Beng Mealea
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Tomb Raider Revisited
Cambodia is a tourist destination on fire. Angkor Wat leads the pack with over two million visitors a year. As one of the world's largest religious complexes, Angkor deserves the attention, but don't overlook the lesser site: Beng Mealea. Only a couple hours northeast of Siem Reap, this small temple complex is a mix of Hindu and Buddhist influences that has been left in the original state of disrepair it was discovered in. The trip to the temple is pretty relaxed along a rebuilt ancient royal highway that continues north to Koh Ker pyramid. There are no restrictions to freely wander around the ruins making the experience feel like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Scrambling over ancient carvings and religious artifacts is not without risk, but the chance of getting lost or injured is mitigated by an internal focus of treading gently and carefully on this treasure. The Angkorian influence is evident everywhere in Beng Mealea. From the layout and design, to the actual sandstone coming out of the Phnom Koulen quarries used for Angkor Wat, this temple is a tribute to the style and texture of the 12th century Suryavarman II period. There are bus tours that roll in once a day, but few visitors venture beyond the perimeter of jumbled blocks and encroaching jungle. That leaves the inner galleries, sanctums and libraries to the adventurous explorers with a Laura Croft attitude to brave the unruly tangle in the tropical heat, making the journey a truly religious experience.
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