Approximately 70km outside of Siem Reap lies Beng Melea, a medium size temple built along a similar floor plan to Angkor Wat. Unlike many of the other Angkor temples, Beng Melea (which apparently means “water flower”) has been almost completely subsumed by the jungle and very little recovery has taken place. As a result, almost the entire set of structures have collapsed, leaving only a few partially intact walls and a few corridors.
In spite of this, Beng Melea is an incredible experience for a number of reasons. First and foremost, since it is two hours by tuk tuk out of Siem Reap and is covered in jungle, it is NOT swarmed by tourists. In the hours I spent there I probably saw a total of less than twenty people, something that allowed me to explore and genuinely experience the place without the hubbub. As you will hear when I am able to upload some edited video, the raw sound of the jungle around you is mostly intact and this is quite an interesting background track to the exploration.
As you approach the temple in the jungle, you are greeted by a completely collapsed and impassible main gate. The path leads around to the side, where there is a small wooden staircase that allows access over the broken outer wall (apparently Beng Melea was once surrounded by huge moats, but there is little sign of this now). Once over the wall, you have the choice of entering the ruins immediately and clambering around or taking the walkway around some of the easier parts.
Of course I took the harder route, climbing through a few collapsed doorways and over rubble until I was blocked by a wall approximately head high. A two step start gave me the speed I needed to nail a wall run up to the top and a fantastic view, but unfortunately attracted the attention of one of the roving guide/guard/watcher types. He told me I needed to go back down and around another way, then proceeded to guide me around the ruin (very unobtrusively) for the next two hours to keep an eye on me. The upshot was that I got a very cool guide who led me on a merry climb, but the downside was that any time I tried something perhaps a bit dangerous I got chastised.
Fair enough, I certainly was being careful and could not imagine hurting this treasure, but I did want to have some fun! After that I limited the parkour to a few kong vaults and crane jumps onto ledges as well as various drops (and lots of balance work on the rubble). The guide thought the kong was “very good” and had me show him how to do it, though it’s somewhat silly when you’re doing it for fun.
In any case, I wandered around for a number of hours absorbing the experience of the ruined temple while avoiding giant bugs, spiders (including one as big as my hand), large red ants and flying beasties of all types (one wasp was only slightly smaller than my finger). This place was amazing and I’m so glad I saved it until the end as the few hours spent in Beng Melea made the entire trip to Cambodia worthwhile – this was the real Angkor experience. It’s sad that so many people miss it, but then it would be overcrowded just like the other temples and not nearly as surreal.
As always, some photos to tide you over (limited to 1600x1200 when you click on them) until I can get somewhere with a decent upload speed. If my third migraine in so many days passes before going full blown (have the auras right now) then I hope to edit some video from today and perhaps with enough tweaking and downsampling will be able to upload a bit tomorrow.