Panorama of central Sanctuary (July 2004)
Beng Mealea: is a spectacular jungle temple around 60 Kms drive to the north east of Siem Reap. It is one of the "new "highlights of Cambodia; having only been cleared of mines at the end of 2003.
Built by Jayarvaman VII; in the style of Angkor Wat; its scale is huge; being well over one square kilometre within its moat. Approached by four causeways; Beng Mealea looks at first sight to be a huge pile of rubble partially hidden in the trees. Once you get closer the high walls, the ancient Khmer Architecture reveals itself. Cloaked in vegetation, this temple looks like it may have done when the early French explorers found it.
The Jungle Temple
19th Century drawing by Louis Delaporte.
A new road linking Siem Reap to Beng Mealea was cut through the jungle in 2003 and is now mostly paved. It takes around one and half hours to drive here.
Beng Mealea surpasses even the legendary Ta Prohm for atmosphere. The whole site can be bathed with dappled light from the jungle canopy making it a fabulous temple for adventurous photographers. There are many intricate carvings here; some just appear amongst the rubble. Beng Mealea has the most beautifully decorated Naga (serpent Head) balustrades and some impressive lintels. The natural decoration is best seen from May to November.
Beng Mealea is my favourite of all the accessible outlying temples. It is a spectacular sight. We usually enter by a little used path which few visitors know about. . One can get a real sense of discovering a real jungle temple this way. Scraps of stone and partially hidden naga balustrade line the route. The huge ruin is concealed from view until the spectacular West Tower and cruciform terrace appears.
We breach a collapsed gallery and enter the western enclosures which are thick with vegetation. Our route into the central area passes under a stone causeway and up tumbled blocks to a narrow passage with impressive root formations lining the walls.
From the end of this passage a head for heights is needed. There is some climbing to the platform which joins the two concentric galleries Walkways lead around the central sanctuary and tower which forms a rocky hillock with a tree growing out of the summit.
To get the best out of it; agility and a head for heights will be needed for some sections.
There are steps and ladders in a many places and a number of different routes from here. Hew steps give easier acesss to a dark passage once reputed to be the home of a tigress. I wondered whether the tiger story was a legend or fact until July 2005 when a friend working at a hospital told me of a hunter in the jungle 30kms away was attacked by two tigers in 2005. The man survived; but only after killing one of the attackers. Don’t worry there is no risk of seeing a tiger now as the last sighting of the tigress was over 15 years ago.
Recent tourism developments at the temple
Walkways round the central sanctuary
Beng Mealea is now becoming a popular temple site with hundreds visiting daily in the peak season Nov to March. The increase in tourism and safety concerns has resulted in restrictions in unsafe areas and walkways to gain easy access to upper levels. This work was necessary to preserve the stonework which in only 8 years of tourism was showing signs of wear in heavily trafficked areas. There are still "secret" areas which few people visit, so it is still photographically interesting. The temple guards do help people around, they are poorly paid so if you have received assistance, a Dollar or a few thousand riels will help their families.
New WCs on site and at the temple entrance gate are a welcome addition and the restaurants opposite the temple provide god food and drink.
Peace Of Angkor Have been at the cutting edge of remote tourism since 2004 when we ran our first tours to Beng Mealea, villages on the Tonle Sap lake and Preah Vihear. We have continually pushed the boundaries of what is possible; way beyond most tour companies. Our unrivaled Remote and photographic experience means; anyone who has any interest in photographing remote Cambodia will have an incredible experience that no other tour company can match!