Dreamy Jungle Ruins of Beng Mealea

Pavilion
Huy and Thom, my young guides, showed me the hidden treasures

Beng Mealea is the Angkor people dream of. Unlike the central temples that are disappointingly crawling with tourists, these mysterious 12th century temple ruins, located less than two hours away from Siem Reap, remain wild, uncrowded and explorable – the way they were first discovered.

This temple was opened to visitors only five years ago, when the area was completely demined. Beng Mealea has a similar plan to Angkor Wat, and believed to have been built during the same period. For the most part not much is known about its history, even which Khmer royalty had it built. So there’s a wealth of things yet to be uncovered by archaeologists and visitors alike.

Moreover, it’s also an easy escape from touristy Siem Reap to see the laid-back Cambodian countryside, passing by broad stretches of farmland, rolling ox carts and waving villagers. On our way back, the incredible sunset was a perfectly shaped disc that lit up the countryside, rivaling the one we witnessed on the hilltop temple of Bakheng the day before.

My friends and I, being photography enthusiasts, each enjoyed exploring the crumbling complex on our own and capturing its disheveled beauty. While wooden walkways and some viewing platforms have been built to conveniently explore a portion of the ruins, visitors are free to climb and ramble around it, over fallen masonry and through pillared walls, something discouraged at the other central temples. In some areas, one had to squeeze through the wooden braces that support unstable sections of the ruins. These temple ruins are definitely for adventure-seekers.
Library
Strangled by the jungle and dappled in golden light, Beng Mealea is the Angkor we dream of.

Two young boys from the village named Huy and Thom offered to show me the hidden treasures of the site. The causeway leading to the central galleries are guarded by beautiful sculptures of five and seven-headed nagas (mythological serpents), symbols of water, fertility and creation. Strewn amidst the rubble under the dappled light from the tree canopy, one can discover fallen lintels with bas-reliefs of scenes from Hindu mythology, decorative friezes, false doors, balustered windows, broken sarcophagi and unusual carvings of sultry apsaras (celestial dancers) cupping their breasts.

Tree Frog
A tree frog rests on the balustrade of the wooden walkway

Unlike the trimmed down – almost landscaped – vegetation of Ta Prohm, made famous by the Angelina Jolie action flick, Tomb Raider, nature runs riot in these temples ruins. And this includes some wildlife. I spotted a tree frog resting on a balustrade, while my companion spotted a snake. I couldn’t agree more, as my travel companion later on mused, “This is the Angkor we came for.”

Beng Mealea
Wooden walkways and platforms take visitors through some sections of the ruins

Fallen Masonry
Fallen masonry

HOW TO GET THERE: Located some 40 km from central Angkor, Beng Mealea is 1.5 to 2 hours away from Siem Reap town. We haggled for a tuk-tuk to take us there and back for USD 24 (i.e. USD 8 per head). 

You don’t need the pricey tourist pass to visit Beng Mealea. Pay the separate entrance fee of only USD 5 at the entrance. To help you find your way through the ruins and spot the hidden attractions, I highly recommend hiring a local villager to show you around for USD 1.

WHERE TO STAY: Lots of budget options in Siem Reap town. See my previous post on the central temples of Angkor.

5 comments

  1. love ruins … has so much history that goes with each structure… looks like it was one awesome adventure 🙂

  2. This was definitely my fave Angkor temple! Thanks for reading =)

  3. Kate says:

    So nice 🙂 Thank you for posting about this. We will be visiting Cambodia in 3 weeks. I’ll include this in our itinerary 🙂

  4. Hi Kate, you’re welcome! Enjoy your visit, and hope you can come back and share your experience here =)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi! Visiting Siem Reap in 2 weeks and spending 2 full days there. Having heard it from you, i am now considering visiting this temple. but how many hours would one normally spend there, going there, and returning to town? Also, would you mind telling us how you spent the rest of your 2nd day in Siem Reap as it would help in preparing out itinerary. Thanks and more power! =)

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