What we say:
Consecrated in 967 AD during the reign of King Rajendravarman, Banteay Srei was never a royal temple. It is thought to have been built by a guru of the king and it is believed that this lack of a royal go-ahead is one of the reasons why it is so small.
What Banteay may lack in size it more than makes up for in beauty. Some have suggested that the temple was built by women as no man could have created something so beautiful and with so fine a hand. The carvings cover an incredible amount of the temple's surface and the reliefs are often deep.
As with many Khmer temples, the main sections of Banteay Srei were built of laterite, but instead of the carving being done into a plaster coating normally layered onto the stone, the temple was faced with pink sandstone and the carvings done into that. The results are breathtaking. Throughout the monument are lintels, door jambs and window columns all layered with amazingly well executed and preserved carvings.
When the French came across the site in 1914 it was totally covered by forest and partly buried by earth. It didn't take them long to realise they'd stumbled upon an outstanding find, so outstanding in fact that French author Andre Lalraux decided to take a chunk of the temple home with him. He cut out over a tonne of the finest apsaras and other carvings and carted them back to Phnom Penh where he planned to surreptitiously freight his plunder back to France. Fortunately he was arrested and sentenced to a couple of years in prison (a term he never served) and the carvings were saved. Lalraux was later appointed Minister of Culture under Charles de Gaulle.
Banteay Srei is one of the most popular temples and, particularly in the morning, is overrun with tour bus upon tour bus. While early morning is a great time to visit as the sun shining direct on the temple really brings out all its beauty, we'd suggest trying mid to late afternoon (though not too late) to try to dodge the worst of the hordes.
The temple is around 30 kilometres from Siem Reap. In a tuk-tuk it should take less than an hour each way and cost you roughly $20-$25, including any stops you might make along the way. If you splurge on a car with English-speaking driver, expect to pay up to $40.
If the temple entrance looks busy when you arrive, turn right instead of left and take a short circular walk around the small wetland nature reserve, where you'll often see decent birdlife. You'll come across viewpoints on wooden piers.
More details32km from Siem Reap
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