Having visited the “Big Hitters” the first day I was unsure of what to expect for my second day of temple hopping.
I was continually surprised during my time at Angkor that I was not feeling temple fatigued in the least as each ruin is so vastly different from the last that it is impossible to feel bored. Pre Rup was my first stop, a unique looking temple due to its pyramid shaped temple mountain with 3 tiers carrying lotus flowers.
A few ruins later, Joy, my guide suggested we make the trip out to Banteay Srei but that it would cost me a few extra dollars. Supposed to be “the crown jewel of Angkorian Art” according to the guidebook, I didn’t want to miss Banteay Srei. While its carvings might be very pristine, the site was one of the smallest at Angkor and personally I found it to be underwhelming.
A few smaller temples later and I finished the day by heading back to Angkor Wat in hopes of a sunset. Depsite the heavy cloud cover and zero chance of a setting sun, Angkor Wat was crawling with people. I had someone snap the characteristic “me infront of Angkor” shot and left everyone behind and headed back.
While I may not have gotten temple fatigue, I certainly became vendor fatigued. Just about every entrance to the temples was a line of drink stands or overpriced restaurants with aggressive sales ladies letting loose their characteristic wine of “cold drinkkkkkkk”. I understand that it is difficult to make a living in a poverty stricken country such as Cambodia but after the 100th time my patience was wearing thin. Along with the sales ladies were the guidebook salesman often inside the ruins peddling guidebooks for sale and these minor annoyances really helped to take away any Indiana Jones fantasy many people think of when the name Angkor is mentioned.
While the temples certainly are interesting, the hassle from the Thai border plus the mass tourism feel in Siem Reap and around the temples, really tainted my Angkor experience. It seemed as though my pessimistic beliefs surrounding the world’s great monuments was holding true.
George and Maddie, friends of mine who had just recently passed through about a week ahead of me, had sent me a very interesting email on what they would recommend I do with my time at Angkor. What caught my eye was the last part of the message that read “our best piece of advice: go to beng mealea!!!!” I’d never heard of the place but when I asked Joy about it he described a temple complex an hour and a half away deep in the jungle in a very unrestored state. The price for the journey was steep costing me 40$ return trip which I knew was going to kill me to pay but my curiosity was already running wild and I trusted the recommendation. We would start the trip out to Beng Mealea at 5am the following morning.
I overslept but of course Joy was patiently waiting with a huge smile on his face and I jumped onto his moto to make the 1.5 hour trip out. A short walk along a forested path brought me to the main entrance to the monstrous temple, only recognizable due to the two guides having a cigarette infront. I entered alone at first but after becoming 100 percent sure I was going to end up lost I exited and asking one of the guides come along.
Beng Melea is unlike any other temple at Angkor for the jungle has completely overcome the ruins and there is no sign of it being trimmed back yet unlike Ta Prom. Just to get around I found myself crawling over large piles of rubble and dropping down into small corridors with hanging vines. Its carvings are tucked away in the ruins and without the guide I would have walked right past the majority. The only thing out of place was the wooden walkway located in the center which was constructed for the filming of Two Brothers (a major film about two tigers).
The temple is massive and after paying my guide a few dollars I re-entered alone and spent the next few hours climbing the rubble and exploring things at my own pace. Covered in sweat and a lot of dead ends later I emerged and was sure that Beng Melea was the Angkor I had come to see.