Beng Mealea: Overgrown and Underrated

Beng Mealea is one of the most mysterious temples at Angkor, as nature has well and truly run riot. Built to the same floorplan as Angkor Wat, exploring this titanic of temples is the ultimate Indiana Jones experience.

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Not part of the Angkor Pass, Beng Mealea costs around $5 to visit, and there are additional small charges for cars and motorcycles. It is best to undertake a long day trip combining Beng Mealea with Phnom Kulen Park and Banteay Srei.

The temple of Beng Mealea used to be utterly subsumed by jungle, but some of the dense foliage has been cut back in recent years. Entering from the south, visitors wend their way over piles of masonry, through long dark chambers, and between hanging vines to arrive at the central tower, which has completely collapsed. Hidden away among the rubble and foliage are several impressive carvings, as well as a well-preserved library in the northeastern quadrant. The temple is a special place and it is worth taking the time to explore it thoroughly. I used to think it was not worth the extra effort to visit, as admission to Beng Mealea is not included in the Angkor Pass, but, really, what’s an extra $5?!

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Beng Mealea is at the centre of an ancient Angkorian road connecting Angkor Thom and Preah Khan in Preah Vihear Province. A small Angkorian bridge just west of Chau Srei Vibol temple is the only remaining trace of the old Angkorian road between Beng Mealea and Angkor Thom; between Beng Mealea and Preah Khan there are at least 10 bridges abandoned in the forest. This is a way for extreme adventurers to get to Preah Khan temple – but don’t undertake this journey lightly! The actual Beng Mealea temple itself, though, is the reason I visited, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Unlike at other Angkorian temples – notably Angkor Thom and Bayon – I didn’t encounter any monkeys, which was a bonus! Some people may find Beng Mealea too “ruined” to enjoy, but I like it like that; ancient ruins in the middle of the Cambodian jungle? Yes, please! Beng Mealea is undoubtedly the most underrated temple in Siem Reap.

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Beng Mealea is about 40km east of Bayon and 6km south east of Phnom Kulen. A tuktuk journey from Siem Reap will take over an hour, but should still be only around $8 for the return journey (maybe even cheaper). The shortest route is via the small town of Dam Dek, located on the main road towards Phnom Penh. Turn north immediately after the market and continue on this road for about 35km. The entrance to Beng Mealea lies just beyond the left-hand turn to Koh Ker. There is not much real shelter from the elements at Beng Mealea, so if you’re unlucky enough to be caught in a tropical downpour then you WILL get pretty wet!

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