The Angkor Wat complex just outside of Siem Reap is not the only place of interest in the area. The old Koh Ker city complex and the Beng Mealea temple are both well worth a day trip. Both are located in the north and form a beautiful combined day trip from Siem Reap. I recommend to take a private car which is the most efficient way to get there. On the way back I made a stop at the Anlong Pi garbage dump just outside of Siem Reap. Make sure to check out my 9 day Siem Reap itinerary to learn all about Siem Reap’s attractions and its surroundings but let me introduce you to Koh Ker and Beng Mealea!
Koh Ker Complex
After a 3 hour drive I arrived at the ancient city of Koh Ker. Koh Ker was once a thriving city with over 10.000 inhabitants and was even the capital of the Khmer Empire for a few years. Today what is left are dozens of temples in the area which are mostly covered by dense jungle. The most important remaining structure is the complex of the double sanctuary Prasat Thom / Prang which I visited. I didn’t visit the other places which are located next to the ring road around the baray (water reservoir). As the area is a dry area a huge baray was built to supply water to the city. Today this is mostly dried up but you can still see it’s dykes and dams. Keep in mind that not all of the jungle is demined here so take precautions if you see warning signs.
You won’t see many remaining statues and other works of arts due to plundering. However, you will notice the more Hindu style of the buildings compared to Angkor Wat. As Koh Ker was a remote city it didn’t change that much from Hinduism to Buddhism. Once you enter the complex you will see that not much is reconstructed. When you make your way towards the end you will see various towers, temples and other buildings. The most preserved temple is the Prasat Krahom (located near the entrance) which is pretty much intact.
CAMBODIA – A 9 day Siem Reap itinerary including Angkor Wat
At the end of the complex you find the other most impressive structure: the 7-layer pyramid. There is a new staircase leading to the top of the 36-meter Prang (pyramid). It gives a beautiful view over the surrounding jungle and rural countryside. You will notice also a hill behind the complex which is said to be a grave or a possible foundation of another building.
Koh Ker played an important role in the history of the Khmer Empire as it was en route from Angkor towards Prasat Preah Vihear which lead further into Thailand and Laos. I visited Preah Vihear during one of the next days of my 9 day Siem Reap itinerary. There are many more sanctuaries, temples and other remains in the area but to visit all of them would go beyond the purpose of my trip: to get a good general impression of the old Khmer Empire. After I explored the main complex I decided to start driving back and make a stop at the Beng Mealea temple.
Beng Mealea Temple
My next stop on the way back to Siem Reap was at Beng Mealea. It’s one of the larger temples of the old Khmer Empire. Located between Angkor Wat and Koh Ker along the royal highway of that time. Although many of the buildings, including the main temple, have collapsed it’s a great place to spend some time. A perfect place to get a bit of a Tomb Raider vibe 🙂
You will see kids play games in and around the ruins and climbing the trees. Most of the Beng Mealea temple complex is covered by trees. It was founded in the early 12th century by Suryavarman II, king at that time of the Khmer Empire. Around the Beng Mealea temple complex there used to be a town but at that time houses were built from wood. Nothing remains of these towns today and that’s the reason you can only visit the temples which were constructed out of sandstone.
CAMBODIA – A 9 day Siem Reap itinerary including Angkor Wat
At the Beng Mealea temple you can see both Hindu and Buddhist related images. Those parts that do still stand are beautiful decorated like the windows in the image below. Around the Beng Mealea temple complex is a ruined wall and a dry moat. I spent almost two hours here exploring the whole complex after which I continued to the Anlong Pi garbage belt near Siem Reap.
Garbage Dump near Siem Reap
You probably have seen them in the newspapers or on TV: people living on a garbage belt. If you see this in the comfort of your own home it’s difficult to imagine how it’s in real. I visited the Anlong Pi garbage belt just outside of Siem Reap to experience this myself. The people scavenge the garbage for anything they can use or sell. Food to feed pigs, plastic and metal to sell and even food for themselves. They earn 25 euro cents per 10 kilogram of plastic. Most of them, including children, earning less than 2 euro a day. The poverty is extreme.
When a new truck with garbage arrives at the garbage dump people will congregate and start digging for valuables. They do this from morning to evening, every day of the year. It’s impossible to image if you do not see this yourself. I do suggest to visit and I do suggest to talk to them. Although they live in extreme poverty near the temples of Angkor Wat, which is flocked by rich tourist, they do smile.
I spend over an hour watching the people work, talking to them and making photos. The smell? This you will forget after a few minutes once you start to talk to the people and learn how they live. See the gallery below for more pictures. In the late afternoon I continued to my luxury resort in Siem Reap knowing that the garbage belt people will never have that opportunity. A big contrast.
If you visit Siem Reap I suggest to not only stay in and around the Angkor area. Do venture out! The Koh Ker and Beng Mealea complexes are a beautiful day trip from Siem Reap. Both played an important role in the Khmer Empire and you will see also some rural life. If you are up to it then also visit the garbage belt to see how real poverty looks like. I enjoyed my day, but it wasn’t the end yet of my 9 days Siem Reap itinerary.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Koh Ker or Beng Mealea too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!