Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Forgotten Ancient Cities of Koh Ker and Beng Melea in Cambodia


I've visited Angkor Wat twice before (at sunrise and sunset) and all the other major temples in Siem Reap. For our third visit, me and my buddy planned to explore the not-so-famous temples on the outskirts of the city. And just like before, we’re still captivated on the great ancient wonders of Cambodia.

Me and my buddy were on the second leg of our annual two-month summer backpacking trip, Same Same Summer Trip 2017. We've covered our favorite spots on our first stop in Malaysia with our moms (Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and Penang) and carried on with the trip as we bid farewell to them. We flew to Siem Reap and decided to shy away from the usual temple hopping tours and just enjoyed our four-day stay in the city with no particular plans in mind.


We specifically wanted a relaxed stay on our third visit to Siem Reap. Our home in the city, Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa, was the perfect haven for slackerhood. After a three-day staycation at the resort, we felt the need to go out and discover some temples that we failed to visit during our past trips. Apparently, we're not yet tired of temple tours in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap Tour Company
Mr. Lynath (our English speaking guide, our driver and Mr. Vuthy (the owner of Angkor TravelPlus)
We looked for tour options online and found a reputable tour company that offers a wide range of services in tours and transportation as well. I connected with them via email and received a response right away. We opted to get a private car with driver plus an English speaking tour guide for our day trip. My buddy drafted an ideal itinerary for the day which the company approved of. It included some temples which were a thousand years older than the famous Angkor Wat.

It was eight in the morning when they picked us up at the hotel. Our guide, Mr. Lynath, immediately acknowledged us and introduced himself. He did mention that I may not be able to enter the temples with the outfit I was wearing. I asked if I could just put a cover-up for my tank top but he said that the authorities are recently getting stricter on the proper dress code in visiting temples. I immediately changed into a simple dress with sleeves after that (no bare shoulders and knees for the ladies).

Koh Ker Entrance Fee
Koh Ker ($10 each person)
Beng Mealea ($5 each person)
The hot and humid summer morning greeted us on our way to the van. We asked if we could drop by at a shop that sells local sim card in which they happily obliged. We were also surprised when they handed us some cold water which weren't included on the arrangement; such a sweet gesture from the company.

Koh Ker Temple Siem Reap
Ruined temples
I was occupied with Khmer’s everyday life through my window while my buddy was busy asking Lynath so many things about Siem Reap, the Kingdom of Cambodia and its people. He couldn’t be happier to get an instant reply to his queries by no less than a Khmer. We were also accompanied by the nice owner, Mr. Vuthy, to this trip and we were also inspired by his humble beginnings in the tourism industry; such a fruitful way to spend the almost three-hour ride to our destination.

Halfway through the trip, we stopped by on a rest area where we had a toilet break. The place was also the ticket counter for visiting Koh Ker and Beng Mealea temples ($10 and $5 each person respectively). The entrance fees were not included on the arrangement so we needed to pay it on our own.

Koh Ker Temple Siem Reap
There were few guests here compared to Angkor temples
Koh Ker was our first stop. Located in the province of Preah Vihear, this remote archaeological site is 120 kilometers away from Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. The 81 sq.km. protected area is filled with numerous ruined temples and sanctuaries but only a dozen or so are open for tourists because some of the area on the dense jungle are not fully cleared with landmines (which were set up by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s).

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Prasat Thom/Prang
This former capital of Khmer Empire (928 to 944 A.D.) was once filled with over 10,000 inhabitants according to some inscriptions. The city complex isn’t as maintained and well-preserved as the other major temples in the country and stories of looting were identified as well.

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Prasat Krahom
We visited a handful of the remaining structures in the area including; Prasat Thom/Prang, Prasat Krahom, Prang, Prasat Preah Vihear, and Prasat Neang Khmau (believed to be a thousand years older than Angkor Wat). Bear in mind that the thick forest is not yet fully demined so please visit this temple with a legit tour guide.

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Prasat Neang Khmau
Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Prasat Neang Khmau
We had a nice time exploring Koh Ker complex with the help of Lynath who answered all our queries about the said ancient city.

We were famished as we concluded our first visit and had a lunch feast of local Khmer dishes on an eatery right outside the temple complex. It was a fun time to chitchat once again with Vuthy and Lynath as we got to acquaint ourselves with the Khmer way of life.

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Beng Mealea
Our second and final stop for the day was Beng Mealea. Located 40 kilometers away from Siem Reap, this temple is situated between Angkor Wat and Koh Ker along the ancient royal highway. 


Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Warped temple ruins
Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Old school tunnel
Hindu and Buddhist motifs and images are found on the ruined parts of the temple which is mostly covered with trees and limbs that have already warped some parts of it.

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Indiana Jones vibe
Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Very instagrammable
Me and my buddy went on our separate ways as we surveyed each and every part of Beng Mealea; getting lost on this ancient wonder that was once filled with grandeur and splendor. We were literally walking through the pages of history books as Lynath would follow me or my buddy as he enlightened us on the importance of this temple during the ancient times.

Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
I really love Beng Mealea because of the serene environment
Beng Mealea Temple Siem Reap
Crumbled. Warped. Ruined.
The extensive landmines on these areas in the early days prevented visitors to go beyond the Angkor Complex in Siem Reap. Beng Mealea’s untouched and unexplored charm (and its relatively inexpensive entrance fee) makes it more attractive to those who wanted to check out all the ancient cities in Cambodia; a truly worthwhile visit.

Never-ending stories about the similarities and differences between Cambodia and the Philippines echoed through the van as we journeyed back to Siem Reap. It was a lovely day as we got to discover the rather forgotten ancient cities in Cambodia. Much more than the magnificent temples, I loved how we were able to walk through the Khmer lives in the company of Lynath and Vuthy. And when I go back to the memories I have of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea, the fun times we shared with them will always be the best one.
Angkor TravelPlus
National Road No.6, Banteay Chas,
Slor Kram, Siem Reap City,
Kingdom of Cambodia
Contact Number: (+855) 12.674.752 | (+855) 95.337.388
Email Address: info@angkortravelplus.com






4 comments:

  1. I think we went here almost ten yrs ago un pala pangalan nyan. Maganda nga dyan. Very nice pictures po.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Julius! Temple hopping tours in Siem Reap is really nice :)

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    2. hi mam carla :) need ba talaga ng tour guide sa beng mealea?

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    3. Not really. Pero siyempre mas maganda yung nalalaman mo yung history and all :)

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