One of Angkor’s most ruined temples is also one of my favourites, despite it basically being a pile of rubble with some trees growing out of it
23 February 2009, 6 Years Ago This Week: As I wrote in my post about the temple of Phanom Rung, an Angkor-era temple found in modern day Thailand, there is something about Angkor’s history that exercises a strange fascination over my imagination. There are other, equally mighty ancient empires that have collapsed and left behind enigmatic fragments to piece together and puzzle other – the Egyptians, the Mayans, the Romans, just for starters – but something about Angkorian ruins that somehow seems more compelling to me. I think it’s often overlooked how great knowledge and passions come about from this kind of visceral response, a gut feeling more powerful than intellect – one where it’s weirdly intoxicating and then you try to rationalise it backwards and explain it away to yourself.
Beng Mealea is one of Angkor’s lesser known temples, and off the beaten track – although it’s remarkable how easy it is to get off the beaten track in Angkor. Tourism seems to work in furrows, where everyone thunders down one path and the other path only a couple of metres away is left almost wholly untouched.
It’s an easy 30 minute drive to get to the temple, which has been left largely unrestored although a sturdy wooden walkway runs amongst the tiers of rubble which are suffused with creepers, vines and lichen from the jungle’s reclaiming of the temple’s remains. I wrote more about Beng Mealea’s history and appeal previously – looking at this photo again now, it makes me smile because it reminds of the visiting friends from England who gamely came out to see Beng Mealea with me, even though to them it was just a pile of rocks and not a patch on the preserved spectacle of the Bayon or Angkor Wat itself.
For me it’s a bit different – amongst the ruins you can literally see the building blocks of how the temple was put together – and in that way it lets you get a little bit nearer to the people who actually conceived and built this temple, and then lived in and around it. (The Wikipedia page is a useful summary of what’s known about Beng Mealea – not a lot, as it turns out).
Seeing these outposts of other, more obscure temples helps bring home that Angkor was not simply a collection of temples on a plain like Myanmar’s Bagan – Angkor was a vast city with temples as focal points throughout its urban sprawl of largely wooden housing, just as churches formed the centre of districts in 11th century London, Angkor’s great Western contemporary. (There’s a handy summary of recent Angkor research and changes in perspective about Angkor’s history in this CNN article).
Given how commonplace 3D modelling has become, I’m surprised that no 3D CGI version of Angkor as it was has been created, a virtual city within which you could wander where the temples are seen in the context of everyday life in the Empire – and also seen restored to their full colour and splendour, not the stripped dark sandstone skeletons we see today. It would make for a fantastic computer game – I’m sure Lara Croft would approve.
What Is 12 Years Of Travel?I'm publishing a photo each week during 2015 that was taken in the same week sometime in the previous 12 years on my travels. Join me in my journey to combat early senility by trying to remember what the hell I was doing over the last decade.
- Week 1: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Melbourne
- Week 2: Cannibal Rock, Komodo, Indonesia
- Week 3: Ocean Reflection, Ari Atoll, Maldives
- Week 4: Vertigo Bar Sunset, Banyan Tree Hotel, Bangkok
- Week 5: Talc Alf Sculptures, Flinders Ranges, Australia
- Week 6: After The Tsunami, Khao Lak, Thailand
- Week 7: Drugs Warning, Jakarta Airport, Indonesia
- Week 8: Beng Mealea Temple, Angkor, Cambodia
- Week 9: Failing To Climb Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
- Week 10: Night Diving At Maaya Thila, Maldives
- Week 11: Schwezigon Paya Temple, Bagan, Myanmar
- Week 12: Octopus, Hin Daeng, Thailand
- Week 13: A View With A Room, Bangkok Tree House
- Week 14: Koh Haa, Thailand
- Week 15: Angry Whopper, Singapore
- Week 16: Kuda Gili Shipwreck, Maldives
- Week 17: Model Shoot, Bangkok
- Week 18: Banda Islands, Indonesia
- Week 19: Port Eliot, Cornwall
- Week 20: Exmouth, Australia
- Week 21: Newquay Cliffs, Cornwall