How to visit Beng Mealea temple

You don’t have to go far from Siem Reap to escape the crowds of Angkor – and a trip to Beng Mealea reveals an incredible hidden jungle temple!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The crowds who come to Cambodia’s Angkor region are spoiled for choice when it comes to ancient Khmer temples to visit.

Within kilometres of the tourist town of Siem Reap are dozens of amazing sites, and it can take days just to see a selection of the best temples at Angkor.

But the thing with having so many beautiful temples within such easy reach is that everybody wants to see them. With about two million visitors to Angkor every year, it’s hard to escape the tourist masses and find a site less trodden.

That’s why I think a day trip to Beng Mealea is so worthwhile… where you can find the ultimate jungle temple!

Visit Beng Mealea temple from Siem Reap

An hour in the car from Siem Reap is all it takes to discover a temple far from the crowds and in such a state that you can believe you are the first to find it, hidden and lost in the Cambodian jungle.

I arrive in the late afternoon with a guide and two other tourists. Although more tourists have been coming out here in recent years, many of them come earlier in the morning (when the temple is at its busiest).

We are literally the only people here.

A guided tour is the easiest way to visit Beng Mealea, and my top suggestion is this day trip from Siem Reap that also includes Koh Ker temple.

The sun at this time of the day is low in the sky and is casting an orange hue across the land. But the colour is struggling to break through the trees.

Dappled light creates an eerie effect, partly because it is a constant reminder of why there is not full sunlight here, like many of the other temples you’ll visit around Siem Reap.

What is Beng Mealea?

Beng Mealea is a Cambodian temple complex built by the Khmer Empire in the 12th century. About 65 kilometres from the famous Angkor Wat, it has some similar design elements but is notably different because it has been reclaimed by the jungle and is covered in vines.

How large is Beng Mealea?

The main temple of Beng Mealea is shaped like a rectangle with a moat around it measuring 1200 metres in length and 900 metres in width. It takes about two hours to visit Beng Mealea and see it all properly.

Is it worth visiting Beng Mealea?

I would definitely recommend visiting Beng Mealea from Siem Reap because it offers a contrasting experience to the main temples at Angkor. As well as being a stunning temple complex, it has an adventurous feel to it because so much is still covered in jungle.

In the years that Beng Mealea was abandoned, since about the 16th century, nature has taken its course and the whole site has been overrun by plants. Trees grow out of stone, vines are wrapped around gateways, and roots have stretched through walls.

Combined with the parts of the temple which have collapsed from neglect, it creates a sense of romantic rustic ruins.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

Exploring the site is an adventure in itself. There is an elevated wooden walkway that leads through the main parts of the temple (with stairs, so not completely accessible unfortunately).

But you can also access other parts by clambering over piles of stones, scrambling along walls, and swinging around trees. (Make sure you obey the signs and don’t go where you’re not allowed, though!)

This is not Tombraider – this is the real deal. As my guide, San Park, puts it – you need to “rock and roll”.

Visiting Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

The beauty of the dilapidation and imagining how it was at the peak of its glory is why I think this is one of the best things to do in Siem Reap.

Whether you stick to the main path or make some detours, each turn reveals a new section of the temple, as though you are an explorer.

In terms of area, it’s about the same size as Angkor Wat, if that gives you a sense of how big it is! At times it may seem even bigger if each step needs to be carefully negotiated to prevent a fall.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

I’ve visited Beng Mealea a couple of times now, and it’s definitely getting much busier. But it’s still nothing at all like central Angkor, and there are also very quiet periods throughout the day.

It’s without a doubt worth the trip out here, though. The road will almost certainly become more travelled as the temples around Angkor get more and more crowded and the discerning tourist looks for more peaceful alternatives.

I’ve got lots of detailed information further down about the best way to visit Beng Mealea, but my main advice is to take a tour because that’ll arrange all the logistics for you and also combine it with some other great sites.

There are some good options here:

Even coming out here with a small group, like on any of these tours, there is still so much space that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do your best Lara Croft impersonation amongst the ruins of the jungle temple.

History of Beng Mealea

We can thank King Suryavarman II for some of the greatest projects of the Khmer Empire. He was the ruler who commissioned the famous Angkor Wat – and he also ordered the construction of Beng Mealea.

Under King Suryavarman II, Beng Mealea was built in the early part of the 12th century, and was then modified a bit by King Jayavarman VII a few decades later.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

Although there are some key differences, Beng Mealea has a lot of similarities with Angkor Wat. Some historians think that it could have been a ‘test run’ for the main project. Or, also quite likely, they both just represent the architectural styles of the time.

There’s a fair bit we don’t know about Beng Mealea unfortunately, but what we do know is that it was built in a very strategic position – and that offers some insight into its story.

The temple was on the Royal Road heading east from the capital at Angkor. This put it at the crossroads of two important routes heading north-south and east-west, connecting important locations in the Khmer Empire.

Goods would’ve been traded here from the Kulen mountains and the marine area of Tonle Sap, for instance.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

It’s also likely that Beng Mealea was a staging point for military and ceremonial processions that the Khmer would lead east.

From the beautiful artwork around the site, we can also tell that Beng Mealea had an important religious role as a temple.

Interestingly, although it’s assumed that it was primarily a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, there are also Buddhist elements that suggest something changed along the way.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

Like most of the Angkor temples, Beng Mealea was abandoned sometime in the 16th century.

Reclaimed by the jungle, it remained hidden for centuries until its rediscovery by French explorers in the late 19th century.

Things to see at Beng Mealea

At first glance, it may look like all of the temple complex at Beng Mealea is just the same – monumental sandstone entangled with the jungle, roots and vines coiled around walls with sunlight filtering through the canopy.

But there are actually distinct sections to Beng Mealea and particular things you should be looking out for.

How to see Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

The structure is laid out in a rectangular shape and in the middle is the sanctuary, where you’ll see the remains of the collapsed central tower. This is one of the highlights.

Surrounding the central sanctuary are three large open-air galleries which would’ve had open space as well as smaller buildings within them.

For example, to the north and the south of the main eastern passageway are two ‘libraries’, which are buildings sitting on raised foundations with columns filling the window space.

I would recommend paying particular attention to the northeastern one, which has a carving called Churning of the Ocean of Milk depicting a Hindu creation myth.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

On the southern side of the complex, you’ll find the ruins of two other large buildings that are now called ‘palaces’. These would have been used as halls for ritual ablutions and dances.

One of the most important things to see at Beng Mealea is the temple’s art. It was decorated with 180 lintels depicting important Hindu scenes, such as the epic story of the Ramayana.

You’ll be able to see some of these lintels as you walk around the city, as well as other pieces of sandstone that have been carved with motifs of flowers and vines, along with figures of deities.

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

Around the outside wall of Beng Mealea is a moat that’s 1200 metres long and 900 metres wide. It wasn’t for defence, though. It is actually a symbol of the cosmos ocean surrounding Mount Meru, the residence of the gods.

Outside of the main complex, there are also some much smaller satellite temples and other monuments that most people don’t visit but you could see if you’re particularly interested.

The best one is probably, Prasat Chrey, about a kilometre to the east, which has distinctive towers shaped like lotus buds and is also overgrown with vegetation.

Best tours to Beng Mealea

It’s about 65 kilometres to get from Siem Reap to Beng Mealea and unfortunately there isn’t really any public transport.

Although you can go with a taxi or tuk tuk, I think it makes more sense to go with a tour (although if you’re in a large group, it might make sense to organise transportation privately).

Beng Mealea temple tour

There are a few reasons why I would recommend a tour to Beng Mealea.

First of all, it just makes all the logistics of getting there and back much easier and saves you trying to work out transport yourself.

Secondly, although the enormous jumble of walls, statues, fallen bricks, and jungle vines is incredible to see… it’s a little hard to understand. You’ll definitely benefit from a guide who can explain what you’re seeing.

And thirdly, most of the tours include some other important sites that are located out in this direction, so you can do a really good day tour and see a fantastic variety of things, such as visiting Preah Vihear (another World Heritage Site).

My top suggestion would be one of these three tours, depending on what you’re looking for:

Other than these three tours, there are some other good ones with a fun variety of experiences I would recommend here:

Whichever you choose, I think you’ll love visiting Beng Mealea – but also really appreciate the other sights out here to the east of Siem Reap, where you don’t get the same kind of crowds as Angkor.

Visiting Beng Mealea

Along with the temples at Angkor (obviously), I think a tour to Beng Mealea is one of the best things to do in Siem Reap.

If you would prefer to visit Beng Mealea independently, that’s possible too. The main issue you’re going to have is with transportation.

The best approach is to negotiate directly with a taxi driver or a tuk-tuk (your hotel may have a good recommendation – or you might find one you like when you are visiting the Angkor temples).

The price for a return journey to Beng Mealea, including waiting a couple of hours for you, should be somewhere around US$50, although there’s no fixed price so don’t be surprised if you have to pay a bit more than that in busy periods.

Beng Mealea temple tour from Siem Reap

The temple at Beng Mealea is quite large and it will take you a while to explore inside, following the wooden walkways that lead through the different areas, perhaps going off on a sidetrack for a little explore, and then also walking around the outside to see different perspectives.

In all, you can probably do it in about an hour if you move continuously at a steady pace. But I would recommend giving yourself about two hours to take it all in and explore the various sections of the complex.

Where is Beng Mealea?

The Beng Mealea temple is about 65 kilometres east of Siem Reap (or about 300 kilometres north of Phnom Penh).
You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Beng Mealea?

By car, it will take up to 90 minutes to drive from Siem Reap to Beng Mealea.
There isn’t really any public transport like a bus that you can take to the temple. A tuk-tuk or a taxi, which will wait while you explore the temple, should cost around US$50 return (the price isn’t set, so you’ll need to negotiate a bit).
However, most people will take a tour from Siem Reap that includes the transportation.

When is Beng Mealea open?

Beng Mealea is open every day from 7:00 – 17:30.

What is the Beng Mealea entrance fee?

Although it used to have a separate entrance fee, Beng Mealea is now included with the standard Angkor Pass that you’ll buy to see the temples in the main archaeological park.
The Angkor Pass costs US$37 for one day, US$62 for three days (within ten days), or US$72 for seven days (within one month).
There is no concession price, but children under 12 are free.

Are there tours to Beng Mealea?

Yes, there are lots of tours to Beng Mealea from Siem Reap and this is how I would recommend you visit the site.
My top suggestion would be this day trip from Siem Reap that also includes Koh Ker temple.
If you would prefer to have your own driver, this full-day private tour is great because it also includes Koh Ker and Preah Vihear.

Although I would suggest bringing water and snacks with you anyway, there should be a whole row of stalls at the entrance selling food and drink, so you don’t need to worry too much.

Also, keep in mind that Beng Mealea is on UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List (which means it may be added one day). But three of Cambodia’s World Heritage Sites are nearby – the Angkor temples, Koh Ker, and Preah Vihear.


There are some absolutely beautiful places to stay in Siem Reap so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere nice.


Close to the city centre, Bokre Angkor Hostel has comfortable beds and a nice common area with a pool and terrace.


With a lovely garden and pool, The Urban is great value and has really friendly staff.


The mid-century design of Viroth’s Hotel fits well with its large pool and vertical gardens.


Although it’s slightly out of town, Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang is incredible with bungalows set amongst lush gardens (and a huge pool).

27 thoughts on “How to visit Beng Mealea temple”

  1. Looks like fun. I like the idea that there is this kind of ruins within an hour of Siem Reap. Did you get the tour (car?) from SR? How much did it cost?

    We are talking about doing a slow round of SE Asia including a week int he area at some point. That should be plenty of time for me to find a group if I can just remember the name from now until then. Cool jaunt, Michale.

    • There are a few ways to get here but none of them is particularly cheap. I went with a guide, a car and two other tourists but we combined the trip with a few other things out of Siem Reap. It’s probably the best way to do it if you don’t want to be there with a busload of other people. Expect to pay about $40 for a hired taxi/car (return) from Siem Reap (but prices are pretty flexible…)

    • I was in Siem Reap in April. I found a minibus offering a two-day visit of the temples for $19 and got to see Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and Beng Melea on the second day. I think the timing was perfect because we arrived at Beng Melea around 3pm with not many tourists there. I was so glad to walk around those incredible ruins, it is such a different experience compared to Angkor Wat, Bayon and the temples closer to Siem Reap. Well worth the trip and the extra $5.
      Love your pictures, Michael.

  2. How marvellous! I was lucky that the temples near Siem Reap were not crowded when I visited but it sounds like that has changed. My husband hasn’t been to Cambodia yet so when we do visit this sounds like a fantastic option!

    • The Angkor temples have got a lot busier over the past 5 years or so. It’s understandable, considering they are one of the greatest ancient sites in the world. but it’s nice to know there are some alternatives from the main ones that are still quite peaceful.

  3. That’s beautiful Michael, I really love the way those tree roots have attached themselves to the building, nature claiming back what was once it own !!.

  4. A great post and equally telling pics to support the narrative. Cambodia is well known for Hindu Temples and as you know the largest Hindu temple in the world – Angkor Watt – is also located here.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. A good read indeed.

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