Built in the 12th century, the layout and style of Beng Mealea is very similar to Angkor Vat. Its current state, however, is dominated by the jungle: Trees have grown out of towers and vines entangle columns. Lintels and other building blocks lay around in a tumble and require visitors to climb up and down as they approach the completely collapsed central tower. This is how the early expeditions must have found the temples of Angkor…
There is a wooden walkway towards the center of the temple. On the little circuit, a couple of beautiful carvings narrate scenes from the Ramayana (Sita in the fire to test her innocence) and the Churning of the Sea of Milk (gods and demons tugging on the snake, which is wrapped around the mountain, which in turn is supported by the turtle, an incarnation of Vishnu).
To explore the rest of the complex requires climbing up and down many piles of sandstone blocks. Enclosing the vast area of Beng Mealea is a moat, now partially dried up and used by water buffaloes, women washing clothes and other aspects of village life.
The long drive, at least two hours from Siemreap, and the fact that Beng Mealea is not included in the Angkor entrance ticket may be the reason that this place sees few people. The area has been demined and basic visitors’ facilities are in the process of being built.