Beng Mealea is probably the coolest temple I saw in Cambodia and it’s not even in the Angkor Temple complex. It is located 75 km outside of Siem Reap. Beng Mealea is a 12th century temple with the exact same floor plan as Angkor Wat, though it has not stood the test of time as well as Angkor Wat. The jungle has made it’s way throughout the temple. That’s what makes this so cool to visit. You feel like Indiana Jones.
I opted to visit Beng Mealea early. Really early-I left Siem Reap at 5:30 am on a motorbike with a driver. Prices are ridiculously expensive here-I shopped around for a while and the cheapest I could find was $17 for a round trip. Most drivers were demanding $35 for round trip fare. The motorbike and tuk tuk drivers corner the market here because foreigners are not allowed to rent motorbikes in Siem Reap-therefore you need a driver. Yuck.
We arrived at Beng Mealea at 7:00 am-bright and early! Admission is $5.00 as the Angkor ticket DOES NOT include Beng Mealea. I was the first tourist to arrive and I explored the giant temple on my own. Unlike most of the other temples at Angkor, Beng Mealea has not had much renovation. Because of this, navigating your way through the temple consists of climbing over large chunks of sandstone that litter the area. Trees are intertwined through the rocks and plants grow everywhere. If you enjoy Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider Temple) in the Angkor complex, Beng Mealea will take your breath away. I felt like a kid in a huge playground.
Although I was the only tourist at the temple, I wasn’t the only person in the area. Many local kids were playing in the ruins. They were playing games of hide-and-seek and tag. I wish I had this sort of playground when I was growing up. It’s not very safe, but the ambience is unrivaled.
Tourists started arriving in mass at around 8:30 am. A giant tour bus full of Korean tourists were the first ones to hit the temple and instantly the atmosphere changed. Seeing more of an opportunity for money, all the locals (and local kids) suddenly turned into tour guides who would take you around the temple for a small fee. If you want to get a really great experience at Beng Mealea, arrive before 7:30 am!
If you make it all the way to Siem Reap, try to stay a few of days instead of trying to do the Temples of Angkor in one action-packed day. If you spread out your time, you can see some really amazing things in the countryside. Beng Mealea is definitely worth visiting if your schedule permits!