Nestled in the jungles of Angkor Wat lies Beng Melea a sprawling temple covering over one square kilometer. This temple is hidden away and not very touristy, giving it an adventurous, ‘lost temple’ feel. Luckily for us our “guide” or rather tuc-tuc driver knew where we could see the best temples even if they weren’t on the tour map.
We really appreciated the services of our local guide, and by the end of the visit we were very happy to pay extra for being taken around the tortuous route. This involved squeezing through the thick forest, clambering through small spaces, over fallen rocks and even being guided along fallen roof tops.
There are trees growing from the broken towers and crawling over the fallen walls and statues scattered around. The galleries offer some of the best ‘tree in temple’ shots aside from Ta Prohm which was used in the Tomb Raider. The most damage was done by the wear and tear of eight and a half centuries in a tropical climate, with the spread of vegetation, including the silk-cotton tree and strangler fig, going to work on some ambitious vaulting which was being tried out here and at Angkor Wat for the first time.
Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse, probably the main reason this temple is not part of the usual tourist path.
Beng Meleais largely unrestored and for years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the out of way site.
The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style which is identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Whoever built it must have been a figure of some importance, but he remains unknown, as no inscriptions have been found here, and no other that mentions it.