16 miles north east of the main group of Angkorian temples lies Banteay Srei – perhaps the finest example of Khmer architecture in the world.
It was a long journey by tuktuk to Banteay Srei from the entry of the Angkor Archaeological Park but the bumpy ride was well worth it (the entrance to the temple is built in to your Angkor Pass). Built in 967 AD by a guy named Yajnavaraha, who was a royal counsellor at the time, the temple was only rediscovered from the infamously protruding jungle as recently as 1914. I found it interesting that Banteay Srei is pretty much the only Hindu temple (it was built for the Hindu Goddess Shiva) built in a predominantly Buddhist empire. I draw similarities with Candi Prambanan in Indonesia, the Hinduism of which is in stark contrast to the Buddhist monuments of yesteryear in that part of the world (admittedly, Indonesia is now the largest Muslim nation on Earth, neither Buddhist nor Hindu, but that’s another story).
The name loosely translates from the Khmer language to “the Citadel of Women”, and this is apparently due to the fact that the intricate carvings in the temple (seen in the pics above) could only have been performed by a woman! The carvings were immaculate and astounding, and I only wish I had taken far more photos than I did. Sometimes I wish to go back to certain places, just for the sake of photography, and Banteay Srei was certainly one of those places.
Banteay Srei is made essentially of a red sandstone and is built in a much different kind of styles to other temples in the Angkor area. The appearance of the sandstone over the years, however, has brightened to a striking pink colour due to erosion and pollution. However, this sandstone lends itself to elaborate art and decoration which adorn the temple walls here, and the buildings of the temple are actually miniature in size when compared to other more grandiose sites in Siem Reap such as Angkor Wat or Preah Khan. I learned that Banteay Srei is the only temple in Angkor that was not built by a monarch, but that does not diminish its regal reputation.
I loved my trip to Banteay Srei. I would say that it was not quite as a powerful experience as visiting Angkor Wat or perhaps even the many faces of Bayon, but I think Banteay Srei sits pretty as the third best temple in Siem Reap, and despite being a little farther away than some other attractions in the city, it’s an important place to tick off your bucket list. I think you would be a little regretful if you came home from Cambodia and didn’t get to the see amazing red (pink!) sandstone temple!