You’ll feel like Indiana Jones exploring this ancient Khmer temple outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia, where the Two Brothers movie was filmed.
Located about 90 minutes from the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia, Beng Mealea is an otherworldly set of ruins far from the typical crowds of the Angkor Archaeological Park. The site was not opened to the general public until it was cleared of landmines in late 2003.
As we drove to the destination, our guide Kimsan explained that it was inaccessible prior to the completion of the paved royal highway. I was just happy not to revisit the unpaved “dancing” dirt roads of Phnom Kulen.
While the “Tomb Raider Temple,” Ta Prohm, is striking, it is downright manicured compared to Beng Mealea.
Its Khmer name translates as “Lotus Pond,” and the structure was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. Our group and a few guards were the only presence there.
The temple is comprised of a moat, a handful of libraries and galleried courtyards. Verdant and overgrown, we felt like explorers discovering a lost world as we clambered and crawled over piles of moss-covered rubble and sprawling roots, occasionally coming across an intricately carved sandstone fragment.
Devoid of restoration, colossal piles of fallen sandstone blocks overgrown with gnarled vines and tree roots give you a good idea of what French archeologists saw when these ruins were discovered. The result is a serene and atmospheric temple dappled by sunlight streaming through the jungle canopy above. If I wasn’t bitten by the travel bug before, I was now.
There are some safety measures in place, thanks to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 2004 movie Two Brothers, starring two tiger cubs, set in 1920s French Indochina, which was filmed here. Narrow wooden walkways that were used to operate a camera dolly intersect the temple ruins, making it easier to navigate some of the areas. However, once off this path, each step needs to be carefully negotiated to prevent a fall. One of our party members was fiddling with his camera — and, much to our horror, almost tumbled into the stone-filled moat.
Beng Mealea was our favorite temple on our Cambodian trip and brought out the inner adventurer in all of us. –Duke