Constructed: Early 11th century C.E.
King: Suryavarman II
Style: Angkor Wat
Time needed for visit: at least one hour (for the temple itself)
Beng Mealea is 63 km east of Siem Reap. It's a one 1 1/2 hours drive by car on a new road, which is in good condition.
Best time to visit: Anytime, as the temple is largely overgrown by jungle vegetation.
Beng Mealea (the name means "lotus pond") is a sprawling jungle temple covering over one square kilometer. The temple is largely overrun by vegetation and very lightely touristed, giving it an adventurous, "lost in the jungle" feel. Photographers: trees growing from the broken towers and galleries offer some of the best "tree in temple" shots aside from Ta Prohm. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style under the same king who built Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea preceded and may have served as a prototype of sorts for Angkor Wat. Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse. When the temple was active, the walls may have been covered, painted or had frescos. In its time, Beng Mealea was at the crossroads of several major highways that ran to Angkor, Koh Ker, Preah Vihear (in northern Cambodia) and via Preah Khan of Kompong Svay to northern Vietnam. Regular admission ticket are not required but there is a seperate US$ 5 entrance fee. Due to its jungle situation, it's often hard to overview the temple's geometrical structure. View the drawing by Louis Delaporte to understand the concentric system with three galleries:
The huge Beng Mealea complex includes three galleried enclosure walls around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with "cruciform cloisters" like Angkor Wat. Beng Mealea was mostly built of sandstone. The temple is only 7 km far from the Angkorian sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen. Sandstone blocks used for Angkor were transported along artificial water canals and passed from here.