Sunday, 14 April 2013

Beng Mealea, Cambodia

Beng Mealea is a largely unrestored temple ruin about 77km by road from Siem Reap. Built in the early 12th century, it is a thoroughly impressive structure, despite it's crumbling walls.                                                      

We left our hotel at 7:30am for the 2 hour tuk tuk ride to the temple. There are 2 routes you can take to BM. One is tarred roads all the way, the other is the "back way", 50% tar and 50% graded dirt. We chose the back way for the trip there and it was spectacular. The graded dirt roads took us through beautiful rural villages, past corn fields and rice paddies, and beautiful little villages shaded by banana trees and coconut palms. Many of these villages have been given assistance from various charitable organisations to get access to clean water and schools. It was fascinating to see what a difference good contributions can make to these untouristed communities.

CMAC have been clearing mines, UXOs and anti personnel munitions from all over Cambodia since the early 90s. The area around BM temple has seen over 1200 of these devices removed since 2003 and is now deemed safe. It serves as a grim reminder that despite the passage of time, the devastating effects of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation, are still being felt in Cambodia. It is estimated there are still more than 10 million devices left scattered throughout rural Cambodia, just waiting to create more casualties from a  conflict that spanned more than 20 years and has been over for nearly as long.

Following our 2 hour journey, Beng Mealea finally emerged from the surrounding vegetation, it's crumbling edifices covered in the roots and trees of the surrounding jungle. It was beautiful in all it's unrestored glory. This turned out to be perhaps my favourite Khmer temple so far. While Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm are unarguably spectacular, BM had a very "lost city" feel to it. There were far fewer tourists than at the major temples and you could easily get away from the ones that were there and lose yourself in the ruins of what must have once been a glorious structure.

We stayed off the path that has been built to lead tourists through the centre of the complex, instead clambering over rocks and crumbling sandstone to see the entire complex, like explorers discovering a hidden treasure.                                                                           

The whole day was one of my favourite Cambodian experiences so far. From the early morning tuk tuk ride, to my first glimpse of BM, to our stop for fresh steamed corn straight from the corn field and cooked on the side of the road, it was a wonderful day. 

Next stop Battambang and a chance to see my mother's new home and meet the amazing folks she works with. I totally fell in love with this town and the people I met there. Cambodia sure does get in your bones.  

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