On day three we went to see the 'Lost Temple in the Jungle' otherwise known as Beng Melea. It's not included as part of the Angkor complex because it takes about two hours to get there by car from Siam Reap (Be warned.....it's a very bumpy road!!) so still doesn't get a lot of tourists - we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Apparently reports of Beng Melea began circulating in the late 1990's - a few courageous travellers arrived in Siam Reap with story's about being escorted by villagers to a lost temple buried under vegetation. The canopy of trees covering it didn't let in a lot of light so photo's taken were not great but the images sparked something in peoples imaginations and more visitors made the effort to go and see it. It is believed to have been built at the end of the 11th century and that it was the prototype for Angkor Wat so it's an incredibly important piece of Khmer art and history and it was this that prompted Culture Officials to go and view the site. I am thrilled to say that they have decided to try and preserve the temple exactly the way it is now (they would lose something really special if they tried to restore it.......it is stunningly beautiful but it is falling apart!!) and the area around the actual temple has now been cleared of the land mines (although you are warned not to stray into the surrounding area).
I am struggling to put into words the feelings this temple evoked in me - it was my favourite....like Ta Phrom only even more wild and untamed. It was so incredibly peaceful......it felt like it had faced it's downfall and then been frozen in time. Honestly, you walk along the path towards jungle and then slowly but surely this huge, stunning, crumbly temple is revealed to you. You have to be reasonably fit to be able to explore the whole thing.....there are doorways with the most intricate carvings but the only way to pass through them is to climb over the stones that once formed part of the ceiling. There is lush vegetation everywhere you look and huge trees that grow from the temple's walls their roots dribbling down the stone work. It was phenomenal!!! It was also wet and we emerged from our clambering looking a bit like drowned rats but not one of us cared.
On the way back into Siam Reap we went to see Chong Khneas, the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake. (We were supposed to be going to Kompong Phlik the stilted village on the Lake but having done some research on it I discovered that the place we went was actually Chong Khneas). That was an experience and a half - I have never seen poverty like it......I honestly thought having spent time in the slums here in Bangkok that it would now be quite difficult to shock me......I was wrong!! These people have practically nothing - no water, no electricity (If there was any it was provided by old car batteries) , some of the houses were constructed mainly from plastic bags and there was mud absolutely everywhere!! Things did improve as we moved away from where the boats were stationed and got into Chong Khneas proper. There are actually more than 5,000 people that form a community who live on floating houses in the middle of this lake - there was a school, a basket ball court and even a church. My gob was well and truly smacked!! We actually got to watch a family moving house.....basically they were towing their house by boat to another location. It was fascinating but shocking to see!!
We headed back to our hotel all feeling slightly shell shocked and in need of a few drinks so that evening we headed to the tourist area of the town. It was great - some really nice bars, loads of restaurants and a couple of really impressive art galleries. We had a great time, we found a lovely little bar called The Ivy so we spent our evening sitting watching the world go by, having a couple of beers and a chat.
The following day was our last and we took it easy - we visited a couple of Wat's in town, grabbed some lunch and then headed out to the airport. We had a fantastic time in Cambodia and I think we will definately go back!!