It took me over six hours to cycle from Siem Reap to the jungle encased Beng Mealea temple in Cambodia on a journey that would normally take an hour by public transport. Biking through the flat plains of the Cambodian countryside on dusty ochre turf and avoiding the main, paved highway routes. If you are looking for a Beng Mealea tour with an explorative angle – this is it.
From simple countryside outings and the Angkor temple tours that last days and which get you out of the city, Grasshopper Adventures have bike tours for all endurance and curiosity levels. And so I booked the one which looked the most challenging and which would take me on a 75km ride starting from the centre of Siem Reap.
A ride to Beng Mealea, seen as one of core Angkor Wat period temples, is located east of the main temples of Angkor in the city on what was once a royal highway that connected them all.
- 1 Getting to Beng Mealea Temple
- 2 Hidden Beng Mealea – From Siem Reap City to Overgrown Jungle
- 3 Visiting Cambodia’s Jungle Temple
- 4 Beng Mealea Trip from Siem Reap – Things to Know
Getting to Beng Mealea Temple
Beng Mealea Tour by Bike
I was informed that the tour would be last approximately nine hours, starting from 7 am and finished at 4 pm. I assumed this to be a few hours of bike riding, a break for lunch and the temple visit, and then a few hours to get back.
Instead, we set out on a ride that would take us directly to Beng Mealea, with an estimated arrival time of 2 pm where we would later get a tuk-tuk home. It was MUCH further than I thought, but with a brand new mountain bike in my possession for the day and a Khmer local for guidance and language support, I was ready for the challenge.
With a mixture of awe and agony, it was a scenic and adrenalin-pumped day. When biking, you quickly turn off the first main road and begin a six-hour off-the-beaten-track journey that takes you through the golden-hued Cambodian countryside, where fisherman and ox and cart farmers line the green, watery flatlands and where orange dirt tracks and luscious palm trees guide the way.
Public Transportation Options
However, not everyone has the stamina or the time to embark on a long countryside flanked tour. Getting to Beng Mealea with public transport is easy, and requires some pre-planning and haggling. Options include:
- Taking a tuk-tuk: which will cost in the region of $20-$30
- Two hours each way, including wait time
- Hiring a taxi: which will cost in the region of $40
- One hour each way, including wait time
The only downside is missing out on a lot of the scenery, since getting to Beng Mealea in this was is via main roads and passing through a village area on the approach to the temple.
Hidden Beng Mealea – From Siem Reap City to Overgrown Jungle
While I was living in Cambodia at the time and had already seen a lot of countryside working in a local village, this remained one of my best and most beautiful experiences yet of rural. So much so I had to constantly stop to take it all in, savour the serenity and capture photos of a route I would never be able to re-trace alone.
My guide was patient and provided good insight, and for the entire journey there was not one other tourist was in sight. It was just me, my new Khmer friend and the beautiful local people who waved and high-fived us throughout the journey.
At times it was an arduous journey, especially in the heat that bears down on you constantly. I got tired and felt irritable. I had to pull over near the end just to guzzle down a bottle of water and munch through some snacks just to regain a little energy! I wondered why I put myself up for a Tour De Siem Reap. Yet with a bike, you are the master of your own journey. You can choose when to slow down. You can choose when to stop and take hold of the scene in front of you. A tuk-tuk or a car wouldn’t afford you with such an opportunity.
Visiting Cambodia’s Jungle Temple
Arriving at the temple entrance, you stand immediately in front of a stone-stacked facade flanked by a towering diamond-shaped portal that summons you to find a way in after centuries of remaining hidden. Beng Mealea, a temple of the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 1992, still lies in ruin, largely unrestored. Yet, this unstirred scene is exactly what makes this site so fascinating.
The history of Cambodia’s jungle temple is unknown, although inspection puts it at a similar architectural style and layout to Angkor Wat, only smaller. Beng Mealea, built entirely from sandstone, is therefore assumed to have also been constructed in the 12th Century. Today it is nature that has reclaimed the space where this temple once stood as the spiritual centre in the middle of a large town.
Only the jungle knows the temple’s real standing and remains defiant in concealing it.
Beng Mealea hasn’t been opened to the public as long as the complex of Angkor temples in central Siem Reap. For less than a decade, people have been finding their way through the jungle floor, as it is slowly uncovered. That means it’s a little more untrodden and less known which adds to the explorative feel of its unkempt canvas.
My Cambodian guide, proud to show off the ancient history of his country, took me through a route of the temple where no one else could be found. We clambered haplessly over toppled stones that were once magnificent rooftops and towering doorways, meandered through lost corridors and swung on the branches that have weaved their way through the historical labyrinth and taken over the temple structure.
We found peace at the end of a long and strenuous day through the feeling of discovery.
An opportunity to see a different side of Cambodia, visiting Beng Mealea will end up being a temple adventure you first assumed was out of reach but one that rewards you if armed with enough curiosity and stamina.
Beng Mealea Trip from Siem Reap – Things to Know
Beng Mealea Entrance Fee
According to the Tourism of Cambodia, the regular admission ticket (see below) for the monuments of Angkor (a collective ticket for the multiple temple sites) is not required to visit Beng Mealea, but there is a separate entrance fee of $20, $10 and $5.
If you do intend on visiting the holy trinity of the Angkor temple complex that includes Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom (the ‘Tomb Raider’ Temple) and Bayon (the temple with the faces), you will need to purchase the main ticket that covers a collection of temples separate to Beng Mealea, Phnom Kulen and Koh Ker:
- Single-day ticket: $37
- Three-day pass: $62
- Seven-day pass: $72
Beng Mealea Tour Options
Even if you are not a regular bike rider, a long haul biking adventure is an opportunity to see a different side of Cambodia. Grasshopper Adventures day bike tours start from around $45 – $99, including customised tours of personal interest like this. You can check the full offering of tours here.
If you are looking to up the ante, check out this full day motorcycle tour that takes you through similar terrain and countryside locations like the cycle trip.
You can enjoy a full day tour of Beng Mealea and the lost city of Koh Ker and have the opportunity to visit two off-track UNESCO temples in one day. The price excludes the temple entrance fees but includes pick up and drop off to your hotel/hostel and a picnic lunch in the grounds of Beng Mealea.
Or combine a temple trip with a visit to the village of Kompong Kleang, where the sandstone blocks for Beng Mealea were cut from.