Angkor’s most secluded temple: Beng Mealea
I love movies like Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider where the protagonist explores hidden temples and uninhabited jungles; the anticipation of adventures, hidden treasures awaiting discovery, or even the thoughts or unforeseen dangers, what’s not to love?! So when I heard that Beng Mealea hasn’t gone through the restoration process, other than the clearing of landmines, I had to go. East of the main temple complex and about 40 km through the Cambodian countryside of endless rice paddies, orange dirt roads, palm sugar stalls and stilted bungalow galore, I went to explore Angkor’s most secluded temple.
Best time to Visit Beng Mealea
Like Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea is one of the Khmer Empire’s largest temples, so if you want to enjoy this Siem Reap sight fully, I would recommend leaving your hotel at 6 am since the sunrise fairly quickly and you don’t want to be exploring in the blistering heat. Beng Melea is a sight to behold; the jungle completely devoured the ruins, tree roots and twisted vines took over what was once its courtyards, chambers, gateways and towers, and even though the sun was still low in the sky, the lights still struggle to break through the tall trees and intertwining vines. In the early morning, during sunrise, it is truly magical.
Unfortunately, Beng Mealea is not as well preserved as Angkor Wat. Where Angkor Wat was a monastery for centuries, this smaller temple was deserted for centuries, unattended by Buddhist monks.
Although abandoned by time and event, Beng Mealea is a grand monument for lovers of romantic ruins. Exploring this overgrown and relatively secluded temple is an adventure in itself as you need to climb over piles of stones and rocks, scramble up walls of twisted vines and swing around trees to reach all the hidden and therefore best area. I went during the dry season, so although there weren’t much moss or moisture in general, it was dusty, so I still had to be mindful of every step I took.
Due to its increasing popularity, local guides can be seen standing around the area. So if you want to safely explore, you can ask one to guide you through all the hidden hallways. They will show you the most interesting parts of the fallen masonry and sculpture, many of which are hidden from view, and the best spot to view the massive complex.
Although Beng Mealea is considered one of the minor attractions of Angkor, for me it’s one of my favourite Siem Reap sight– partly because of its secluded nature, especially in the early morning before sunrise, but also because it gave me an understanding of what the first French explorer must have felt when they discovered it.
How to get to Beng Mealea
Tuk-Tuk rides are offered to go to Beng Mealea, but for a more comfortable ride, where you’re not eating bugs flying in the wind, it is recommended to take a taxi for $35, or a car. On the map, this secluded temple is about 40km east of Bayon and 6.5km south-east of Phnom Kulen. By road, it is about 68km from Siem Reap or 1 hour by car. The shortest route is via the junction town of Dam Dek, located on NH6 approximately 37km from Siem Reap. Turn north immediately after the market and continue on this road for 31km. The entrance to the temple lies just beyond the left-hand turn to Koh Ker. Visit in the early morning as it does get very hot in the afternoon, especially during dry season. If you want to explore the whole area, this is a half-day trek, so bring lots of water. Angkor entrance tickets do not include access to Beng Mealea. The separate ticket for Beng Mealea is available at a ticket counter at the car park.