Beng Melea – Cambodia’s Lost, Forgotten, and Abandoned Jungle Temple
Beng Melea, the temple known as the “Lotus Pond” in Cambodia, has no real claim to fame. Lost, forgotten, and abandoned, Beng Melea sits quietly in the jungle near Siem Reap. Meanwhile, the film Tomb Raider has given the nearby temple of Ta Prohm never-ending glory. With movie sets on-location in Cambodia’s most spectacular, ruinous, tree and vine encrusted jungle temple, Ta Prohm is a huge draw-card within the Angkor Wat archaeological park of Cambodia. Ta Prohm has the best trees, the most incredible ruins, and the greatest photo opportunities.
Only, it doesn’t. Those claims definitely belong to Beng Melea, which surely must be the most Tomb-Raider-ish ancient temple, anywhere on Earth.
Beng Melea is one of the biggest travel secrets in the world of temples.
Located only 80 kilometres away from Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat, east of Siem Reap, Beng Melea is hardly remote. And yet, it is unloved, and in comparison to other temples in the area, unvisited. If Beng Melea was located in Europe, thousands of tourists every single day would be lined up to view this wondrous, mysterious, centuries old structure. Left to decay and reclaimed by nature, temples don’t come any more atmospheric than this. However, In the three or four hours I spent wandering the enormous Beng Melea, I saw no other tourists. None. A posse of local kids, replete with home-made sling-shots, and a Cato-Fong-esque policeman, lurking in the shadows here and there, but that was it. The sling-shot-kids had simple instructions from mum – kill a bird, bring it home, I’ll cook it. This is real Cambodia.
Beng Melea, a temple of mixed Hindu and Buddhist design elements, was constructed in the 12th Century. Whilst not being the size of Angkor Wat, Beng Melea is indeed one of the larger Khmer temples ever built. Once the centre of a village, the surrounding moat is more than a thousand metres long. The decaying and crumbling Beng Melea is architecture on a grand scale.
With a semi-remote locale away from the main group of temples near Angkor Wat, until recently Beng Melea was difficult to reach. Now, with a sometimes rough and unsealed “road” nearby, even a friendly Siem Reap tuk tuk driver can bring you here. You may need to stop for an old Coke-bottles worth of gasoline on-route.
Beng Melea is the real deal.
Unlike other comparable temples such as Angkor Wat, and the Tomb Raider temple of Ta Prohm, Beng Melea has been almost completely left to nature. Hardly any trees have been removed. Enormous carved stones, formerly the walls and structural components of the temple, lie in huge piles, an archaeologists dream jigsaw puzzle. Still, much of the temple remains somewhat intact, even with towering walls being swallowed whole by roots and trees. Vines are entwined and piercing through the structure, looking for a resting place for the next millennia.
There are some truly hair-raising paths you can take, exploring the surrealistic Beng Melea. Dark, semi-collapsed tunnels and towering bridges made of nothing but the rubble of collapsed walls. Ironically, a single piece of this “rubble” would be at home inside any Museum on Earth. Once rigidly organised, Beng Melea has become a choose-your-own-ending maze of one fascinating sight after another. When nature has centuries to re-establish itself, the paths and rules that the designers once carefully drafted, are no longer relevant. If you want to clamber over ancient walls, Beng Melea is the place to do it.
Being the second time I had visited the Angkor Wat archaeological park in the last few years, I really noticed how much “cleaner” and organised Ta Prohm appeared. Still undeniably spectacular, but clearly in that sometimes awkward under-renovation phase. Beng Melea,on the other hand, remains the best temple for a genuinely atmospheric experience. If you’re lucky, you will have the place to yourself. Absurd, considering Beng Melea is a UNESCO protected World heritage monument. Beng Melea is the prime example of the truly unfathomable depth and scale of ancient ruins in the area around Angkor Wat.
The Best Way to Visit Beng Melea.
Getting to Beng Melea is easy. If you’re a regular reader of Yomadic, you won’t be surprised to hear me say, “I know a guy in Siem Reap”. Sovann, AKA “The Best Tuk Tuk Driver on Earth”, will take you to Beng Melea in his stylish Cambodian tuk-tuk. Contact me, via the comments below, or the contact page, and I will gladly give you Sovann’s details. If you have used Sovann’s services before, please leave a comment below, and tell me about your experience. The truth is, Sovann is actually Cambodia’s best kept tourist secret. Get yourself to Siem Reap, and Sovann will take care of the rest.
As European archaeologists likely remarked, upon rediscovering Beng Melea several centuries ago – holy crap. Probably, it was the more historically correct, sacrebleu. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm definitely capture the lions share of the glory in this part of the world. However, Beng Melea is the king. A sizeable temple, with unsurpassed moody photo opportunities, few (or no) tourists, and a palpable air of mystery, Beng Melea remains my favourite temple in Cambodia. Given my penchant for abandoned buildings, this may come as no surprise.
Although the silhouette of Angkor Wat at sunrise is the Cambodian temple image most people think of, Beng Melea is the real deal.
The quintessential lost, abandoned, and reclaimed temple that should be far, far, more popular than it is.
I hope you enjoy the photos, of Beng Melea.
Beng Melea (“Lotus Pond”) Temple
Location : A pleasant Tuk Tuk drive from Siem Reap, Cambodia, preferably with The Worlds Greatest Tuk Tuk Driver, Sovann.
Entry Fee : $5 US.
24 thoughts on “Beng Melea – Cambodia’s Lost, Forgotten, and Abandoned Jungle Temple”
Looks like a fascinating find. I must remember to save time in my life for temple exploring in Cambodia.
Totally Andrea, it’s a really interesting part of the world, and worth visiting. I’ve been twice, and want to go back again asap.
Love the photos – I didn’t even realise this place existed – gorgeous! x
Thanks Jen, yes, Beng Melea certainly exists ;)
Excellent well thought out, educational and humerus post Nate. Good to see and learn more about this side of places around Angkor!
Cheers Dave, you’re making me blush. But seriously, it is quite amazing how many other great places there are apart from Angkor Wat in this part of the world. I have heard about an even more intense place than Beng Melea, and hope to explore it one day.
Nate: I was in Beng Melea in 2007–it is surreal. I do belive that exterior shots for one of the adventure films tsarign Angelia Jolie was shot there. I too have a penchant for for old, abandoned building, and we did indeed crawl thru some of those places at Beng Malea.
As for Sovann–know him well. Where did you stay in Siem Reap, Seven Candles?
Hey Sharon….ok, apparently “Sovann” is a very popular name in Cambodia, I think I’m going to put a photo up of Sovann on this post, so we can confirm it’s the same person! Check back and confirm for me?
I can’t remember the name of where I stayed most recently in Siem Reap (don’t think I ever asked! haha). My first time visiting, I stayed at a “nice” hotel, “The Claremont”. I will have to email Sovann and get him to remind me what the name was, he chose the accommodation for me.
Great to meet a fellow old abandoned building fan, there will be plenty more to come around here!
You are so right. Sovann is a common name, and probably not the same guy. But mine is a tuk tuk driver of excellence as well.
Next time you are in Siem Reap, try the Seven Candles, great place to stay.
Let me know when you post the picture, and I will take a look.
You just never know. Weirder coincidences have happened! Cheers for the Seven Candles tip, and I’ll let you know when the pic is up.
Hey Nate. Great post! We certainly never ventured this far to visit any ruins!! Can just imagine we would have come home minus a 10 year old!!! And your Sovann is definitely a legend! He looked after us so well! I have handed his card to several backpackers I have met in Laos!
Thanks Tracey, so glad you and our family hooked up with Sovann. I have a feeling Sovann in going to be busy… two more sets of people heading his way in the next few weeks already. So glad to hear he looked after you, he really is an amazing person. Now you’re in Laos?…you guys are certainly getting around! Following your blog, it’s great reading.
This kind of temple is actually the one that I always look for every time I travel. Abandoned, quiet, mysterious, eerie. I think I’m going to love this place. I might ask for Sovann’s contact to you one day when I go back to Cambodia.
Excellent. Please do use the services of Sovann if you ever make it out to Siem Reap!
HI NATE..CAN I GET sovann’s e mail add? we are going to siem reap on May 12 to 15 we are a group of 4 adults and 2 children.. ages 12 and 9. can you please advise us also on where to go and where to eat. we will stay at the golden temple. thanks nate
I love exploring ruines and going back to the past. And temples have so much to say about a country’s culture and lifestyle. The amount of positive energy emitted by people as a sign of devotion must have been incredible! I would love to visit Cambodia- especially the Ankor Wat Vishnu Temple!
Great pics there!
May i have the contact details for Mr Sovann? Will certainly need his great guide for my coming adventure!
Beng Melea was phenomenal. I visited February 2013. Unfortunately, the “secret” is out and they have improved or are improving the main road to get to the temple, so when I was there, tour buses were arriving. Fortunately, these group tours only give folks about 30 minutes to see this place, so you take your time, go in the late afternoon or early morning, and you’ll have this place to yourself. I want to return during the rainy season to see the vegetation really take over this place.
Hey Peter, thanks for the update. Sounds like a different scene to the one I saw, but at least there is still a chance to have it all to yourself.
Great blog! May I please have the contact details for Sovann asap? Were currently in Siem Reap staying at the advisor Angkor villa. Thanks :)
Email sent, Emma!
Email sent Lea!
Hello, Nate, could you kindly send me the contact details for Mr Sovann? I’ll be going to Siem Reap early may this week :) Thanks a lot!
Hi Camila, apologies for the slow reply:
Contact details for Sovann are below. Let him know that “Mr Nate” from Australia, sent you.
The back story is, I once read that if you find a trustworthy, English speaking, tuk tuk driver, in Siem Reap – grab him and don’t let go! So, we (GF and I) have passed Sovann’s details on to a lot of people now, and every single person has been 100% grateful.
Sovann will drop you off, and pick you up when you need him, and always will charge a fair price (vert fair).
Any questions, fire away. Details for Sovann below.