Beng Mealea, near Siem Reap, Cambodia: epic jungle temple

Beng Mealea was built in the 12th century and is the same vintage as Angkor Wat; however, nothing has been restored here. Like Angkor Wat (for which it is thought to be the prototype) and the other temples here, it is surrounded by a large moat symbolising the oceans of the world in Hindu comology.

The temple is tumbled-down, with gigantic stone blocks as if thrown by gods hither and yon, collapsed gates, and broken walls and roofs grasped by tree roots and branches, reminding me quite a bit of Termessos in Turkey, a mountain-top ruin site that remained unconquered when Alexander the Great swept through Asia on his conquests.

Some of the relief carvings are still visible, with female figures, elephants and Vishnu/Garuda being the most common motifs. Our guide pointed out the most interesting carvings, sometimes almost invisible under fallen stone, and led us over fallen rocks, up through broken gates, around walls, up across wooden walkways and platforms, around the entire temple site. We saw four libraries in various states of disrepair, several galleries, and entrance gates positioned at the four cardinal directions.

When we first arrived there were only 4 others on site; as the time passed a few tour groups from China arrived. However, this temple is much less visited than the other, more famous, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom temples much closer to the city. Our guide also pointed out the sites of exploded land mines within the temple compound, tapping on her prosthetic leg for emphasis.

After consuming a great Khmer curry lunch, we rolled back into town as rush hour was starting, joining the throngs of tuk-tuks, mopeds, trucks, tractors, bikes, and cars all converging on central Siem Reap. We had a swim and finished the day with a wonderful dinner at Touich, a top-rated out-of-the-way restaurant in the back of beyond, where we had a great chat with 2 French tourists and sampled a Cambodian Mojito and several rice based special desserts which we were asked to try out for the kitchen.

See more pics of Beng Mealea here.

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