Tourists looking to get off the beaten track in Cambodia may want to explore West Mebon – an 11th Century temple located on an island in the West Baray Reservior.
West Mebon is Falling Down!
I visited this temple in today (January 2020) and sadly as the temple fell down, it is currently under reconstruction. If you visit West Mebon at the moment all you will see is cranes rebuilding it and the main part of the temple sectioned off as a building site. No-one told us before going – not the hotel or the driver, so maybe they didn’t know that this was going on!
About West Mebon
West Mebon was a square pond temple built in 11th Century on an island in the middle of the West Baray reservoir. There used to be twelve pavilions (three on each side) but only three are still standing today. You cannot see these close up as it is currently a construction site cornered off with cranes and diggers!
You can see a Buddha statue on the island and a small hut overlooking the water with information about the temple.
How to get to West Mebon
To get to the temple at West Mebon you will need to get a driver to take you to West Baray and from there you need to grab a boat to take you across unless the waters are down in the very dry season (rare). Try to share with locals if you can because the price is per boat not per person. We managed to get it for $20 for two of us – $10 each which was expensive, but we went at a time that there were not many others going across. I think that it will be easier when the temple is reconstructed and reopened.
On West Mebon Island, there is just one family….and one police officer to protect the heritage of the temple and ensure that no one takes riches that may be discovered on site!
History and Renovations of West Mebon Temple
In 1936, there was large scale looting when a villager paid a visit to Henri Marchal who preceded to travel to the island and dig revealing the head and torso of a reclining Vishnu.
Restoration of the temple started in 2012. The reinforced earth technique has been implemented to restore the West Mebon temple which was developed and suggested by UNESCO.
West Baray Reservoir
It was still interesting because you can see fishing on the reservoir and look at the ancient irrigation system. The King of Angkorian times moved the capital from Kullen mountain to Angkor Wat because the irrigation would be better and more opportunity to send water to the rice fields – a very clever and forward thinking concept for this time.
Along the reservoir you will see locals hanging out and fisherman fishing and casting their nets.
It doesn’t take long for the fish to make their way from the fisherman to the market stalls where you can buy freshly grilled fish on kebabs and banana leaves…
Stalls and Hammock Bars of West Baray
On the banks of the reservoir you can see locals fishing and a little market that sells food and clothes stalls.
But what West Baray is most famous for is the chilled out hammock bars along the river.
A note about West Baray reservoir – expect hordes of low flying dragon flies!
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.
Further Reading on Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples
If you are spending time in Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple is the main attraction. But Angkor Wat and the temples on the main circuit can get very busy. Do the main temple circuits of course *(big loop and small loop), but also consider the Roluos Group temples and Preah Vihear up near the Thai border (possible as a day trip).
If you have longer to spend in Cambodia you might find this backpacking Cambodia article helpful.