Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Cambodia (Day 32) Indiana Jones Temple Explorers at Beng Melea and Koh Ker

Beng Melea aka Indiana Jones Temple. Ok, so I thought we had seen the ultimate in jungle covered temples with Ta Prohm, but nope. On this day, we kicked it up into overdrive! 

Touching base via email the night before, we had arranged for Sam to pick us up at 6:30am. This was actually our first time meeting him as he wasn't personally available to drive our first two days. He picked us up in his own car. We were unable to secure the tour guide again as he took an offer after dropping us off the day before, but Sam assured us that we wouldn't really need one. He said he could explain the daily and culture life to us during the drive and tell us about each site before we went to explore it. After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to the lobby to find Sam waiting out front. 

The ride was interesting and we enjoyed getting out into the country side seeing everyday life. About an hour later, we arrived and Sam went to get our Beng Melea tickets ($5 each as Beng Melea is not included in your Angkor Pass). Sam pulled into the parking lot and pointed us in the right direction. He, of course, made a point to show me that it was an empty parking lot - hahahaha.

Beng Melea ("Lotus Pond") is a spectacular jungle temple around 70k from Siem Reap. It is one of the "highlights" of Cambodia, having only been cleared of land mines at the end of 2003 (land mines are still a huge problem throughout the country, the Cambodian Mine Action Center estimates that there may be as many as 4-6 MILLION mines and other pieces of unexploded ordinance in Cambodia and we were well warned to use caution not to wander off from the temple). 

There are wooden walkways around the temple, but large areas of the temple invite exploration for the true adventurers. We gleefully went off path and navigated all around the crumbling ruins.

We found steps leading down to this entrance. Do you think we went inside? Of course we did! Come along now.

Rob popped out behind us (eventually) with his shining headlamp. Yeah, I could have used that lighting.

We had great fun walking the perimeters of the walls trying to find a way in/out of the next layer.

We used the map to find our way to one of the main causeways only to find it completely blocked. We then had to continue around the perimeter to find another way to breach in. It's not as easy as it looks (hahahaha), but it sure was a heck of a lot of fun!

Spot my Rob!

Looking back after we passed through this elevated pathway on pillars, I reveled in the beauty of nature taking back. So haunting here. Can you feel it?

Built in the style of Angkor Wat, Beng Melea is HUGE and appears to be a pile of rubble partially hidden in the trees. It was amazing exploring it all to ourselves. We scrambled over the ruins completely in awe at this adventure. Bump this one to the top as my favorite!

Guess what? We saw the CROWDS!!!! Oh, ohmygawd, they are to be avoided at all costs! No wonder I see so many complaints about the temple sights not being enjoyable. So, here's what happened. As we were leaving (around 9:30 or so), I saw a large group make its way up to the ruins. I didn't think anything of it. I said to my crew - let's do one more pass thru for grins. You know what's coming, right? Well, I don't know how, but we found ourselves smack dab in the MIDDLE of the mass. I wish I had got a picture of them, but we were too focused on trying to extricate ourselves from the enveloping swarm. Both kids went into full whine mode. I just wanted to leave. Rob asked if I wanted him to take more pics. Uh, no. Not at all. I can't see anything except a gazillion selfie sticks. We stumbled outside looking a bit disheveled. I turned around, looked at my little troop and said, "That, ladies and gentleman, is THE crowds. So, everybody clap for mommy's hard work." I kid you not, they really did clap. Hahahaha. I was glad they got a taste of a "less-than" experience, so they could better appreciate me. We saw even more buses pulling up in the parking lot where we met up with Sam. We told him our "mistake" of reentering the temple. He got a big laugh. That was our one and only experience with the infamous crowds of Angkor.

Sam pulled over on a bridge and had us exit to look over it. He showed us the stone that was used to build the temples and described to us how it was broken up and moved down the river to the temple site.  Incredible to imagine doing this with primitive tools. We then continued driving about an hour further out to the remote temple site Koh Ker.

Koh Ker

Remote Exploration of Koh Ker! After Beng Melea, we went even further off the beaten path to Koh Ker, the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period from the year 928-944 AD. 

Left to the jungle for nearly millennium and mostly unrestored, this great archaeological site has been rarely visited until very recently. The remote area has no towns and only a small village in cleared forest nearby. With more than 180 ruined temples, including the spectacular huge stepped pyramid (the largest in the region), we explored with delight. Land mines are still a danger here. The temples have been cleared, but the area outside has not and the "Danger Mines" signs are no joke! Malaria is also a risk here so we took precautions with mosquito repellent and made sure not to wander outside the temple grounds. We learned some fascinating history from our guide and really enjoyed these lonely temples overgrown by forests.

This temple site was a great surprise.  I had not learned anything about it ahead of time.  We simply agreed to Sam's suggestion that it be combined with Beng Melea, which was my main focus. Well, let me tell you - Koh Ker is not to be missed!! It is an entire ancient city hidden in the jungle!! This brief Khmer capital has discovered inscriptions indicating at least 10,000 inhabitants.

We started with the Prasat Thom group of sanctuaries and temples. Prasat Thom is Koh Ker's largest temple compound. Sam accompanied us for various sites here and there throughout our time in Koh Ker, but for this part, we went alone.

My heart soared watching my girls wander.

Cambodia is AMAZING! Stumbled upon the jackpot of all ancient temple ruins with this spectacular 7-tiered pyramid (Prasat Thom) 

Wait until you see the view from the top of the pyramid (oh yes, we did). First, gotta climb a whole lotta steps. Ready?

From the top of the mighty pyramid Prasat Thom, we embraced Cambodia's jungle landscape. Storm clouds gathered pressuring us to rush. Still, she took her time savoring the openness up here. The skies unleashed. Now, we had no choice but to cautiously take our time descending. Drenched, we reached the bottom. It was exhilarating!

There was once an enshrined linga up here, but it is long gone. Ancient inscriptions discovered at the site record the consecrating of the Koh Ker pyramid. The exact date of the pyramid’s consecrating is Wednesday, December 12 at 8:47 in the year 921.

The little one disappeared. Found her having this heartwarming moment in solitude. This kid. My heart.

I turned my head to this. I can't take these people anywhere.

"Before Koh Ker became capital of the Khmer empire (928 AD) numerous sanctuaries with Shiva-lingas existed already. Koh Ker was a cult site where Shiva had been worshipped a long time. Also Jayavarman IV was an ardent worshipper of this Hindu god. As later kings (whose residence was not in Koh Ker) changed from Hinduism to Buddhism they gave orders to make the necessary adjustments at their temples. Because of its remoteness fortunately the sanctuaries at Koh Ker were spared from these interventions."

Water purified over the linga flowed to this collection point on the outside wall of the temple.

Sadly, only the base remains of the old guardian lion statues. The girls are standing at all that is left.

When you find a tree temple treasure like this, you can't help but take 38,474,334 pics of it. Here is only a small sampling of those pics - hahahahaha.

Found one of the guardian lion statues.

Sam had an interesting story here. He said that looters came with a helicopter to take the linga that used to be in this shrine. Well, that is one heck of an Indiana Jones Tomb Raider story.

Here is the base of the linga that was supposedly looted by helicopter. I think when it was noticed that the linga was missing, its disappearance was somehow linked to a helicopter flying over doing laser scans of the ruins.

Sam had all of us climb over the stones that had crumbled and blocked the entrance completely. Inside the shrine was the huge ruins of a linga!

Prasat Kra Chap stood out to us with its notable still-clear inscriptions.

"A Sanskrit inscription on the door pillars of Prasat Krachap, dated 928, consecrates this temple to Tribhuvanadeva. Many temples of Jayavarman were dedicated to gods with the “Tribuvhana-“ being part of their names. “Tri-bhuvana” means “three worlds” and refers to earth, heaven and underworld, together constituting the entire universe."

"Prasat Beng, listed as Prasat D, is a small temple with an impressive entrance ensemble of stone buildings instead of the common brick constructions. The temple is built of laterite with pillars and lintels of sandstone. The pediments show a “flamboyant” style which can be found in Khmer architecture throughout the centuries."

Prasat Pram is almost completely swallowed by trees. The roots of the strangler fig are the most picturesque example of architecture merging with nature. That tree though! Doesn't it look like something out of a fairytale?

Koh Ker, Cambodia. Ancient capital of the Khmer empire from 928-944. Abandoned to the forests, this is one of the most remote temple complexes in Angkor. Heavy land mine risk kept people away for years, but today many of the temples have been declared cleared. Of the over 180 temples, over two dozen of them can be visited. Something special walking forested ground and coming upon the remains of what was once a great empire. 

This is the most incredible place I have ever explored. Forgotten city in the jungle. The lost temples of the ancient capital are truly an amazing sight to behold. 

Itinerary Day 3: Beng Melea and Koh Ker. Cost: $5 per person Beng Melea, $10 per person Koh Ker. No ticket needed for the kids. Sam's fee $100. Wait until you see Day 4 - we are going to explore one of Cambodia's most revered destinations - Phnom Kulen National Park (of the sacred mountain Kulen), home to impressive waterfalls, jungles, lingas, and a massive reclining Buddha. We will also use up our 3rd day Angkor Pass.


  1. Thank you so much for your blog. You sold us at no crowds so we are now planning to follow a similar temple tour. I hope it's the same now.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the content! You should be fine for avoiding the crowds. The large travel groups are a well-oiled machine following the same itinerary over the years. We found the key to be the early starts - thank goodness our children are early risers. Safe travels, my friends!