On our second day in Siem Reap, we decided to go on an adventure off the beaten trail. Kevin had done his research (as per usual), and he lead us on an adventure to a remote and unique temple called Beng Mealea. Remote because it’s approx. 60km away from Siem Reap, and unique because it’s in a far more ruinous state, despite being quite a large and impressive site.
Here’s a bit of background on Beng Mealea, brought to you by the Boston Globe’s David Abel:
A precursor to the temples throughout the Angkor Wat complex, Beng Mealea spreads over several acres of jungle, with a series of so-called libraries, courtyards, and other chambers that surround a sanctuary, much of which are covered in carvings from Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
Unlike Angkor Wat, the remains here have been neither renovated nor preserved. As a result, most of the buildings have been reduced to large piles of moss-covered stones, with trees and ferns rising through the yawning crevices where the foundation once stood. The columns have been reduced to rubble, and the entire area is a danger zone of sharp edges and knotty roots twisting over the stone.
There are no signs explaining why the temple remains in such decrepitude, but there are many guides eager to offer their explanations and provide private tours. (Abel, Boston Globe)
We were picked up by one such guide: an older, yet very spry woman who practically held my hand the entire time, as we climbed up and down the ruins of Beng Mealea. Most of the temples we’d already seen had been largely intact, or at least so intact that one wouldn’t consider walking on the more treacherous parts. Sometimes the more fallen-down parts of the temples had been blocked off as a no-walking zone. As we entered Beng Mealea, I spotted a raised bridge, with ruins below. I started along the bridge, thinking that we’d just walk above the ruins – ha. Not so fast.
Our guide quickly guided us off the bridge, to instead walk along a ledge around the side of the temple. She then pointed us to walk INSIDE the temple, crawling across, up, and down the piles of stones all throughout the ruins. Our tour continued like this the whole time. This place was just incredible. The size alone is stunning, but the level of detail, the fact that it’s so old, and you’re walking around inside literally incredible history – it’s all just too much. And just when you’re completely blown away by the man-made structures, you notice the out-of-this-world trees that are slowly taking over, growing in the most incredible and beautiful ways. Seriously. I have never seen such amazing trees as I did at Beng Mealea.
In all of this, we were very lucky to have a guide, as she led us to many beautiful sites we’d have missed on our own. After the tour, she then pointed us in a direction where we could continue to adventure. That’s also when Kevin pointed out that the 60+ year old woman who had to help me climb around this whole temple actually had a prosthetic leg. I really reevaluated by ability to carry myself around at that point in time – being less able to climb things than a one-legged grandma is a bit of a wake up call. Still, without her to hold my hand and help me up and down, I instead relied on Tyler to coach me through the places I was nervous about walking, so I didn’t adventure quite as far as Kevin and my brothers. Instead, I was able to sit and just take in the beauty and solitude of my surroundings.
There aren’t really words to describe this place, so just take a look at the photos below, and then book your own ticket and see it for yourself!