We set out early this morning for Beng Mealea, a temple from the Angkor Wat period of Khmer history located about 70 kilometers (a two hour drive) away from the heart of Siem Reap. Interestingly, historians and archeologists know very little about this temple, dating it to the 12th century only based on the architectural style. They think that it was primarily a Hindu temple devoted to the worship of Vishnu, although there are a lot of Buddhist themes present. Either way, it is still one of the “lesser known” temples (despite the Chinese tour buses which showed up a couple minutes after we did) and one heck of a tuk tuk ride to get to. Fortunately, our tuk tuk driver Mr. Pha was really nice about making the trek all the way out there with us.
Honestly, I think tuk tuk was the way to go, because although it was slower, we got a really great view of the rural Cambodian landscape and many of the villages along the way, which I don’t know we would have had time to appreciate had we zoomed by in a car. For most of the way, I sadly wasn’t able to have the camera out as I worried about dust and potential debris getting into it (and the ride was fairly bumpy, so getting a stable shot would have been difficult to do). The houses all seem to be on stilts, and the level of poverty in most places we saw (not really pictured here, as these were close to the big cities since the roads were paved and much smoother) was about what you would expect- we could see in the wooden structures to note several bed frames or bare mattresses in the same room, often with people gathered in the area under the stilts cooking or eating. The traffic on the road seems primarily to be made up of motorcyclists and people driving tractors with fruit, hay, or wood to the different small market places along the roadside. We passed one amazing home which had a huge fire pit and custom wok on top also.
We noticed some beautiful Wats on the way, decorated with the same lavish painting styles that we saw during our walk through town. We also saw many water buffaloes and, interestingly, many signs denoting the water wells which have been donated by various funds to provide clean water to the small, rural communities (I always wondered whether there was a happy reality to those campaigns). Many young children smiled up at our tuk tuk and said “Hello” as well, which was nice.
The countryside is filled with red clay, which seems to cover just about everything (including both of our shirts from the spray and dust as other cars or trucks would pass us). By the time we got home, we were both visibly covered in dust. I wish that we had been able to stop along the way- I saw some beautiful fabrics which both men and women wore as leg coverings and amazing fruit displays when we passed by homes and small communities. However, the ride is admittedly very long and we wanted to be sure to arrive before the temple got too hot to appreciate.
This temple fortunately has been relatively cleared of land mines, so they let visitors pretty much climb or otherwise interact with the rubble freely (fortunately, most of the ornate or otherwise priceless pieces have made it into the Angkor National Museum and are safe from visitors’ touch). Essentially, the temple is divided into different chambers, much like Angkor Wat (I think- we finally go there tomorrow). You are able to essentially walk through and see the majority of the remaining structure, and can even go through a pretty poorly lit tunnel inside one of the buildings. Like many of the temples, the rock has been overtaken with trees in the centuries interceding human interaction, which furthers the kind of mystical appeal.
Also, several of the beautiful carvings remain, and you can catch glimpses of them if you look hard enough, which is pretty interesting as well (some of the bigger pieces are on display, also).
Overall, walking through this temple took far less time than the commute, but it was beautiful nonetheless and I think the drive was definitely worth the extra time spent. Lunch was nothing to write about, we just ate back at the hotel since we were hungry after the long morning. Depending on where we go for dinner, I may update with more food pictures!
One thought on “Beng Mealea Temple & Rural Cambodia”
Are you going to visit the very large ANKOR WAT = I am surprised you have not been there yet. These are all wonderful sites you have seen so far.