Twenty five kilometers outside of Angkor lies Banteay Srei, one of the smallest and most well preserved temples of the Angkor complex. What makes Banteay Srei so special are the beautiful sandstone carvings that have been almost perfectly preserved until today.
Banteay Srei is far away from Angkor’s main temples complexes such as Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom. The easiest way to get there is by tuk-tuk or by joining a group tour. If you decide to go by tuk-tuk, expect to pay $25 USD, due to the 38km drive each way. It takes an hour to get to Banteay Srei by tuk-tuk from Siem Reap, and you will pass other temples that are worth a visit on the way. It’s best to visit Banteay Srei as early in the morning as possible, as busloads full of people arrive throughout the day. The temple complex opens at 7:30 am, we got there at 8am and there were already a few tour groups showing up.
The temple was built in the 10th century and the majority is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The buildings in north of the complex are instead dedicated to the four armed god Vishnu, another of the major Hindu gods. Locals call Banteay Srei the lady temple, as its modern name means Citadel of the Women or Citadel of Beauty. Banteay Srei was built out of red sandstone and the orangish-red color still prevails throughout the temples. According to inscriptions, the temple was used until the year 1303 A.D. It was later rediscovered in 1914. The temple has been restored using as much of the original architectural elements and methods as possible.
When you enter the complex, you’ll walk past some small rice fields and a swamp before getting a first look at a former doorway to the temple. The main frame and columns are still in place, and you’ll see the first of many incredibly well preserved carvings above the doorway. A long stone path then leads toward the main part of the Banteay Srei temple complex. The main buildings have been restored beautifully and they have detailed carvings all around them. It’s hard to believe that the temple was built in the 10th century and yet the carvings are still in amazing condition nowadays. The main temple buildings are blocked off by rope, but you can still see the impressive detail the stone has been carved with. In a few parts of the temple, especially around the perimeter, you can get a real close look at the carvings.
On the way out there is an information center with important historical facts, information, and images about the restoration work on Banteay Srei. We spent a good 15 minutes reading the boards in the center, which really brought the restoration process to life for us. Even though the temple is far away from the rest of the Angkor complex and costs a little more to visit, Banteay Srei is one of the most beautiful and special temples in Angkor. If you have enough time, it is more than worth a visit.