The charm of Banteay Srei lies in its well-preserved state, small size in relation to other Angkor temples and decorative wall carvings that showcase some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art. Indeed the highly intricate carvings that grace this temple gives the first-time visitor a feeling of discovering a mysterious sanctuary in the middle of a magical forest!
Banteay Srei loosely translates to ‘Citadel of the Women”. The belief was that only a woman’s handiwork could have been responsible for creating something so beautiful and delicate. Dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, the carvings on this pink-red sandstone temple cover virtually every available stone surface, with a predominance of apsaras — celestial maidens who excel in the art of dancing and seduction.
Banteay Srei has quite an impressive moat with lotus plants growing in the water. But more remarkable is that Banteay Srei was completed in 967AD – some 150 years before Angkor Wat!
Banteay Srei lies 38 km from Siem Reap, requiring extra time for travel. The journey by tuk-tuk takes about forty-five minutes each way, costing around US$20-US$25, including any stops you might make along the way. Renting a car with an English-speaking driver will come up to US$40, but the upside here is that you get to travel in air-conditioned comfort.
To access Banteay Srei you will need an Angkor pass. I would go for the 3-day pass for US$40. It costs the same as two single-day passes (US$20 for one day) and gives you unlimited access for 3 consecutive days to Angkor Wat, Bayon & Ta Prohm, as well as to some of the lesser-known temples.
The best times to visit Banteay Srei are early morning or late afternoon when there are no tour groups. I walked along the circular route, which took me past a small wetland nature reserve before arriving at the temple. It was rather pleasant to stroll down the gentle, shady path of this bird haven, complete with wooden walkways built across the lake for a better viewing experience of the surrounding landscape.
The sanctuary is entered from the east by a doorway only 1.08 metres high. What this means is that you need to stoop when making your way in and out to avoid knocking your head. Inside the temple, six stairways lead up to the platform, each guarded by two kneeling statues of human figures with animal heads.
It is out of the way, but Banteay Srei is one special temple that you should not miss.