From the May 2007 "Adventure" issue
The Unseen Angkor Wat
Stunning, jungle-covered Beng Mealea is just 50 miles from Siem Reap,
but they're 50 difficult miles along bumpy roads that turn from dirt track
to mud pit in the spin of a wheel. Even in the high season, you'll find
no tour busses packed with day-trippers clutching their one-day passes.
The place is deserted.
Beng Mealea is more impressive than the beloved Ta Prohm (aka the Tomb
Raider location), but location is everything. Restoration funds are reserved
for sites closer to Siem Reap, so these massive blocks and priceless statues
sit where they fell years ago, slowly disappearing under a carpet of moss.
Here, the jungle keeps a firm grip; exploring Beng Melea is like seeing
Angkor Wat through the eyes of 19th-century French explorers. The floor
plans, in fact, are identical.
Current preservation efforts are focused on clearing landmines from the
surrounding jungle. The collapsed center building is climbed at your own
risk -- live ordnance waits within.
To get to Beng Mealea, hire a knowledgeable driver in Siem Reap. By motorbike,
the trip is two hours each way. Negotiate the price in advance, pay no
more than $15 roundtrip, and allow ample time to explore.
Visit the God of Your Vice
It's no accident that San Marcos, Guatemala’s
New Age capital, sits on Lake Atitlan. Aldous Huxley, no
stranger to exotic locales, compared Atitlan to Lake Como,
describing both as touching "on the limit of permissibly
picturesque." Hidden within the mango, banana, jocote
and avocado trees, dozens of facilities offer all manners
of holistic programs. There's Reiki and Swedish massage;
there's yoga and meditation. There are organic-cooking classes
and courses in homeopathic healing, and even a cluster of
single-person, open-framed pyramids where one can contemplate
the universe for a buck and change.
When you're done cleansing yourself, hire a lancha for a
trip across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, where a few cigarettes
buys you an audience with Maximon, also known as San Simon,
also known as the God of Smoking and Drinking. The shrine's
location changes from year to year, but there's no shortage
of children eager to guide you from the dock to the god's
Tucked in the hills near San Marcos,
La Casa del Mundo is a family-run luxury hotel offering
stunning views and first-rate amenities. Cheaper rooms can
be found elsewhere, but del Mundo's $60 suite is a worthwhile
indulgence. Ferries to the surrounding towns pull up to
the private dock throughout the day.