If you have been to Cambodia and had the chance to view the magnificent ancient city of Angkor, you probably have one of two impressions. Either you feel as I do that it is one of the most amazing places in the world (as I obviously do), or were completely pestered by the incredible crowds and felt that you became Lara Croft about four decades too late.
Much like watching a movie, places can get over-hyped and we are let down (much like me with the Sydney Opera House). However, without the hype, you might have never even gone in the first place. Catch 22 really. Lucky for you, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. Let me tell you about a little place named Beng Mealea.
Beng Mealea is located about 30 mins to an hour (sorry, I wasn’t keeping track) to the east of the city of Siem Reap. Currently, only a single Chinese tour bus goes out there on the regular between 9am-11:30am and it is highly recommended that you avoid this time as the temple is really not designed for those kinds of crowds. Come at 7-8am and prepare to have the temple almost entirely to yourself. That’s right, while thousands of people are trying to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat, you can even sleep in an hour or two and enjoy a temple that makes Ta Phrom look like yesterday’s news.
Upon walking through the front entrance, you get the impression that the entire thing is in shambles. What many people don’t realize is that the Khmer Kingdom’s history was incredibly long and simply maintaining and restoring the dozens of temples of this magnitude costs a lot of money that Cambodia doesn’t have. Because of this, the main hall is still rubble, but keep walking and you are in for a treat.
If you have ever imagined stumbling into a jungle like Indiana Jones and coming across a long lost temple, this is it. In fact, I didn’t even know until researching for this article that Beng Mealea is the actual temple in Raider’s of the Lost Ark!
During my visit there, my mind was being blown at every turn and this is even after visiting about 10 of the temples in Angkor. It is THAT good. The sights, the smells, the loneliness, the vines, and even down the poisonous frog I ran into, this is a place you don’t want to miss.
Note 1 – If you have time and just can’t get enough of temples or off the beaten paths, consider Preah Vihear, the Temple in the Sky just 2 hours away or Koh Ker which is a few miles from Beng Mealea.
Note 2 – I ask each and everyone reading this to PLEASE watch your step in Cambodia. Limited resources mean thousand of pillars and temple rubble lay at your very feet. I almost cried at the amount of tourists who step on these artifacts and, on occasion, destroy them without thinking twice. Once this piece of history is gone, it is permanent. For God’s sake watch where you’re going.