The jungle temple of Beng Mealea was a perfect grand finale for our exploration of Cambodia’s Khmer temples. It fed our desire for adventure and sense of discovery. If exploring Ta Phrom made us fantasize we were some kind of Indiana Jones, at Beng Mealea we played the part!
Beng Mealea is one of the remote and unrestored Khmer temples. It was not opened to the public until it was cleared of landmines in late 2003. With the completion of the new road, it is now more accessible and can be reached by car from Siem Reap in about one hour and a half.
Beng Mealea was built in early 12th century by the same king who founded Angkor Wat. The two temples, in fact, were constructed in identical design. Beng Melea was built earlier and smaller in scale. Other than these few facts, the history of Beng Melea is unknown as there were no inscriptions found on site.
Upon entering the causeway that lead to the main site, we were greeted by well-preserved sculptures of Naga (serpents) heads like the ones in Angkor Wat. And apparently, this is where the good state of preservation ended……
Like in Ta Prohm, the jungle rules in Beng Mealea.
Upon reaching the main temple area, we saw a wooden walkway that looked like the only way in and we naturally navigated to it.
But one of the friendly temple guards who we were chatting with earlier called us back and told us that we should start at this door. It was in a low key area and didn’t look like a proper entry so we were not sure if he was serious. Sensing our hesitation, he took the lead and told us to follow him.
The state of beautiful dilapidation we saw inside amazed us. We felt like Indiana Jones in a mission of discovery.
Scrambling out of one of the galleries.
This is Ching Supiye, the wonderful temple guard who showed us around the labyrinth of the temple. If not for him, we would probably just stayed on the walkways and we wouldn’t have explored Beng Mealea to the fullest. We realized that this is one temple where a guide is essential.
We saw local kids climbing up the roofs with ease like they were monkeys. We thought they were so brave. Then Ching told us, “That’s where we are going next!”
After climbing up through the rocks, we reached a ledge on the rooftop. It was two-stories high and was a bit unnerving.
There were steps and ladders in some areas. The wooden walkways that snake around some part of the main temple were built to dolly the cameras for the filming of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 2004 film Two Brothers.
After the filming, the walkways remained on site making it easier for visitors to navigate some of the area. However, visitors without guides may mistake it as the offiial route to follow and miss out on the incredible exploration of the inner temple.
We will always be grateful to Ching. Beng Mealea was our favorite temple experience in Cambodia, but our most favorite memories of Beng Mealea are the kindness, warmth and the uplifting smiles of Ching and the children we met at the temple.
- Beng Mealea is located about 80 kms north of Siem Reap.
- We rented a car and combined the visit to Beng Mealea with a trip to the more remote temple complex of Koh Ker, which is about an hour and 15 minutes drive further north.
- The admission to Beng Mealea is US$5..
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