Beng Melea & Koh Ker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter exploring Angkor in some detail we set off heading north. The temple of Preah Vihear was tempting us and we had decided to do several stops on the way. The first stop was Beng Melea, a long temple from the beginning of the 12th century. It has not yet been restored, so ir is overgrown by large trees and in a state of beautiful decay. A set of wooden bridges lead around the temple to the main sights.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We had set off extra early and reached Beng Melea around 8 am. Not surprisingly we were the first ones there. Well except for the security guard at the entrance. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThings are a little different in Cambodia. We had assumed the security guard was there to ensure that we kept to the wooden tracks, but not so. We had barely climbed the first set of stairs, when the security guide showed us where you can easily get off the wooden tracks and explore the temple on your own. He led us through the covered corridors OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA into the, now dry, moat and onwards over the walls into the center of the temple. We felt like explorers (explorers with a guide, but explorers nonetheless) and saw many beautiful things. We spent well over an hour there, entirely on our own and only at the very end we saw some people arrive at the temple. I also saw that their guide was showing them off the wooden path at the exact same spot where we had left it. So much for being the only ones exploring the temple’s undergrowth… When we had finally seen enough and turned to leave the temple we saw the first big tour bus unloading the hoards… We couldn’t help but high-five each other for the good timing we had had. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Onwards it went to Koh Ker. Koh Ker is probably the city of a usurper and was the capital of the Khmer for a total of 20 years in the 10th century. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey still managed to build about 40 temples in this short time, many of which still stand today. However the city existed before and after that and there are temples built as late as the 13th century, showing that the city wasn’t abandoned when the king decided to move back from Koh Ker to Angkor. Koh Ker ist most famous for its sculptures, none of which remain in Koh Ker today, and its seven layer pyramid: Prasat Thom. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe would see some of the sculptures from Koh Ker in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, but for most of the statues you’d have to fly to France or England.  Prasat Thom is by far the biggest remaining temple there, but probably not the most scenic. Many of the smaller Prasats are completely overgrown and you will be on your own when visiting them. It’s somewhat different at Prasat Thom,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA where other people are going to be around. We got very lucky with regards to Prasat Thom. The temple mountain had been closed for almost 3 years because of the old stairs leading up becoming too insecure. We could see that there were more than a few steps missing in the old stairs. The new stairs they were building at the back of the pyramid had been finished the week before we arrived, according to the inscriptions on the stairs. So it is again possible to go to the top of Prasat Thom!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In general, the many reviews stating that you will be by yourself in Koh Ker are no longer true. We saw small tour groups, individual tourists and more while visiting there, but it is of course still much less visited than Angkor. We probably saw a total of 20-30 different people on our visit, as opposed to 2000-3000 in Angkor.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite temple is probably the first temple we visited: Prasat Pram, a temple consisting of 5 Prasats that are now completely overgrown. Very beautiful. It was also the first temple we visited. The second stop was Prasat Nean Khmao or in English: The black lady. A single Prasat, blackened by oxidation. It is a real contender for “best temple in Koh Ker” as well.  The final stop was the sacred bath Adong Preng, an inverted temple filled with water. According to our driver the lake was built 37 levels deep, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA for the 37 different heavens. We could see the first few levels that were standing above the water level, but there was no way of knowing how deep the pool was without getting into it. However, we didn’t quite feel up for that.
If anyone has jumped into the sacred bath of Koh Ker, I’d be very happy to learn how deep it really is.

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