Beng Mealea is a little off the beaten track. It is roughly an hour’s tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap but it is definitely worth the travel to get there. I paid $50 to ensure Braus, my driver, stayed with me for the entirety of the day and this included taking me to the temple complex and back and then to Siem Reap so I could grab a bit to eat. I probably could have haggled this price down but in the end I didn’t think it was worth it to save an extra $10 or so. Doing the journey to Beng Mealea by tuk tuk can be an experience in itself as you head down myriad uneven dirt roads which, at times, can have you hanging on for dear life!
On your journey out you will catch a glimpse of how everyday Cambodians live their lives as you pass through local markets off the tourist radar and observe how simply these friendly folk exist on a daily basis. You’ll pass hundreds of traditional wooden Khmer houses built on stilts to protect against annual flooding and each simple structure is unique in its own special way. More sturdy brick and mortar buildings are few and far between.
As Beng Mealea is a little farther from the main temple complexes it is also less tourist heavy. You can wander around at your leisure and find many areas of the complex that are completely tourist free – something that is difficult to do around the more popular temples. You do not need to have the Angkor Temples Pass to visit Beng Mealea but there is an additional entry fee of $5 – this, I can tell you, is an absolute bargain for what you will see.
The complex is semi-ruined and has been partially reclaimed by the jungle making it quite a bit like Ta Prohm but without the overwhelming tourist masses. If you are travelling alone you can pick up a guide who will take you around the site, show you areas for the best photo opportunities and snap some shots of you. Before they leave you they will ask for a small tip as a thank you for their services.
A certain level of fitness is required to get the most out of your visit as there are a lot of steps to climb to achieve some of the better panoramic views of the site. If you want to visit some of the more hidden nooks and crannies then you will have to clamber over stacks of loose rubble which can be dangerous so be careful and pay attention to your footing to avoid injury. If you visit during the summer months, traversing these obstacles in the often oppressive Cambodian heat can sap your energy quickly. Make sure you take snacks and bottled water with you if you plan to stay for a long stretch, or pick something up from the vendors situated just outside the entrance.
Beng Mealea was the first temple I visited in Cambodia and its sights captivated my imagination from the off. I must have made at least half a dozen laps of the complex snapping photos and spotting intriguing details I’d missed the last time I’d looped around. Beng Mealea was easily my favourite temple complex in Cambodia and I’d highly recommend the journey out to it, even if it can be slightly uncomfortable at times! As trips to the site are becoming more popular all the time, I’d also suggest you make the most of the place’s obscure status while you can!