Every year increasing numbers are flocking to the historical Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat and the other popular temples can seem overcrowded and slightly impersonal if you are visiting during busy times. However, Beng Mealea is one of the hidden jungle temples that is less visited but still has all the wonder and majesty of the more popular temples.
Beng Mealea lies approximately 40 km east of the main Angkor temples but is not considered part of the Angkor complex. For this reason, visitors must pay a $5 entrance fee to visit Beng Mealea, a relatively small fee for what the temple and the surrounding area have to offer.
The road leading to Beng Mealea feels completely different to the often busy roads, laden with tourists around Angkor Wat. In fact, until recently, the road could only be accessed via a badly potholed road which was completely impassable during Cambodia’s rainy season. Thankfully, the road has been surfaced in recent years and is now accessible by car or tuk-tuk.
The route itself is a fascinating glimpse of genuine Cambodian life and is an incredible experience just in itself. Built at roughly the same time and in the same style of Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea is thought to be at least 900 years old.
Many historians presume it to be related to the famous temples although actually very little is known for sure about the mysterious temple complex. Hindu and Buddhist symbolism are evident although no actual inscriptions or markings show exactly when it was built or by whom.
Beng Mealea is made up of a series of libraries and galleries built around a central square surrounded by a huge moat. Large keystones are all that remain of some of the bigger buildings that once stood here and like most of the other Angkorian temples, wild figs and moss grow through every crack and crevice. But this abandoned, haunted look is exactly what appeals and will evoke the Indiana Jones in us all!
Despite it being a much quieter temple than the more well-known ones in the area, visitors are still recommended to come in the early morning for sunrise to have the temple to themselves.
For a small fee, you can pay a local guide to take you into the many hidden areas in the interior of the temple that you simply would not find otherwise. You will see magnificent columns and clamber through stone chimneys to find breathtaking temple remains complete with stunning carvings and bas-reliefs.
Inside the main courtyard in the centre of the temple are big carved columned windows taken over by the jungle and other carvings telling stories from the ancient Khmer Kingdom. At times you feel like you could be at Ta Prohm temple, made famous by Angelina Jolie and the Tomb Raider movies.
The one big difference is that you will have the whole temple complex to yourself as opposed to the large numbers of buses and tours that frequent the more well-known Ta Prohm most days.
Almost inevitably, the same problems might eventually affect Beng Mealea. Although, for now, any traveller coming to Cambodia can be assured that Beng Mealea offers a beautifully serene experience completely different from the more visited temples. So let your inner explorer free and come and visit Cambodia and it’s remarkable mysterious temples soon!