Day 62, Tuesday 06 March 2012, Siem Reap – Beng Mealea.
Today was going to be our final day in Siem Reap and therefore our final temple visit. We chose Beng Mealea as it is about 60k from town, so a visit chews up a large portion of the day, especially when travelling by tuk tuk ! I have enjoyed this slow and open aired method of travel, especially on these trips out of the core of the Angkor sites. Even though they are dusty and probably hazardous you do get a better ‘feel’ for the places you drive through and the air con works very well, well the air part, there is not a lot of conditioning going on.
Beng Mealea (BM) was built in the 12th century during the reign of Suryavaman II and had the same floor plan as Angkor Wat, but appears smaller in size ? There is very little information about the build as there are very few inscriptions in the stone work that provide details to the historians. The site is outside the main Angkor area and currently also out of the control of the Angkor management and is run by local people.
The site is pretty much as discovered with no restoration work having taken place, unlike Ta Prohm which is ‘controlled’ chaos Beng Melea is chaotic ! A walkway was built through part of the site for the filming of the movie “Two brothers” but apart from that there is no path through and most of the site is only accessible by clambering over ruins, walking across roof tops and jumping down from walls – I was in heaven! Being so far away from the core of the ancient Khymer sites meant far less tourism and less damage to the ruins. Though I enjoyed being able to romp all over the place, I am sure it is not doing these ancient stone works any good.
The day started at 7.30 again when Mr Lin picked us up in his tuk tuk. We decided to not go back to the bakery we had been too for the past couple of days due to the slowly declining freshness of its food. Mr Lin took us to the Blue Pumpkin, which is a very European bakery with very European pricing – well not really, but a lot more expensive than the local one, but the food was fabbo – and even better it had some wholegrain bread !
Filling my face with pastries we started off on the two hour tuk tuk ride to BM, it was a pretty good journey, lots to see and the further we got away from the lake the dryer the land became. Due to its different management, BM is not included in the Angkor Wat ticket so we had to pay a further $5USD, which I was very cool with, the site is amazing and this is a key source of income to the local villages, in a very poor country.
Like Angkor Wat the site is surrounded by a moat, but here it is also a source of food for the local village (though I am sure they fish in Angkor’s moat away from the tourists), it is also a place for the buffalo to cool down.
Like a lot of the temple sites BM was used as a camp by the Khmer Rouge during the war with Vietnam because the international community had requested/ordered/paid/something to Vietnam to prevent them from shelling the ruins. Mines have been and even 40 years later,are still an issue here and the advice is not to stray from clear paths around the site. Sadly this is true for much of rural Cambodia.
The first view of the site is the south gate, but you cannot really enter through there.
The guide book suggested walking around the site to the east where there is an entrance boardwalk on the north wall. There was not a lot of wall carvings here, on the south /east corner were these carvings, apparently the carving of the apsara cupping a breast is unique to BM.
At the east gate I climbed on top of the wall and clambered along before jumping down into the site to meet Mike, who had taken the traditional method of entry by the boardwalk. This tree was growing on top of the wall, and I loved how its roots were tunnelling through the stone work.
Inside the walls it is a riot of trees and rocks, with root systems through and over and around (and destroying) the buildings. It was a lot of fun exploring all the different buildings. There were a few tourists here but it is quite off the beaten track.
Coming from somewhere like New Zealand, which is quite free of dangerous animals, it never really occurred to me to take any care as we clambered around the ruins – even though snakebite is very common in Cambodia.
At the end of the boardwalk system there is an entrance into one of buildings and as we made an approach a local guide came and joined us. He led us on a trail through the middle of the site, that was up and over collapsed roofs, down through rubble filled doorways, through dark corridors and back up onto roofs, it was all great fun and we saw a few things we would have missed on our own, so very worth the couple of bucks we each gave him.
At the western wall we ran into a Canadian woman, Cheeba, who we started talking to and she wanted to know if we were interested in going up to Preah Vehear on Thursday. This temple is on a cliff top near the Thai border and is hotly contested with Thailand (in fact they were shelling each other over it in Feb 2011!). I was immediately keen, but we had planned on leaving town on Wednesday, I got the name of her hotel and promised to confirm or otherwise later in the day, but yeah I am going !!
According to our guide the Khmer Rouge took offence to the head on this particular carving, so cut it off !
I loved BM ! a lot of fun, not so much to see in the way of detail and intricate carvings, but being able to romp around was certainly interesting anyway.
After a drink of water and a coke we hopped back onto the tuk tuk for a warm ride back to Siem Reap. We stopped for gas just out of the site – is Johnnie Walker Black petrol better than Red ?
I shot a couple of scenery shots on the way back to the main highway, it was great to see the schools were very well used. These photos do show the conditions that the rural people of Cambodia – and most of SE Asia, live in. No power, no running water etc. It is a hard life.
I really like these, but have yet to get a good picture as they are really long… belt drive single piston, two stroke farm implement, with a big trailer on the back, often with a dozen people stacked on top.
After a shower and a lie down we wandered down to the main bar/restaurant strip in Siem Reap, Pub St for dinner and went to Temple club, the food was good, more expensive than the 5 Suns as you would expect. I did have some fresh spring rolls, not fried, not baked, no fat or oil, just fresh vege, heavenly – I am so sick of fried food…. We spent some time wandering around the markets looking for souvenirs and not buying anything. We did however, get a foot massage from the blind masseurs in the market.
When we got back to the GH I really felt like a scotch, but not having any I had water instead.