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Beng Mealea: The ‘other’ Ruins Of Angkor Wat


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Tamqrah Scarlett



Welcome to the enchanting world of Beng Mealea, the “other” ruins of Angkor Wat. While Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the most famous and visited temple complex in Cambodia, Beng Mealea remains a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by adventure seekers and history enthusiasts.


Situated about 40 kilometers east of the main Angkor area, Beng Mealea is a sprawling temple complex that dates back to the 12th century. It is often referred to as the “jungle temple” due to the dense jungle vegetation that surrounds and intertwines with its ancient stone structures.


Exploring Beng Mealea is like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie set. The site is shrouded in an air of mystery and adventure, with moss-covered ruins, fallen pillars, and mysterious passageways waiting to be explored. The temple’s state of captivating disarray is what sets it apart from the meticulously preserved temples of Angkor Wat.


Unlike the more popular temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, Beng Mealea is still relatively untouched by modern renovations and restorations. This gives visitors a unique opportunity to experience the temple in its raw and authentic state, as if traveling back in time to its original construction.


Not only does Beng Mealea offer a chance to immerse oneself in the past, but it also provides a glimpse into the architectural brilliance of the Khmer Empire. The temple’s layout and design resemble a microcosm of Angkor Wat, showcasing intricate carvings, towering galleries, and stunning courtyards.


Whether you are a seasoned traveler, an architecture enthusiast, or simply a curious adventurer, Beng Mealea promises a captivating and unforgettable experience. In this article, we will delve into the background, history, and allure of Beng Mealea, shedding light on its similarities and differences with Angkor Wat. Join us as we embark on a virtual journey to discover the hidden wonders of this mesmerizing jungle temple.


Background of Angkor Wat

Before we delve into the mystique of Beng Mealea, let’s first understand the significance of its more famous counterpart, Angkor Wat. Situated in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Built in the 12th century by the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. Over time, it transformed into a Buddhist temple, reflecting the shift in religious beliefs in the region.


The temple complex covers an area of approximately 162.6 hectares and comprises a series of intricate structures, including towers, pavilions, galleries, and moats. Its sprawling design and architectural magnificence represent the pinnacle of Khmer architecture and engineering.


Angkor Wat not only served as a religious site but also as the political and administrative center of the Khmer Empire. The complex’s grandeur and symbolism exemplify the power and wealth of the empire, which dominated Southeast Asia during its peak.


Despite experiencing periods of decline and abandonment, Angkor Wat remained a focal point of religious and cultural importance. In the early 20th century, restoration efforts began to preserve and showcase the temple’s ancient grandeur, making it a prominent tourist destination and a symbol of Cambodia’s rich heritage.


Today, millions of visitors flock to Angkor Wat every year to admire its breathtaking architecture, marvel at its intricate carvings, and experience the spiritual aura that permeates the site. However, the fame of Angkor Wat often overshadows the lesser-known but equally captivating Beng Mealea.


Now that we have set the stage, let’s venture deeper into the jungles of Cambodia to uncover the hidden wonders of Beng Mealea, the “other” ruins of Angkor Wat.


Discovery of Beng Mealea

The discovery of Beng Mealea is intertwined with the exploration of the Angkor region. In the mid-19th century, French explorers, led by naturalist Henri Mouhot, embarked on a journey to uncover the secrets of the Khmer Empire and its magnificent temples.


While Mouhot’s primary focus was on the iconic Angkor Wat, the tales of a hidden temple deep in the jungle piqued his curiosity. Local villagers and guides mentioned a mysterious temple known as Beng Mealea, but its exact location remained a mystery at the time.


It was not until the early 20th century that Beng Mealea was officially rediscovered by archaeologists. French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Chevance stumbled upon the temple in 1877 during his exploration of the Angkor region.


Beng Mealea’s remote location and dense vegetation made it a challenging site to access and study. Over the years, various archaeological teams attempted to document and excavate the temple, but progress was hindered by the dangerous and overgrown terrain.


It was not until the 1990s that major restoration efforts began at Beng Mealea, thanks to the joint efforts of the Cambodian government and international organizations. The temple’s rediscovery brought attention to its historical and cultural significance, gradually transforming it into a tourist destination.


Today, Beng Mealea stands as a testament to the determination and perseverance of archaeologists and conservationists who worked tirelessly to bring this hidden gem out of the shadows.


Next, let’s delve into the history of Beng Mealea and uncover the stories concealed within its ancient stone walls.


History of Beng Mealea

The history of Beng Mealea is intertwined with the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire. Though its exact origins are not well-documented, it is believed that the temple was constructed in the 12th century during the reign of King Suryavarman II, who also commissioned Angkor Wat.


Like Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu. Throughout its existence, the temple underwent various modifications and expansions under different rulers and religious influences.


Beng Mealea served not only as a religious complex but also as a focal point for political and social gatherings. It was believed to be a crucial link in the extensive network of temples and structures that formed the heart of the Khmer Empire.


However, as the empire declined and faced political instability, Beng Mealea, along with many other temples in the Angkor region, fell into disrepair and was abandoned. Over centuries, the jungle slowly overtook the temple, engulfing it in a dense and mystical landscape.


It was this abandonment and subsequent entwining with nature that gives Beng Mealea its unique charm. The temple remained hidden and largely unknown to the world for centuries, preserved in a state of captivating ruin.


Throughout its history, Beng Mealea underwent periods of neglect and looting, with valuable artifacts and sculptures being stolen or damaged. However, the temple’s inherent grandeur and architectural beauty still shine through, despite the passage of time and the ravages of nature.


Today, Beng Mealea’s historical significance and captivating allure continue to draw visitors from around the world. The temple stands as a testament to the ingenuity and artistic expression of the Khmer people, and a reminder of the intricate and complex civilization that once thrived in this region.


As we explore Beng Mealea further, let’s delve into its fascinating architecture and layout that mirrors the glory of the Khmer Empire.


Architecture and Layout of Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea exhibits a remarkable architectural design that mirrors the splendor of the Khmer Empire. The temple’s layout and construction reflect the influences of both Hindu and Buddhist architectural styles, showcasing the multicultural heritage of the region.


Spanning over a vast area of approximately one square kilometer, Beng Mealea is a sprawling complex featuring a central sanctuary surrounded by a series of concentric enclosures. The temple’s layout follows the basic principles of Khmer temple architecture, with increasing levels of significance as one moves towards the center.


The entrance to Beng Mealea is marked by a grand causeway adorned with intricately carved stone figures known as devatas. These celestial nymphs seem to welcome visitors, guiding them towards the heart of the temple.


Stepping into the central sanctuary, visitors are greeted by towering stone walls and immense galleries. The temple’s construction primarily makes use of sandstone blocks, meticulously carved and assembled to create intricate bas-reliefs depicting mythological and historical scenes.


One of the notable features of Beng Mealea is its extensive network of corridors and passageways. These corridors, often narrow and dimly lit, lead visitors to hidden chambers, courtyards, and secondary shrines.


The temple’s architecture follows a symmetrical plan, with the central sanctuary housing the main deity and leading to four cardinal directions. Each cardinal entrance is adorned with elaborate pediments, intricate lintels, and guardian statues that add to the temple’s grandeur.


Interestingly, Beng Mealea’s layout bears striking similarities to that of Angkor Wat. This resemblance suggests that Beng Mealea may have served as a prototype or experimental ground for the larger and more iconic temple complex.


Throughout the temple, visitors can marvel at the exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into its construction. From delicate carvings on lintels and columns to elaborate narrative scenes on the walls, Beng Mealea showcases the artistic prowess of the Khmer Empire.


The layout and architectural features of Beng Mealea offer a glimpse into the grandeur and sophistication of the kingdom that once thrived in the region. As we uncover the similarities and differences between Beng Mealea and Angkor Wat, it becomes clear that both temples are testaments to the architectural brilliance of the Khmer Empire.


Similarities and Differences with Angkor Wat

While Beng Mealea and Angkor Wat share a common historical and cultural background, they also possess distinct characteristics that set them apart. Let’s explore the similarities and differences between these two magnificent temple complexes.



  1. Khmer Architecture: Both Beng Mealea and Angkor Wat exhibit the quintessential Khmer architectural style, featuring intricate carvings, towering structures, and elaborate galleries.
  2. Religious Significance: Both temples were originally constructed as Hindu temples dedicated to the god Vishnu before later transforming into Buddhist temples. They served as important religious and spiritual centers for the Khmer Empire.
  3. Bas-Reliefs: Both temples boast an impressive array of bas-reliefs depicting mythological stories, celestial beings, and historical events. These stone carvings demonstrate the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the Khmer people.


  1. Size and Scale: Angkor Wat is much larger in size compared to Beng Mealea. The former covers an area of approximately 162.6 hectares, while the latter spans around one square kilometer.
  2. Restoration Efforts: Angkor Wat has undergone extensive restoration over the years to preserve its grandeur and allow visitors to explore its intricate details. On the other hand, Beng Mealea is still mostly in a state of picturesque ruin, with minimal restoration efforts applied.
  3. Accessibility: Angkor Wat is easily accessible and attracts a larger number of visitors due to its prominence and proximity to Siem Reap. Beng Mealea, located further away from the main tourist area, offers a more off-the-beaten-path experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the jungle.
  4. Preservation: While both temples have experienced periods of neglect and decay, Angkor Wat has been better preserved due to early restoration efforts. Beng Mealea, being hidden in the jungle for centuries, was more prone to nature’s reclamation.
  5. Visitor Experience: Angkor Wat offers a well-established tourist infrastructure with guided tours, visitor centers, and facilities. In contrast, Beng Mealea provides a more adventurous and immersive experience, allowing visitors to explore the temple at their own pace and connect with its mysterious aura.

Though distinct in their own ways, both Beng Mealea and Angkor Wat capture the essence of Khmer architecture and history. Each temple offers a unique perspective on the grandeur and intricacy of the Khmer Empire, inviting visitors to appreciate the beauty and cultural significance of these remarkable structures.


As we move forward, let’s discover the ongoing restoration efforts at Beng Mealea and the growing interest in its tourism potential.


Restoration Efforts at Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea, known for its charming state of picturesque ruin and overgrown foliage, has gradually attracted attention and restoration efforts in recent years. Although not as extensive as the restoration work done on Angkor Wat, significant strides have been made to preserve and showcase the unique beauty of Beng Mealea.


Since the 1990s, the Cambodian government, in collaboration with international organizations and conservation experts, has focused on stabilizing the temple’s structure, addressing issues of structural integrity, and protecting the site from further decay.


One of the main challenges faced during the restoration process was striking a balance between preservation and maintaining the temple’s authentic character. Recognizing the allure and historical value of Beng Mealea’s overgrown ambiance, efforts were made to ensure that the temple’s natural engulfment by the jungle was retained to a certain extent.


Restoration efforts at Beng Mealea have primarily focused on stabilizing walls, restoring collapsed entrances, and implementing measures to mitigate the effects of weathering and erosion. Skilled artisans and craftsmen have worked diligently to piece together fallen stones, reconstruct sections of the temple, and restore intricate bas-reliefs.


While some sections of Beng Mealea have been fully restored, the aim has been to strike a delicate balance between preserving the temple and maintaining its unique atmosphere. The restoration work has been carried out with great sensitivity, ensuring that the conservation efforts enhance the visitor experience without compromising the temple’s historical and architectural integrity.


Beng Mealea’s restoration journey is an ongoing process, with ongoing efforts to consolidate structures, prevent further deterioration, and protect the site from encroaching vegetation. As more attention is drawn to the temple, increased funding and expertise are being devoted to its restoration and conservation.


As more visitors discover Beng Mealea and appreciate its hidden beauty, the importance of its preservation becomes increasingly evident. The restoration efforts not only aim to conserve the temple as a historical and cultural landmark but also to provide future generations with the opportunity to experience the magic and allure of this hidden gem.


Next, let’s uncover the growing interest in Beng Mealea as a tourism destination and the unique visitor experience it offers.


Tourism and Visitor Experience

As word spreads about the captivating charm of Beng Mealea, an increasing number of travelers are venturing off the beaten path to explore this hidden gem. While not as accessible as Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea offers a unique and adventurous visitor experience.


Visitors to Beng Mealea can expect a sense of excitement and discovery as they navigate through the temple’s maze-like passages and explore its overgrown courtyards. The jungle’s encroachment adds to the allure, creating an ambiance of mystery and enchantment.


Unlike the well-developed infrastructure of Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea maintains a more rustic and authentic atmosphere. Facilities such as visitor centers, restaurants, and guide services may be more limited, so visitors are encouraged to come prepared with essentials like water and insect repellent.


The lack of extensive restoration work at Beng Mealea allows visitors to experience the temple in its raw and untouched state. Climbing over fallen stones, walking through narrow passages, and discovering hidden nooks and crannies adds to the sense of adventure and exploration.


Being nestled within the jungle, Beng Mealea also offers incredible opportunities for nature enthusiasts. Visitors can admire the vibrant flora and fauna surrounding the temple, with the songs of birds and the rustling of leaves providing a soundtrack to their exploration.


For those seeking a more in-depth understanding of Beng Mealea’s historical and cultural significance, local guides are available to provide insights and share fascinating stories about the temple’s past. Their knowledge contributes to a richer and more meaningful visitor experience.


It’s important for visitors to exercise respect and caution while exploring Beng Mealea. The temple’s delicate structures and ancient carvings require gentle treatment to ensure their preservation for future generations. Visitors are advised not to touch or climb on the walls and to follow the designated pathways to minimize the impact on the site.


Overall, the visitor experience at Beng Mealea is one of wonder, adventure, and discovery. It provides a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse oneself in the mysteries of the past, where nature and history converge to create an enchanting atmosphere.


As we conclude our exploration of Beng Mealea, we can’t help but appreciate the beauty and authenticity of this hidden treasure. Like the intrepid explorers who have uncovered its secrets over the years, we invite you to embark on your own adventure and experience the captivating allure of Beng Mealea.



Beng Mealea, the “other” ruins of Angkor Wat, offers a captivating journey into the heart of the Khmer Empire. Hidden deep within the jungle, this mystical temple complex entices adventurers and history enthusiasts alike with its mesmerizing beauty.


While Angkor Wat may steal the spotlight, Beng Mealea stands as a testament to the grandeur and architectural brilliance of the Khmer Empire. Its sprawling layout, intricate carvings, and captivating ruin transport visitors back in time to an era of ancient splendor.


The discovery and restoration of Beng Mealea have brought this hidden gem into the limelight, attracting visitors who seek an off-the-beaten-path experience. As tourism to Beng Mealea grows, efforts to balance preservation and visitor experience become increasingly important.


Exploring Beng Mealea offers a unique adventure, as visitors navigate through overgrown pathways, uncover hidden chambers, and marvel at the temple’s ancient structures. The enchanting ambiance created by nature’s reclamation adds to the temple’s allure.


While Beng Mealea and Angkor Wat share commonalities in Khmer architecture and religious significance, they possess distinct characteristics that make each temple a captivating destination in its own right.


Restoration efforts at Beng Mealea have aimed to preserve its authentic character while ensuring structural stability. Ongoing initiatives highlight the importance of safeguarding this historical and cultural treasure for future generations.


As more travelers venture to Beng Mealea, it is crucial to approach the site with respect, to minimize impact, and to appreciate the delicate balance between preservation and exploration.


In conclusion, Beng Mealea offers a journey into the heart of ancient Cambodia, filled with mystery, beauty, and a sense of adventure. It stands as a testament to the artistic and architectural genius of the Khmer Empire, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the wonders of the past. As you step into the dense jungle and embark on your exploration of Beng Mealea, be prepared to be captivated by the untamed beauty and hidden stories of this remarkable temple complex.