Our second day of temples got us to some of the more remote temples around the Angkor complex. While they are less visited, both of them are no less enchanting and dramatic than those around the core set of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. If you’re visiting the area, I’d argue it’s not complete without a visit to both Bandei Srei and Beng Mealea.
This temple has, probably, the best preserved carvings of any temple in the Angkor complex. Indeed, when it was found, it was assumed that the detail remaining in the carvings placed construction of the temple several hundred years later than it was actually built. It’s also unique in that it wasn’t built by a king but rather by a brahman. Regardless, it is still a jewel of a temple if for no other reason than to help you imagine the splendor of the carvings that have since weathered away at the more popular sites like Angkor Wat.
We caught first light at the temple, which helped better highlight the warm tones of the sandstone as well accentuate the carvings. Early morning also has the advantage of making the temple devoid of tourists. As we toured the complex, we were again approached by guards looking to help pad their salaries by “offering” us a tour of restricted areas of the temple for a small fee. We graciously declined.
We continued our tour at Beng Mealea. This temple really is far away from just about everything and requires a car to get to if you want to make it before lunch. Like Ta Prohm, it is a wild mix of jungle and temple and has been left far more in ruin than any other temple we visited.
Beng Mealea has the same footprint as Angkor Wat, though you’d never know it as you wander around. It is surmised that the temple was a blueprint for the construction of Angkor Wat itself. We approached via a long causeway, a weird pathway in the middle of jungle that lead to what felt like a secret place.
At the end of the causeway? A massive pile of rubble that was once a gate leading through the outer wall. The wall is now tossed, presumed to be sacked by Thai invaders in the numerous border skirmishes between the two kingdoms. A tree grows out of the center of the gate. We climbed over rocks, scaled walls, and generally explored the place like kids looking for toys buried in a sandbox.
While the images in this post hardly do the temple justice, I do consider it to be a “not to be missed” part of Angkor. It’s a little like a time capsule into how these temples were found and provides a stark reminder of just how much work has gone into putting Angkor Wat back together again.