Mostly hidden in rampant vegetation, the scrub-covered Hindu temple of BENG MEALEA, yet to be restored, gives a good idea of what the French archeologists found when they first arrived at Angkor. Locals claim that the temple was quite well preserved until being looted by the Khmer Rouge, although the pioneering French archeologist Maurice Glaize reported it being collapsed in 1944. Whichever history you believe, Beng Mealea is still relatively unexplored and atmospheric. Be aware of the possible danger of land mines, however – the site itself has been cleared, but it’s best not to stray into the undergrowth.
It isn’t known exactly when or why the temple was built, though stylistic features suggest that its construction probably dates from the late eleventh or early twelfth century, possibly during the reign of Suryavarman II. Just over a kilometre square, with a formidable 45m-wide moat, the site was clearly of some consequence, and it has been suggested that the temple was built as a precursor to Angkor Wat. Constructed on a single level, the temple once featured three concentric galleries and a central sanctuary tower, though the main attraction of wandering the ruins is to glimpse apsaras peering out of niches amid the jumbled stones.