Why you should visit Banteay Srei

One of the less well-known temples of the ancient Angkor complex, Banteay Srei offers an interesting contrast to the typical architecture found at Angkor. The pretty little temple is a short distance further from Siem Reap than most of the other temples, but is definitely worth the extra effort. While Angkor Wat is the most famous temple of South East Asia and Angkor Thom was made famous by the Tomb Raider movies, Banteay Srei has been somewhat overlooked.

How is Banteay Srei different from the other Angkor temples?

Unlike most of the Angkor structures, Benteay Srei was not built by a king, but by a courtier. Constructed in the 10th century the temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

Banteay Srei means ‘citadel of women’ or ‘citadel of beauty’ and it is remarkable for the intricate detail of its carvings. These include impressive historical combat scenes, mystical creatures like toothy Kala who represents the passage of time, devatas (standing female deities) and dvarapalas (human or demonic and armed temple guardians).

Devata, Banteay Srei, Cambodia

The temple has a unique appearance because it is built of pink sandstone. Its layout is in three neat concentric enclosures, featuring several pediments and lintels that are still in tact. It is compact and surrounded by a moat. Much restoration work has been completed to return the temple to its former glory. A drainage system was introduced to prevent water damage and some trees threatening the complex were removed.

Battle scene on a pediment, Banteay Srei, Cambodia

Why is Banteay Srei special?

While Banteay Srei is not as grand as some of the larger temples, such as Angkor Wat, it is very interesting for the level of detail that can still be seen. The artwork in the sculpture is fascinating and, for the most part, fairly easy to make out. Every corner seems to reveal a new treasure to inspect and decipher, which is endlessly fascinating. The pink sandstone is also brighter and more inviting than the grey rock of other temples. Being compact, while not so impressive on an architectural scale perhaps, made Banteay Srei an intimate and straightforward temple to visit.

Banteay Srei, Cambodia

Banteay Srei is unique in that, while incredibly detailed, it doesn’t feel as ‘showy’ as some of the other temples at Angkor. It really rewards visitors that invest time in exploring the temple in close detail. It is not unimaginable of course that the Angkor kings, when building their temples, felt the need to make a representation of immense power.

Whatever the kings’ motives, each temple in the Angkor complex is impressive for its own reasons, but Banteay Srei is my favourite. Is there an Angkor temple that appealed more to you than the others? If so, which one?


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