Beng Mealea was built in the 12th century and is one of the few ancient Khmer temples where no restoration work has been carried out. Close to the base of Mount Kulen and far away from the ancient city of Angkor, the temple was used as a fort during periods of conflict in Cambodia. Most recently, members of the Khmer Rouge had used this temple as a hideaway, laying mines in the surrounding forest. The area has only been recently cleared of mines. In its semi-abandoned state, moss and lichen grow freely on piles of collapsed sandstone. Trees, some taller than buildings, have appeared inside and around the structure, roots tightly hugging the remains of the temple. The structure that once took tens of thousands of men to build and carve is now largely destroyed and dangerous to explore on foot.
We could only navigate around and above it on a creaky wooden boardwalk. The towering trees and monolithic piles of heavy stone sitting amid an ocean of grass and flowering weeds possess a sublime quality, a magnificent and mysterious beauty that tells an epic history of empires that possessed the greatest power to create and destroy. For all of this, what is most breathtaking of all is nature's persistence, an unending love which makes this place and all things beautiful. Visiting Angkor Wat and the other ancient Khmer temples has been intense. I have been continually overwhelmed with wonder and awe, most of all here at Beng Mealea. It was like stepping into another world, entering a portal into mythological pasts. I do not think I will ever see any place or any thing like it again. I will certainly never forget it.