We’ve been exploring the temples of Angkor this month, climbing ruins, visiting ancient hospitals and libraries, deciphering bas-relief murals, and pretending we are Indiana Jones & Lara Croft. This week we’ll post stories & photos from some of our favorite places in Angkor.
First up, the ruined temple of Beng Mealea.
Buried deep in the jungle at an ancient crossroads, this ruined temple is not on the well beaten tourist track, and is a good place to go to get away from the tour bus masses and pretend you are Indiana Jones or Lara Croft for an afternoon.
Built by Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple, Beng Mealea predates Angkor Wat by several years. The fact that its floorplan and layout is identical to Angkor Wat (but on a smaller scale) has led some archaeologists to speculate that it was a template for Angkor Wat. It was largely abandoned for hundreds of years, although the Khmer Rouge did shelter here, often using the walls of the temple for target practice. Due to its remoteness and massive destruction by mother nature, archaeologists have found it difficult to reconstruct what went on here. Perhaps some day in the future we will know more about this place. UNESCO added it to the World Heritage tentative list in 1992.
Like so many of our temple visits, our guide took us far away from the main tourist entrance. We started out our trek with a short walk past rice fields and water buffalo, and then onto a jungle path. A few minutes walk brought us to the remnants of a great stone walkway, complete with ruined Naga sculptures, as we approached the West Gate.
The West Gate at Beng Mealea has been taken over by banyan trees and jungle vines, toppling the walls and making the gate inaccessible. We had to climb the fallen stones to get inside the temple.
Once inside the complex, this temple felt much darker than the other temples we had visited. After a while we realized it was because this temple is still overrun by the jungle, blocking out much of the sun.
We spent the next several hours exploring Beng Mealea. Scrambling over fallen walls, swinging on vines, crawling through fallen doorways, and creeping down darkened corridors.
After a while, you start to realize that in amongst the ruins and fallen stones, are all sorts of visual treasures. Hints of what the structures used to look like can be seen in the stones and how they have fallen. Well preserved carvings hide in the piles of rubble.
Beng Mealea is a treasure trove if you slow down enough to pay attention. We had a fun and adventurous afternoon exploring the temple grounds. It is well worth the 67 km trip from Siem Reap to visit it. The lack of people, amazing views of ruins overrun by jungle, hidden treasures, and the fun of scaling walls, make Beng Mealea our favorite temple in Angkor.