Looking for Lara Croft ~ Beng Mealea, Angkor, Cambodia

After bumping along narrow Cambodian roads into oncoming trucks and buffalo carts for what seemed like a very long time, our bus pulled to a stop on the shoulder in the middle of nowhere. Our Khmer guide assured us we were at the back entrance to Beng Mealea, one of the less-visited temples of Angkor.

Portrait: Serious-looking Khmer man in long-sleeved shirt in front of jungle.

Mr Chhor, our guide, tells the history of the temple which we cannot yet see.

We had to take his word for it: aside from a small dirt path leading into the overgrown jungle, we could see nothing. The air hummed with heat and mosquitos as we photo-tour participants and our leaders Karl GroblGavin Gough and Marco Ryan tumbled out of the bus and onto the sun-baked earth. We applied industrial strength mosquito repellant – the kind that eats leather and melts nail polish – before following our guide along the stone and dirt track into another place and time.

Moss-covered broken stones with the sculpted clawed feet of a mythical creature

The clawed feet of some mythical creature lie in wait for us.

A pile of mossy rocks around the ruins of a 12th century Khmer temple.

The jungle has been allowed to reclaim Beng Mealea.

Like Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea was built during the reign of Suryavarman II, that is: between 1112 and 1152. It followed a similar plan but was smaller – with only a single story. Today, the jungle has truly taken over: the central tower has collapsed, and many of the outer buildings are crumbling. Trees arch over the site, vines and aerial roots wend their way around and through what is left of the walls. The ensuing shade allows moss and fungus to coat the walls and rubble and with a patina of greens.

Moss-covered piece of masonry, delicately carved.

Moss adds a patina of colour to the delicately carved stone-work.

Large trunk of of a fig growing out of the rubble of a khmer temple, stone arch behind.

Mighty fig trees work their way through the temple walls.

Some work is happening here, although I couldn’t tell whether the workers, who made themselves busy when they saw us coming, were engaged in restoration or simply keeping the site clean.

Five Khmer men load bricks onto a two-wheeled trolly

With a smile for their "audience", workers strain against the heat of the day.

Khmer ruins - Beng Mealea

The colours and textures of the ruins...

Rubble piles up between the corridors of Beng Mealea.

Delicate greens and grays ~ Beng Mealea

Stone window with broken balusters; rubble behind, fresh green plant in front.

Balusters falling in the windows.

Many of my companions found the site boring because there were few people to photograph. I, however, loved the dappled light through the tree-tops, the textures of the mossy stones and old walls, and the serene quiet of the site.

Moss and leaf litter on stones and broken masonry baluster.

Lines and curves ~ moss and stone.

Carved stone bricks, covered in moss, jumbled on the temple floor. Beng Mealea

A jumbled tumble of mossy carved stonework covers the inner-temple floor.

Delicate floral carvings on fallen masonry, Beng Mealea

The delicate floral carvings on the fallen masonry have survived the intervening centuries.

Roots and vines woven through stonework - Beng Mealea

Roots and vines work their way around the old stonework.

We were told that this site was used to film scenes from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as a “stand in” for the similar and better known Ta Prohm. I can find no corroboration for this, but it is easy to believe. I could imagine Lara Croft working her way through the long, dark chambers and emerging from behind the hanging vines. At one point, I thought I’d found her…

Tourists partially obscured by tree trunks: Beng Mealea.

Our guide explains the construction of the temple.

… but, alas, it was only members of my group.

As we left the grounds on the side where most people enter, afternoon storm clouds were gathering over the lotus-filled moat. Cows grazed and hawkers raced over to sell us scarves and drinks.

Scene: cows on the green verge of a lotus-filled moat, dark stormy sky.

Magic afternoon ~ the rains will soon be here.

Khmer man on a cart drawn by two white cows

Home from the fields.

And there we were – back in “modern” rural Cambodia.

Text: Happy Travels

Until next, wishing you Happy Travels.

Visit and pictures: July 15th, 2011

  • Signe Westerberg - November 3, 2011 - 11:53 pm

    it must be an amazing feeling standing in places with such rich history and wonderful colour… I guess your companions didn’t feel the history the way you do… thanks for sharing it.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 4, 2011 - 2:28 am

      It was amazing ~ magical! Thanks for stopping in. 😀ReplyCancel

  • john kenny - July 18, 2013 - 9:46 pm

    An Amazing place, and i have yet to see it, ! I can only imagine when it was in use, how this place must have looked

    Great story and Photography , as per usuall,,,ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 18, 2013 - 11:04 pm

      Hi John,
      I loved this place! A little off the track, but well worth it. Thanks for visiting. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Gallagher - July 24, 2013 - 6:36 am

    These appear to be ruins that are truly ruined.:-) Nice story and photos, Ursula.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - July 24, 2013 - 7:05 am

      Thanks Patrick! I loved the atmosphere of this place.ReplyCancel

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