local Siem Reap guide who recently also showed me a glorious sunrise on autumn equinox over the majestic temple complex at Angkor Wat.
Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, it was originally called Rajavihara, and was founded by a Khmer king as a Buddhist monastery and university.
After the fall of the Khmer empire in the 15th century, it was abandoned and nature left to take over for centuries – but remarkably the strangling spung trees helped out.
They reached out to grip the walls, shored up towers and even grew silk cotton roofs in places. Sure, their grip crushed stonework, too, but Ta Prohm remains surprisingly intact.
And although some renovation work has been undertaken on the World Heritage site, the decision has been made to keep it much as it was rediscovered for its utterly unique atmosphere.
It was that eerie quality that attracted the makers of the Tomb Raider movie. Although most scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios using CGI, those filmed here are the real deal.
It was at the eastern entrance of the central enclosure that Angelina Jolie famously picked a jasmine flower and met a mysterious young girl who led her deeper inside.
In the inner sanctum, of course, there was a lot of hokum horror as she tried to use an ancient orrery to turn back time and save the life of her late father, whose death sparked her quest
Today, the doorway through which she passes in the 2001 movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which also starred a youthful Daniel Craig before Bond, remains a popular selfie spot for visitors.
My guide, Mr Sam, points out the entrance and there’s a moment when you can almost see the backpacked heroine stepping inside to meet her fate and, oh yes, save the world once more.
But back to reality, the Ta Prohm complex has a mystery and magic all of its very own. Around every twist and turn of the corridors and alleyways lies in wait another surprise.
And always those figures peering out of the walls seem to stand vigil, appearing in many guises, both human and otherworldly.
Sadly, but sensibly, safety and conservation measures mean that it is not possible for modern-day visitors to climb onto the galleries of the 39 towers contained within the complex.
Read more: Batman: virtual visit to the real-life pit from which the Dark Knight rises
Some of the doorways lead to dead ends, blocked by huge fallen stones; others open out into tranquil open areas in this most elaborately designed wonder of the world.
Everywhere you look, the spung trees – they are a relative of the fig with the botanical name tetrameles nudiflora and can grow up to 70ft tall – make their presence felt.
Read more: Stairway to heaven, chariots of fire and other remarkable virtual travels
Their roots stretch out like hungry fingers along, and down, the walls. At times they resemble a waterfall caught in a sliver of time. No wonder Lara loved the place.
Before the pandemic struck, millions of people visited the Angkor Archaeological Park each year, meaning that at peak times sites should as Ta Prohm could be crowded.
Read more: The man who walked up a volcano with 600 people on his back
But I’m travelling with Mr Sam through an almost deserted scene thanks to the wonders of 21st century technology. We’re on a live streamed tour beamed worldwide by the heygo platform.
Users of the site enjoy live tours with expert local guides to more than 450 locations across the planet, using a live chat facility to interact with the guides and fellow travellers.
Read more: The man who flew with vultures: how virtual travel is changing the world
What’s more, each and every tour is free to join, although guests are encouraged to leave a tip – it’s suggested that here in the UK they start from around a fiver – to support the guides.
It has, says Mr Sam, been of invaluable assistance during the dark days of the Covid-19 crisis which ravaged tourism income at a stroke, and has also acted as a teaser for post-pandemic travel.
Read more: Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat
You can check out the calendar of upcoming tours at heygo.com and set up email alerts for trips. Our guide is returning to Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple, at 9am GMT on Saturday November 6.
Finally, enough of the arty monochrome pictures. Here’s the entrance to Ta Prohm in colour. All the images in this feature are screenshots taken during our tour using heygo’s ‘postcard’ facility.
Read more: Climbing 1,200 steps to the top of Sri Lanka’s Lion Rock
It enables you to take shots – you can even ask the guide to point his camera to get a particular picture – to share, download and later edit, as I have done to create the black and white images.
Happy Hallowe’en to all. Check out paulcoletravels.com each week for more travel tricks and treats.
I love this temple. Including Jolie in the film Lara Croft. From the writing to the black and white photos it really feels dark and haunted but it is very interesting to keep reading and enjoying the beautiful photos of this temple.