On my second day in Angkor I decided to hit some of the farther-off destinations, so I hired a motorbike and driver.
First stop: Beng Mealea.
“Beng Mealea is a spectacular sight to behold. It’s one of the most mysterious temples at Angkor, as nature has well and truly run riot. Built to the same floorplan as Angkor Wat, exploring this titanic of temples is Angkor’s ultimate Indiana Jones experience.“
Now that sounds like a “must see” if I’ve ever heard of one!
We headed off at around 8am. Even before we got to the temple I was having a great day.
Although plenty of tourists do make their way out to Beng Mealea, only a handful do so by motorbike. Due to the particularly long drive and hot tropical weather, the vast majority opt for an air-conditioned bus.
But by doing it via motorbike, I really feel like I got a great taste of the countryside –
long, dusty roads where they rarely see foreigners up close.
Locals zoomed by with pigs strapped to their bikes,
smiling children jumped up to scream hello,
and farmers would drop whatever they were doing to catch a glimpse of the crazy white man passing through.
The temple itself, a good hour and a half from Siem Reap, was absolutely magnificent – crumbling ruins overgrown with jungle, just like the guidebook said.
Unfortunately, the countless Chinese tour groups again dampened the experience with their endless high-volume yammering. I arrived at around 10am, and spent the better part of an hour just trying to find an area without a tourgroup talking at ten times the necessary volume.
Fortunately, by sticking around for so long I eventually did find some respite – once again, during the hottest part of the day when virtually everyone else headed off to lunch.
What an indescribable difference. When it’s just you and the the jungle, the whole feeling changes. As if you’re the first one there in hundreds of years.
My favorite thing about Bang Mealea is the fact that you’re utterly free to scramble about as you please – even moreso than the ruins on the main temple loop, which were already pretty “rule-free.”
You can actually climb surprisingly high atop some of the buildings – admittedly risky, but the views are well worth it.
For lunch, most people either head back to town or eat at one of the restaurants along the main road – but of course, we had something different in mind.
By a great stroke of luck, my driver’s family happens to live just a few miles from Bang Mealea.
He said that because so few tourists make their way there by bike, he rarely gets to visit – just a few times a year. If I’d be willing to stop by, his mother would be happy to have me over for lunch. I’d be just the second foreigner ever to do so.
Duh! An authentic homecooked Cambodian meal? Sign me up.
Of course, I couldn’t communicate with anyone but the driver – but it was still a really nice experience. Good vibes all around.
After finishing our quick meal, washing up in the family well, throwing some feed to the chickens, and distributing a pack of Oreos to the kids, we packed up and continued on to our next destination: another extended drive through the middle of nowhere to the floating stilt village of Kompong Phluk.
…Which I’ll save for next time 🙂
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place in March, 2012.