Beng Mealea, as we call it today, remains shrouded in mystery. Despite its large size, it’s not mentioned in any of the Khmer Empire’s inscriptions. Therefore, we don’t know when it was built, or by whom. The temple has been left unrestored, with parts of it having merged with the jungle. All of these enigmatic factors combined make this one of Cambodia’s most intriguing temples.

Within this article, you will find all the information you need to prepare for your visit to this lost temple in the middle of nowhere from best time to visit, where to stay, or its history.

Let’s check it out.

Overview of Beng Mealea Temple

A spectacular sight to behold, Beng Mealea, located about 68km northeast of Siem Reap, is one of the most mysterious temples at Angkor, as nature has well and truly run riot. Exploring this Titanic of temples, built to the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, is the ultimate Indiana Jones experience. Built in the 12th century under Suryavarman II, Beng Mealea is enclosed by a massive moat measuring 1.2km by 900m.

The temple used to be utterly consumed by jungle, but some of the dense foliage has been cut back and cleaned up in recent years. Entering from the south, visitors wend their way over piles of finely chiselled sandstone blocks, through long, dark chambers and between hanging vines.

The central tower has completely collapsed, but hidden away among the rubble and foliage are several impressive carvings, including a small but striking rendition of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, as well as a well-preserved library in the northeastern quadrant. The temple is a special place and it is worth taking the time to explore it thoroughly.

The large wooden walkway to and around the centre was originally constructed for the filming of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers (2004), set in 1920s French Indochina and starring two tiger cubs.

Beng Mealea has a large baray to the east and some atmospheric satellite temples such as Prasat Chrey. Apsara Authority has plans to reflood the ancient baray, as they did earlier with Jayatataka (Northern Baray), surrounding Neak Poan temple.

There are several stop-and-dip food stalls (dishes US$2 to US$4) opposite the temple entrance. Run by friendly, English-speaking Sreymom, the Sreymom Beng Mealea Homestay is just a short walk away from Beng Mealea. The overnight rates include all home-cooked meals. It is also possible to prearrange lunch here, even if you don't stay overnight.

It costs US$5 to visit Beng Mealea and there are additional small charges for transport, so make sure you work out in advance with the driver or guide who is paying for these. Beng Mealea is about 40km east of Bayon (as the crow flies) and 6.5km southeast of Phnom Kulen. By road it is about 68km (one hour by car, longer by moto or remork) from Siem Reap.

The shortest route is via the junction town of Dam Dek, located on NH6 about 37km from Siem Reap in the direction of Phnom Penh. Turn north immediately after the market and continue on this road for 31km. The entrance to the temple lies just beyond the left-hand turn to Koh Ker. Allow a half day to visit, including the journey time from Siem Reap or combine it with Koh Ker in a long day trip best undertaken by car or 4WD.

Beng Mealea is at the centre of an ancient Angkorian road connecting Angkor Thom and Preah Khan (Prasat Bakan) in Preah Vihear Province, now evocatively numbered Rte 66. A small Angkorian bridge just west of Chau Srei Vibol temple is the only remaining trace of the old Angkorian road between Beng Mealea and Angkor Thom; between Beng Mealea and Preah Khan there are at least 10 bridges abandoned in the forest. This is a way for extreme adventurers to get to Preah Khan temple, but do not undertake this journey lightly.

Below is the glimpse of Beng Mealea Temple in 360o viewing:

Planning your visit to Beng Mealea Temple

Temple Facts

  • Date: Early 12th Century
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Built By: Suryavarman II
  • Dedicated To: Vishnu
  • Style: Angkor Wat
  • Best Time to Visit: Anytime
  • Length of Visit: 1 - 3 Hours
  • Temple Pass: Angkor Pass Required (included in the pass to the whole Angkor Complex)

Location and getting there

The temple is around 70km from Siem Reap. For years the temple was difficult to access due to the condition of the roads, but now it is a relatively easy journey. A private taxi takes around 1 hour 30 minutes from Siem Reap, and, with a 2 hour wait at the temple should cost between 45-55USD for a return journey.

Requesting the driver to take the small roads, away from National Route 6 also gives a lovely quiet drive through Cambodian countryside. It is also possible to take a tuk tuk for a Beng Mealea tour however this can take an extra 30 minutes/hour without a particular saving on cost and a definite difference in comfort!

Nearby places of interest

If you have the whole day to explore some of the more remote Angkorian sites, then you may want to combine a visit to Beng Mealea with a drive up to Koh Ker, or to Kulen Mountain. Another alternative is to return from Beng Mealea via National Route 6 and stop off at the Roluos group of temples on the way back to Siem Reap.

Entrance fee

Since January 1st 2020, Beng Mealea is included in the admission pass for Angkor Archaeological Park. There are also clean toilets just beside the ticket office – the site itself does not have any dedicated toilets.

Beng Mealea tour guides

There are some official, and some unofficial tour guides who base themselves at the temple. You may find some of the enterprising local children keen to become involved as well. As little is known about the history of the temple, and there are few complicated friezes, a guide may not add as much to the experience as at some of the other Angkorian temples.

Restaurants

There are a few small restaurants serving Khmer food outside the entrance to the temple. These are somewhat overpriced for the standard of food offered, but you pay for the convenience as there is nowhere else to buy food in the area. While some visitors may prefer to travel back to Siem Reap for lunch, there is also something to be said for supporting the local  economy surrounding the temple and stopping for an iced coffee or some bai chas (fried rice) before making the return journey.

Where to stay

You will not find many places to stay around Beng Mealea, but at the nearest town in Svay Leu, you will find some local guest houses. You may also find some home stays in the area.

Most guests will make a day trip to Beng Mealea and find accommodation in Siem Reap.

Some visitors may combine this with a trip to Koh Ker or Preah Vihear temple in the next province. In the provincial town of Preah Vihear, you will find many places to stay.

Best time to visit

The temple can be visited at any time of day, but the busiest time is between 9am and 11am, especially between November and February, so those looking for a more peaceful experience may want to avoid those times. A Beng Mealea tour is best timed at sunrise and the two hours after, when the light is magical, the birds are stirring, and the site virtually deserted.

Why Visit Beng Mealea?

Beng Mealea temple, also known as the “lotus pond” is a great temple to visit. It’s far enough away from town to deter most visitors, but close enough that it can be easily reached.

The lack of visitors makes for a great morning of exploring the temple in relative peace and quiet. This also means that you can get some great photos if you’re into photography.

The thick jungle helps to keep the temple nice and cool, even in the hot season.

The wide-open spaces around the temple are also great to sit back and relax. This is especially great if you are with young kids as they can run around, and you can easily keep an eye on them from a distance.

History of Beng Mealea

Little is known about the history of the temple and the attraction of a visit really lies in the atmosphere of mystery and exploration, rather than the historical and architectural intricacies of some of the other Angkorian sites. 

As a Hindu temple, it is thought to have been constructed around the same time as Angkor Wat. Due to its similarity in structure to Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea is thought to have been a prototype for the great temple. 

It is a large site, facing the east, and encircled by a wide moat. It is built of sandstone, although the carving is simple and limited to certain areas. These may be lintels, platforms or cornices decorated with a single frieze – much more understated than the imposing faces of Bayon, or the elaborate craftsmanship on display at Banteay Srei

In addition, many of these ornate features are found strewn across the temple floor where walls and columns have collapsed. This in some way can add to their charm as visitors may literally stumble upon them while exploring the temple.

The temple was likely the center of a town, and it lies on the ancient royal highway which leads to Preah Khan, in Preah Vihear province. The site was cleared of landmines in the last decade so has only recently become a viable tourist attraction.

Rediscovery

Beng Mealea was rediscovered in the late 19th century by French explorers.

During the Khmer Rouge era and the civil war which followed, Beng Mealea would have been a dangerous place to visit. It was part of the Khmer Rouge stronghold for many years.

Nowadays, the road is safe and the area in and around the temple has been fully demined. Although little work has been done on restoring the temple, it has been made safe for visitors.

The site was added to UNESCO’s tentative world heritage list in 1992.

Layout and Design

Beng Mealea was built in the style of Angkor Wat. For this reason, historians assume that it was built at the same time.

The temple is smaller than Angkor Wat, but follows nearly exactly the same style. However, Beng Mealea was still one of the larger temples built during the Angkor period. The outer enclosure measures 152 by 181 metres and the moat is 875m by 1025m.

The temple is oriented to the east, but there are entrances on all four sides.

There are three enclosing galleries which surround a sanctuary in the middle. This has long since collapsed, but it’s the ruins which add to the charm of this once-great temple.

There are also libraries which contain extensive carvings which show Hindu myths such as the Churning of the Sea of Milk and other stories.

Leading to the temple, there are long causeways which have the seven-headed Naga along each side.

Beng Mealea map

The temple can be a little confusing to explore due to its dilapidated state. There are three galleries which enclose a central sanctuary. Structures referred to as libraries are found on the right and left of the main causeway.

The picture on the left depicts a floor map of the temple, based on a drawing by Léon de Beylié, one of the early Western visitors of the Angkorian temples in the early 20th century. The red line shows the wooden walkway, used to visit the temple.

Beng Mealea Temple Tours

Beng Mealea is perfect for a day trip. If you are into cycling and fit enough to make the 130km journey to the temple and back, this can be a popular tour option.

Most visitors will take a taxi to Beng Mealea and combine this with a trip to Koh Ker temple or Preah Vihear temple.

If you don’t want to take the extra journey to these “remote” temples, then you might want to combine it with a trip to the floating villages.

Finally, if you have an Angkor Temple Pass, you might want to see Banteay Samre or stop for the sunset at Srah Srang on the way back to town.

Visiting Beng Mealea Temple

Though the temple was built facing east like most Khmer temples, visitors today must enter from the south. Approaching the temple, you’ll encounter a long naga balustrade. As with many Khmer temples, there were four of these coming out of each side of the temple. Around 500 meters east of the temple was a baray, or artificial reservoir, that has long since dried up.

Along the balustrade, you’ll find some seven-headed naga statues, one of which is in especially pristine condition. It’s so detailed and well-preserved, in fact, that it even looks like a modern replica. But it’s just as old as the temple, having long been buried underground until it was discovered in 2009. That kept it safe from the elements, as well as looters.

Approaching the temple, visitors are first greeted with a large pile of bricks in front of an ancient entrance gate. While these gates were typically built to connect walls, no traces of the outermost enclosure exists, leading experts to conclude that it was probably made of wood.

Obviously, this gate can’t be entered, so you’ll want to make your way to the southeastern portion of the temple where you’ll find the beginning of the elevated walkway.

As with all Khmer temples, Beng Mealea features a plenty of lintel and pediment carvings, though there are likely a lot more waiting to be discovered beneath the rubble. You’ll find common scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk‘ and Krishna lifting up Mt. Govardhana. There’s even a rare depiction of Yama, the god of death, on his rhinoceros. And some of the more elaborate scenes depict the ordeals of Sita, Rama’s wife in the Ramayana epic.

While it’s not exactly clear which, some scholars believe that certain carvings at Beng Mealea are Buddhist in nature. Could these have been added later, or were they part of the original temple? The case of the latter may indicate that Beng Mealea was built sometime after Angkor Wat. It could’ve been one of the few temples commissioned by Dharanindravarman II, father of the legendary ruler, and staunch Buddhist, Jayavarman VII. Dharanindravarman II himself was Buddhist but didn’t attempt to radically change the very core of Angkorian religion (and architecture) as his son would.

As you walk down the wooden walkway, take a few moments to take in the serenity of the atmosphere. That is, if you’re lucky enough to get there in between tour groups. While Beng Mealea has long been touted for its “romanticism” and isolation, the temple is far from secret nowadays.

Of the major temples outside of Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park, this one is the closest. Its proximity to Angkor, unfortunately, has led it to become a regular stop for large and noisy tour groups. While the pictures don’t show it, I had to contend for space along the narrow walkways with two large groups during my visit. On the bright side, there were plenty of things to look at as I waited patiently for people to finish up their selfies.

While much of it’s in total ruin, Beng Mealea shares a few noticeable features in common with the Angkor Wat style of architecture. As mentioned above, the floor plans were strikingly similar. But you’ll also notice things like the baluster windows which greatly resemble those of Angkor Wat’s galleries and hallways.

The pre-determined path also allows visitors to walk through one the temples darkened hallways. There are no detailed bas-relief carvings here or at any other part of the temple, however.

Just like at Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea also had a couple of ‘libraries.’ These were free-standing structures within temple complexes whose true function are up for debate. They may have housed old manuscripts, similar to the ho trai of Buddhist temples in Thailand, for example. Or, they may have been used to house special rituals distinct from those held in the prasat sanctuaries, such as worship of the planetary deities or of Agni, the fire god.

Speaking of Beng Mealea’s central sanctuary, it’s currently nothing but a big pile of stone. It was likely destroyed deliberately by looters. One wonders, then, what prestigious museums around the world might be in possession of those sculptures? Maybe one day we’ll learn more about this temple after its central idol gets identified. Or perhaps not.

Heading back through the dark hallway, you’ll likely come across some other vantage points that you haven’t seen yet. While the wooden walkway may limit your ability for free exploration, it does have a plus side (aside from keeping you safe, of course). At some points, the walkway’s height gives visitors an overhead view that simply isn’t available at other temples in Angkor. It’s almost like getting to see the temple ruins through the eyes of a drone, which makes visiting Beng Mealea a completely unique experience.

Exiting the temple, you can discover a few more things by walking around the perimeter. The southeast corner of the temple contains a prasat, seemingly the only one still remaining. According to the old sketches by 19th-century explorer Louis Delaporte, Beng Mealea once contained up to 11 prasats.

Though it stands atop a pile of rubble, you can still clearly see its intricate apsara decorations which adorn each corner. As they’re similar in style to those of Angkor Wat, the apsara carvings are another feature that have led archaeologists to link the two temples. Unfortunately, though, some of the apsaras have been damaged by looters just recently.

Walking a little further, you’ll see yet another naga balustrade and even a small part of the original moat that once surrounded the temple. Originally, Beng Mealea would’ve had a functioning city based around the central temple. The area within the moat, then, would’ve once been a lively scene of outdoor markets and residents going about their daily lives. 

The old wooden houses of these former residents, of course, are no longer with us. And their chatter has since been replaced by the shouting of tour group leaders. But in those occasional moments of relative silence, at least, Beng Mealea is the perfect place to listen to the sounds of the jungle as you let your imagination wander.

Beng Mealea Photos

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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