Temples of Cambodia: Angkor Wat or Beng Mealea?


The Beng Mealea temple. Angkor Archaeological Park. Siem Reap Province of Cambodia.
Picturesque ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Cambodia.

Adventurers and vagabonds from all over the world, hurry up to see! And not only to see, but to touch, to research, to get down to the most secluded (and blocked by huge ancient stones) corners of the world. Seems like the Temples of Cambodia are just the right places to feel like Indiana Jones for a couple more years.

Inside of the ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Cambodia.

If you are a fan of this kind of rest, just open the door to this fairytale. Where is your old good hat? Prepare it for the dusty roads of Cambodia. Work out your own plan, put on the comfortable “Columbia” jacket, don’t forget your flashlight, and prepare the photo camera! Ancient temples of Cambodia, Angkor Wat, and Beng Mealea, are waiting for you.

Everything that might have disturbed you before – the Civil War, the Khmer Rouge dictatorship, the minefields – is in the past now. There is a different risk. Five more years, and the spirit of adventure can disappear from here. Today, the amazing Angkor Wat is overfilled no less than St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

Sacrifice your breakfast or at least postpone it, and some of the Angkor temples will be all yours in the early morning. It is really magic to stand face to face with these stones.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

A spirit of adventure is absolutely necessary for us. That’s why we set off to Beng Mealea Temple well before the break of dawn. Regardless of the remonstrance of our guide that five in the morning is still not late, at 4:00 a.m. our Toyota moved off from the hotel. Almost two hours of our way flew by in an instant, because we had trusted our driver completely and slept away the whole travel time. Therefore we were the first to arrive at Beng Mealea, although in the dark of the moon.

Having stepped out of the car bravely, just as if the exploration of ruins in complete darkness is our everyday routine, we put head flashlights, providently brought from home, on our baseball caps, and finally moved towards the long-awaited ruins of the temple. I hope we looked like experienced pitmen.

This very useful habit – to take a flashlight along with a camera – first appeared during the trip around Greece. When we came to Mycenae, we were the ones equipped with this technological wonder which allowed us to see a bit more detail than the others. I remember someone asked us in the dark of the domical tomb of Atreus: you must be the archeologists? No, unfortunately not, but we gladly retained these nicknames.

So, two “archaeologists” moved out to the Beng Mealea temple in the dark of night, and the time for sleeping has come for our driver.

Ancient door. Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

In your boyhood, did you enjoy exploring abandoned houses or buildings under construction? When you were walking through the former or future rooms, flats, corridors, balustrades, and dreamed of something, it was so interesting, although slightly creepy sometimes. Well, how about a house that was abandoned 900 years ago?! Even if you are a girl, but you were involved in the aforementioned activity, you definitely should visit the Beng Mealea temple in Cambodia!

The temple is not so huge, and three to four hours should be enough to look at it all. If we had known that before, we would have combined Beng Mealea with the Кoh Кеr pyramid, shrouded in legends. Outings should be prepared carefully!

Translated from Cambodian, Beng Mealea means the lotus pond. If not to restrict your imagination it’s quite easy to imagine that a pond overgrown with flowers existed on this place at one time. There is no pond now, but lotuses still remain.

The Lotus Pond near Beng Mealea. Cambodia.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.
The closer the temple the stronger the understanding of something breathtaking!

A small but hopefully useful tip: the temple is mostly in ruins. There are bridges in some safe-for-tourists spots, but not too many of them. If you don’t know the meaning of the word “fitness,” this outing is hardly worth your time and money. Beng Mealea cannot be observed from these bridges. If you want to see the best views you’ll have to climb the walls, roofs, and passages, blocked by stones, with arches which don’t fall apart only by the grace of God.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

There are no fences or boundaries. Climb wherever you want, but please bear in mind that you are just pretending to be invincible Mr. Jones, and the removal of mines was completed not long ago – only five years. Sure enough, you should understand that the ruins are dangerous themselves, and some stones are unstable and their size is big enough. If they come crashing down, it is “game over.” But I must admit, it is the last thing you think about, exploring the temple.

Naga meets us. She is very well preserved. This is a mythical colubrine creation in Buddhism and Hinduism which symbolizes wisdom. They are everywhere here. I don’t like snakes, not to speak for Irina, so I hope, we won’t meet their live incarnations.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.
Naga meets us

Amazing galleries frame Beng Mealea along the perimeter. It used to be the city center, encircled with a ditch. This information came from the local boys. They say it was a library with water around it. Wise snakes, a guarded library – it’s so interesting.

The library of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.
The library of the Beng Mealea temple
The Beng Mealea temple. Angkor Archaeological Park. Siem Reap Province of Cambodia.
The lion sat in this place 800 years ago and defended the entrance to the temple.
Inside of the Beng Mealea temple. Cambodia.
The trees are an integral part of the temple charm, but they are slowly destroying the building.

The dawn. The sounds of the jungle break the silence over and over again. Seems like Kaa is almost ready to start his hypnotic dance in front of Bandar-logs and Mowgli. We and the local boys will play the role of the Bandar-logs. Some say that Rudyard Kipling once visited the “Lotus Pond” and took the Beng Mealea temple as a prototype of the “Lost City” for the stories about Mowgli.

The sun has risen. We have succeeded in enjoying this ancient temple before the arrival of the tourist buses. You want to be with such a wonder alone.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

It is possible that the magic of the Beng Mealea temple is in the fact that it was found in 1990! No one knows the history of this temple for sure, and the date of the building can be presumably be defined by the architectural style, similar to Angkor Wat. Some investigators think Beng Mealea was built during the reign of King Suryavarman II at the beginning of 12th century and was devoted to the god Vishnu.

It is definitely a Hindu temple, although there are some bas-reliefs depicting Buddhist scenes. Another version says that Beng Mealea was the first town-temple which Khmer kings tried to reproduce in all the Angkor temples. One more interesting fact: even the builders of Angkor Wat failed to duplicate the wonderful bas-reliefs of Beng Mealea.

Inside of the Beng Mealea temple. Cambodia.
Just imagine “the raging sea of milk, and Vishnu transported by the god-bird Garuda.”

Regal Angkor Wat is completely different. It is also encircled by a deep moat filled with water still today. As the legend says, crocodiles were kept there in ancient times, and such a defense was even more effective than the widest moat. There are five high towers inside the most famous temple complex of Cambodia: four on each side and the highest in the center. They are called by the Thai word “Prangs.” A curious collision: the Thai word and the Cambodian temple. It’s not a secret that the neighbors spent hundreds of years in conflicts, and these places once belonged to the Thais. Thai monks still love and honor this temple considering it as their own. So, don’t be surprised to see a big maquette of Cambodian Angkor Wat in Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

Angkor Wat. Cambodia.
One of the Prangs of Angkor Wat
Apsaras in Angkor Wat. Cambodia.
Apsaras in Angkor Wat

It is amazingly beautiful inside Angkor Wat, but too groomed. However, Apsaras are all around, one more beautiful than another.

You can reach the towers by steep ladders with extremely high rungs, so exorbitant for the short Cambodians. But no matter how high those rungs were, we were climbing higher and higher with a flutter and wonder in the hearts.

The knowledge of architectural laws, and the genius of engineering ideas of the architects who created the temple complexes in Cambodia boggle the mind. The skill involved in creating the stone works, impossibly sophisticated pictures and scenes in the temples Bayon and Banteay Srei (we visited it later) – it’s hard to believe that all these have been built by ancestors of the present Cambodians.

The Temples of Cambodia, for centuries lost among the jungles, are charged with huge energetic power. The dawns and sunsets in these ruins attract tourists like a magnet. If you are able to abstract away from the crowd, you will enjoy the magnificent sight.

You are in a sacred place, time seems to stop, and you feel like there is no money, no exchanges, no politics, and no wars in the whole world. Only you and eternity.

Ruins of the Beng Mealea temple. Siem Reap Province. Cambodia.

More about Cambodia:

Cambodian Siem Reap – Temple Klondike
Banteay Srey: Genuine Woman of Cambodia
Bayon: The Most Mystical Khmer Temple of Cambodia


33 thoughts on “Temples of Cambodia: Angkor Wat or Beng Mealea?

  1. Great post Victor! I only had a couple of days, so we focused on Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom including Bayon, and Ta Prohm. The others are good, but if you need to focus, that’s where I’d suggest.

    If interested, I just posted about my experiences with a captioned photo driven post of the incredible temples – you can see a comparison of the experiences in Angkor Wat and the “tomb raider” temple of Ta Prohm.


  2. Wow! You have really caught the mystery of these places- very atmospheric. I’m really pleased you followed my blog recently, and have come across your travel stories and images 🙂


  3. I had the opportunity to visit Cambodia and for some reason I didn’t seize the moment, I was travelling in Thailand a few years ago, and went to Laos, and would have been a very easy transition over to Cambodia. I would love to go and also visit Vietnam, these photos are great!


  4. Oh yes please. This post is excellent and your photos really sum up the details of the history and culture of Cambodia. I went to Vietnam a couple of years ago but I didn’t manage to go “next door” as I went to Bangkok instead, but I do so want to. Next time!


  5. Love your blogs & appreciate photos. I was in Cambodia & visited the temples. It is definately on the top of my list of places to be seen. I was there over the Christmas Holidays which made it very nice weather wise & the citizens honored us by decorating for Christmas.


  6. Beautiful pictures of Beng Mealea! I’ve seen pictures of that temple in black and white and other photographic styles. But I must say yours are some of the most appealing that I’ve ever seen. Hopefully the temple can stand long enough before all the trees engulf it.


  7. What an adventure! I hope to visit there one day – it’s on my list – but you do make an excellent point about being physically capable to climb and explore the ruins. Especially since it’s probably quite hot as well. I will definitely share this on Twitter today!


      1. Oh of course. I visited them in Ankor Wat for a week, some in Battanbang, and a few in other small areas. So many in fact that I don’t remember all their names. But I believe I missed this one, because it does not look that familiar. But I plan on going back at some point.


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