Beng Melea

Overgrown ruins of one of the ‘libraries’ of Beng Melea

The remote temple of Beng Melea has only recently been opened and feasible for tourists to visit. The rather large temple was built just before Angkor Wat, by the same king. The temple is completely un-restored, and only minimal clearing work has been done. Other than some stabilization and the installation of walkways in some places to make it easier to get around, the temple is much as it would have been when westerners first visited it early in the twentieth century.

Like most of the large temples at Angkor, Beng Melea is surrounded by a wide moat, enclosing about one square kilometer. While the temple faces east, visitors now enter through the south side. A pile of rubble obstructs the old south gate, but a stairway has been built to cross the largely ruined outer wall and provide access to the inner sanctuary. You end up in the large eastern courtyard which holds two library structures (see photo). A raised wooden walkway connects the entry to the center causeway, which like the modern wooden path is raised several feet off the ground. Stone bridges also connected the libraries to the causeway.

Vines in Stone
Roots entwine the stones of the roof of a gallery.

The walkway allows you a close-up view of the front wall of the central sanctuary. While there isn't a lot of sculpted details at Beng Melea, what exists is quite exquisite and in relatively good shape. Once you reach the central causeway, you must take a short flight of stairs up to the roof of a gallery with a collapsed roof. With so many blocked passages, this is the only practical way to get around the temple. At one point, my guide helps me squeeze through a window and climb up the rock fall of a collapsed roof to get to a good photography spot on a gallery wall.

Everywhere you look, roots and strangler vines entwine stones and sculptures. Although I didn't see anything quite as spectacular as at Ta Prohm, there are definitely some great photo opportunities at Beng Melea. With restoration work begriming at Ta Prohm, Beng Melea may be your best bet for great tree in temple shots. Few people bother to make the trip here, so you may have the place almost to yourself.

Beng Melea is about 63 kilometers east of Siem Reap. The road is relatively good in the dry season, but your guide and driver will probably ask extra for the trip. You can make a circuit of Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and Beng Melea in one long day. You do not need your Angkor temple pass to visit the temple, but there is a separate US$5 admission fee. There are also road tolls of US$1 each way.