Angkor Exploring Part 5 of 7: Over the next few weeks we will share our experiences visiting Siem Reap and the surrounding area while we are offline in Myanmar. Articles may load slowly due to the number of photos, but it’ll be worth the wait. We are presenting the sites in chronological order of construction, the same order in which we visited them. After providing “Angkor Exploring” as a frame of reference, we will share tips on how to make the most of your trip to one of the world’s wonders.
Did you know that Angkor Wat has a stepsister? Born to the same father, King Suryavarman II, little is known about her, not even if she is older or younger than her much more cared for family members. Nonetheless, Beng Mealea is one of the largest Angkor temples, one of the only other Angkor-style major temples, and the most authentic. Being abandoned for centuries one can see all original carvings, witness the strength of the jungle pulling the temple down, and play Indiana Jones (or Angelina Jolie) climbing over and under the crumbling edifice.
Much like covergirls gracing magazine racks the world over, the temples you see in the Angkor Archeological Park have been dressed up, their blemishes covered over, and preened for their daily photo shoots. Beng Mealea makes a living on her natural beauty alone and while reminiscent of Ta Prohm, most of the trees have not been removed. These trees will eventually bring a dignified, natural death to Beng Mealea.
The outer enclosure of Beng Mealea (above) compared to Angkor Wat’s (below) rebuilt, restored and maintained walls. Where ropes and signs define a path for tourists in Angkor, follow-at-your-own-risk guides will take you over the fallen walls of Beng Mealea.
While Angkor Wat’s windows (above) are both stately and striking, the missing sections are the sole reminder that it is nearing it’s 1000th birthday. Throughout Beng Mealea (below) though, the slow strangulation by the trees reminds us of the impermanence of humanity’s creations without constant intervention.
While the majestic halls of Angkor Wat (above) greet visitors, those at Beng Mealea (below) present a danger. Due to the Angkor Kingdom’s creativity and ambitions exceeding their engineering prowess, temples have required extensive reconstruction to remain standing. The most audacious, at Baphuon, is nearing completion.
While touring the Angkor Kingdom it is hard to fathom the scale and construction. It isn’t until you climb, block-by-block, a deconstructed temple that you have to that you realize how large each block is. Based on the same principles of the Egyptians and Legos, Beng Mealea is a real treat because you get to experience it hands-on. While security at other temples are there to tell you “no”, at Beng Mealea (above) they lead you over the blocks and help take photos.
Get there before it completely fades into the jungle and human history. There is only so much time before these last blocks line up.
IF YOU GO:
- Beng Mealea is easily accessible from Siem Reap or on the way to Koh Ker. You can easily find a tour or driver in downtown Siem Reap.
- Entry is $5, not included in the Angkor Archeological Park entry, so it is best to do it on a day you don’t intend to enter the Archeological Park, thereby saving a punch on your ticket.
- Guides are available onsite and necessary. The site is most likely dangerous due to the fragile state of the temple. Guides will show you around, lead you to places you wouldn’t find on your own, and keep you safe.