Beng Mealea – lots of trees and fallen rocks but not a T-Shirt seller in sight
Unlike Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom or Ta Phrohm, Beng Mealea receives relatively few visitors. This makes for a quiet and introspective experience. However this is not the main reason I enjoyed the temple complex. Beng Mealea is evocative because it is surrounded by only paddy fields and small farmers huts. Outside the gates you will find a local village and only a couple of food places that vaguely cater to the tourist. There is not a T-Shirt or statue seller in sight. A solitary old man begging and a couple of kids asking for candy or pens are the only things that herald your entry as you walk past the gigantic seven snake headed statue. Inside the complex is old and worn and, deliberately, not one tiny bit reconstructed. The temple complex is decaying and trees grown through, round and over rocks. Rock walls lay strewn across the ground felled by the forces of nature. As I clambered over rocks and under stone door frames I felt like I had finally seen something similar to the sight which had greeted Henri Mahout the French botanist in 1860.
Angkor Wat should definitely be on your bucket list but if you do make it this far don’t give up on Beng Mealea just because it’s another 40km’s out. Far from the maddening crowd of tourists, and for that matter the maddening crowd of reconstructing archaeologists lies the overgrown complex of Beng Mealea. In the middle of a Cambodia far removed from the tourist haven of Siem Reap with it’s bars and T-Shirt shops lies the decaying, tree enveloped beauty of this Hindu temple guarded by Naga the seven headed serpent. Get there soon before the T-Shirt sellers arrive.