Banteay Srei: En route to citadel of women in Angkor Siem Reap

Let’s turn back time and visit one of the most interesting temples in Angkor complex, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Banteay Srei – a citadel of women.

Why Banteay Srei?

About Angkor World Heritage Site

Before jumping in the reasons, take an overview about one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: Angkor complex. “Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings” (UNESCO writes).

Being considered as one of the most unique ancient heritages in Asia, Angkor has lots to offer us a long visit. However, do you know how huge this complex is? Generally, Angkor complex includes 3 main parts: Angkor, Roluos and Banteay Srei. It takes you days to explore all the main spots, so what to suggest here is that you should do a research what to visit first for your Angkor trip based on your own preference.

Why the temple?

So among various temples in Angkor complex, why Banteay Srei should be on your itinerary? Locals have pointed out four best features of this temple:

1 – The furthest temple from Siem Reap (35km) to visit. Well, people love to be around the centre, why don’t you get off your beaten track with this? It’s gonna be awesome!

2 – The temple in the complex using the biggest amount of red sandstone.

3 – The most sophisticated architecture temple among all temples in Cambodia.

4 – The smallest-scaled temple among several simulations of Angkor Wat temple.

The temple was built to dedicate to Vishnu and Shiva in Hindu religion. Banteay Srei is just like a subtle yet delicate simulation of Angkor Wat which old men had left in the middle of a fairy tale mysterious jungle. There were two hypotheses of how ancients carved the patterns here. One is that they used ancient coins of Cambodia, two is that they used diamond because this material is tough enough to carve on red sandstone. Its outstanding and photogenic carving masterpieces are also what draw the attention of visitor worldwide.

How was it discovered?

Like whole Angkor complex, the temple had been forgotten for decades until the whole complex was discovered by a French archaeologist in 1914. In 1923, a couple of young French writer and a friend  of them had stolen many stele in the temple and brought them to Phnom Penh to sell, however they were caught here and sentenced three years in jail. The sentence later was told not to be made without reasons.

The temple has sadly witnessed loss of many carvings and stele due to the time Red Khmer attacked Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and also stealing. Since then, Cambodian authorities made more efforts on protecting and preserving the great Angkor heritage.

Geographical position

“The lady temple”, “the tiny temple”, “the pink temple”; Banteay Srei goes by many nicknames, an indication of the distinctiveness of this little gem of a temple, which feels so different to the imposing grandeur of the main Angkorian complex. Banteay Srei’s original name was Tribhuvanamahesvara. It was built during 10th century under the reign of King Jayavarman V. The citadel of women is 35km away from Siem Reap centre, 25km north-east away from group of temples of Yasodharapura ancient kingdom & Angkor Thom. The temple is near Phnom Dei hill. It was surrounded by a ditch running through a jungle then meeting up with Mekong river.

Architecture

Banteay Srei looks like a priceless jade of Angkor. The temple was mainly built by small red sandstone, following Hinduism architecture. By ancient men’s skillful hands and sophisticated eyes, visitor nowadays can admire such a detailed, dextrous and stunning carving masterpieces. There are three parts in the temple, the northern one dedicated to Vishnu, the central and the southern ones dedicated to Shiva.

The temple faces the east, with a gate at the start of a causeway which leads to three enclosures. The causeway has the remains of corridors on either side. The two outer enclosures, parts of which have collapsed or been removed to museums, both depict scenes from Hindu mythology. The reddish coloured sandstone, which gives Banteay Srei its nickname of the “pink” temple, is soft and can be carved like wood. This helps explain the masses of ornamental decoration all over the building. Virtually every available surface features intricately portrayed stories and motifs. However it is the inner enclosure housing the two libraries and the sanctuary which features the most elaborate carvings.

How to go there

Generally, the temple is covered in the 3-day pass (USD 37) you buy for the whole Angkor complex visit. The most common way to explore it is that you can rent a tuk tuk through villages and rice fields, and it takes around 30 minutes from the temples of Angkor. The driver takes you out to the complex (even the main temples are not located in town) and then takes you from temple to temple, waiting while you are inside. Everything is definitely not walking distance just for your information.

It’s also possible to do by bicycle, and is accessible by taxi as well. On the way to the temple you will pass Landmine Museum, an information center and NGO which specializes in relief work for children affected by landmines and is well worth a short visit (USD 5 for adult ticket, free for Khmer and children under 12).

Hotel suggestion near Banteay Srei

  • Bong Thom Homestay: 12.9km away from Banteay Srei temple
  • Shining Angkor Boutique Hotel: 560 Group One, Kok Chok, Siem Reap
  • Galaxy Angkor Boutique Hotel: Mongol 3 Village, Sangkat Slokram, Siem Reap
  • Angkor Rural Boutique Hotel: Chrey Thom village, Kandek Commune, Siem Reap
  • Palm Village Resort & Spa: Phum Trapaing Ses, Khum Kok Chork, Siem Reap

Notes to visit the site

Cambodia is a Buddhist country, thus when visiting the nation, specifically the temple here, please bare in mind those basic following notes:

  • It is recommended to visit the temple in the early morning
  • Make a plan for visit. As being told, Banteay Srei is only a small temple in a great Angkor complex, thus please do make a plan to visit it to enjoy the complete world heritage site. You can consider rent a tuk tuk or a bike on your own preferences.
  • Dress neatly and properly. Temples are sacred sites, do follow the dress code instruction to pay respect to destinations.
  • This is a must: Water. Cambodia is extremely hot as it lies in a tropical region. If you are out all day without providing enough water for yourself, you can get fainted anytime, so please notice.
  • Please do not draw, write, heavily touch or destroy on the site.
  • If time allows, do spot on both sunrise and sunset in the temple and also other temple in the complex, they will absolutely give you a magnificent landscape view in a thousand-year-old heritage.
  • Do find a local tour guide if you don’t want to explore on your own, also support for the development of the country’s tourism.

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