Connected to the Angkor Wat temple complex, Banteay Srei is a district located 32km northeast of Siem Reap in Cambodia. The roads are good and directions clear, so a trip from Siem Reap should take about 45 minutes by car or one hour by tuk-tuk. It’s also home to a 10th-century Hindu temple. Made out of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to elaborate carvings, the temple is often described as the ‘Jewel in Khmer Art’.
Yet, while Banteay Srei is popular with tourists, it’s the opposite of the tourist-built extremities of Siem Reap. There’s no Pub Street, late-night revelling or seed. Instead it’s the kind of place where you find Cambodian rural authenticity with farms, ox carts, tractors and handicraft villages. A trip there will give you a chance to learn about Cambodian culture, food and lifestyle, with well-prepared homestays.
Besides the temples, there is plenty to see in the area, such as the Kbal Teuk Community Forest, the Butterfly Centre, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, the Cambodia Landmine Museum and much more. This makes it a perfect tonic to its high profile neighbour, Siem Reap.
Where to Go
Banteay Srei Temples
First built in 967, Banteay Srei is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It was rebuilt and expanded in the 11th century, carvings were added in the 12th century and it was finished in the 14th century. The temple was rediscovered in 1914 and restored during the 1930s. It’s a masterpiece of carving technique on red sandstone and laterite. The entrance fee is included in the temple pass for the main Angkor complex, which is US$20 for one day. If you want to see this temple only, you will have to pay $20 anyway, so it’s best to combine the visit with trips to other sites.
Other temple and holy sites include Banteay Samre, Kbal Spean and Phnom Bok.
The Butterfly Centre
With more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies, it’s the largest fully netted butterfly centre in Southeast Asia. It’s also an educational trip for children, as they can witness the whole growth process from egg, caterpillar and pupa through to adult. Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre is open daily from 9am to 4.30pm, and the admission fee is $5 for adults and $2 for children (five to 11 years old).
The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity
Considered the first nature preservation scheme in Cambodia, this centre is known for its wildlife rescue, animal rehabilitation and breeding of endangered species. You can find species under protection including pangolins, pileated gibbons and silvered langurs here. Offering 90-minute guided tours, the place is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Guests are asked to pay a minimum donation of $3.
The Cambodia Landmine Museum
Established by Cambodian Aki Ra, a landmine clearer, this museum has a collection of mines, mortars and other weaponry from Cambodia’s civil war. There is also a mock minefield where visitors can spot the dangers. The museum is open from 7.30am to 5pm daily and the requested donation is $3 per person. The proceeds are used for mine-awareness campaigns and a rehabilitation and training facility.
Kbal Teuk Community Forest and Srah Doun Riek
Kbal Teuk Community Forest is a new community-based ecotourism plan with a diverse range of flora and fauna, including bompong lok or pitcher plants that are carnivorous and capture small insects. Guided walks are available or you can take a boat trip from the forest to reach Srah Doun Riek — a natural wetland and a popular picnic spot.
There are several handicraft enterprises in Banteay Srei, including basket weaving in Preah Dak Village, sugar palm wood carving, Khmer Nokor leather shadow puppets and Bayon Smile wood carvings.
Where to Stay
Banteay Srei has three homestay areas including Tbaeng (+855 964 710 141) with 15 local homestays, Bayon Smile (+855 979 412 832) with six local homestays and Run Ta Ek Ecovillage (+855 889 186 446) with six boutique homestays. Depending on the location of the homestay, guests will be able to enjoy appropriate entertainment activities, such as temple treks, cycling trips or farm visits.
Vietnam Airlines runs nine daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap. Visit vietnamairlines.com for the best-priced flights. From Saigon you can reach Siem Reap by bus, visit giantibis.com for schedules. From Siem Reap, you can either take a tuk-tuk or private car to Banteay Srei. VietJetAir is also now running direct flights from Hanoi to Siem Reap.
Click on visitbanteaysrei.org for more info.
Photos by Vu Ha Kim Vy / October 2016