Thursday, February 4, 2010

Beng Mealea Temple

This was the highlight of all the temples we saw in Cambodia.

Beng Mealea is seldom visited because the location is so far from Angkor Wat. Most tourists seem to spend only a few days in the Siem Reap area and usually visit only those temples nearby.....and there are a lot of temples near Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is obviously the biggest tourist attraction. Beng Mealea is at least a 90-minute drive northeast from Siem Reap...if there is no traffic. Took us almost 2 hours to arrive back at the hotel. We were the only tourists at this temple this afternoon. As we were leaving a small bus arrived with 6 more tourists. What a difference from the crowds around Angkor Wat.

The first thing that caught our attention as we crossed the moat to enter the temple grounds was a sign off to the right which stated that the authorities had completed clearing the minefield around this temple in December 2007. That wasn't so long ago. I felt sorry for the people who had to live in this area for so long with mines all around them.

As we were walking down the main entrance esplanade inside the temple complex, little children would sheepishly approach us and quietly murmur "candy." It had never occurred to me to bring candy to hand out to the local kids. Probably not a good habit for them anyway. But I did feel a bit bad about not having anything to give them. Usually I give kids in poor areas crayons and paper or pencils and tablets or balloons because the last thing I think they need is candy to rot their teeth. But we had arrived unprepared this time.

The jungle grows right up to the edges of Beng Mealea Temple. This temple site is not manicured for the thousands of tourists who visit Angkor Wat. This temple site has been left more as nature has affected it over the centuries. I found this far more interesting than the restored temples or partially restored temples at and around Angkor Wat.

One can see what a tree can do to heavy stonework when left to its own devices. There were many large trees that had put down roots through the layers of stones and lifted and heaved out of place huge walls of stone.

In the more interior area of the temple there were dozens of trees that had grown roots squarely around the chiseled stones.

We could see how these trees were literally lifting the huge stones and moving them aside. I had no idea that a tree would grow roots in a perfectly shaped square or rectangle. Click on the photo on the left to see larger image and detail.

Wooden catwalks have been constructed through and around the main central temple. A government temple employee took it upon himself to show us around. He had a vocabulary of about 20 English words so there was not a lot of effective communication. Couldn't believe he actually encouraged us to walk and climb not on the wooden catwalk but on the temple stones and walls and ledges. Bill took him up on this and climbed around on wall ledges where anyone with good sense should know better than to venture. He didn't fall, so no harm down. No blood, no foul is our motto. Miss Grace here knew better than to attempt shennanigans like that.

At one point the guide tried to get me to climb down a ladder and then climb up over a jumble of fallen stones and then down into a very dark room. The stones of that "roof" looked pretty precarious to me. And climbing up over a high stack of fallen 3-4 ft stones didn't seem like a bright idea. So I declined that adventure. Probably had bats in that dark stone room anyway.

Bill was impressed with the carpenter building the catwalks. The man was using a hand chisel to make posts and grooves to fit it all together. There is no electricity anywhere near this area and they didn't have generators, so there were no electrical tools to be seen. All work done by hand.

We have tons more photos of this place, but that is enough for here.

On the ride back to the hotel we saw many motobikes carrying things to market. Chinese New Year is approaching and pork is a traditional dish that must be served. There were full-grown pigs stretched out on boards on their backs being carried on the rear of several motocycles. A couple of the motorcycles had large baskets of piglets headed to market. Bill snapped this photo as we passed one on the road back to the hotel.

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