Small, pink hued and featuring the most exquisite and detailed carvings, Banteay Srey is considered by many to be one of the loveliest of all the Angkorian temples. Just under 40 kilometres from Siem Reap, the ‘Citadel of the Women’ was beautifully restored by French archaeologists who described it as a “precious gem” and a “jewel in Khmer art”. It is certainly worth the trip, and almost invariably becomes the favourite site of all who visit. There’s more to be discovered nearby too, and it’s worth taking a whole day to take it all in.
Banteay Srey is set in a lovely part of the world. As you leave East Mebon, the 25 kilometre road is lined with lush, vibrant green (depending on the time of year!) paddies and pretty, well-kept traditional wooden houses with flower-strewn gardens filled with palm and banana trees, scratchy chickens, playing children, sleepy dogs and watchful cats. Take a moment to stop off at any of the stalls that also line the road and pick up some souvenirs without the hustle and crush of the markets in town — they have plenty of stuff that’s really made in Cambodia too.
Out here you’ll also find the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, the Landmine Museum and the Angkor Butterfly Centre. If you’re not interested in any of that, then you could instead follow up a morning visit (the best time) to Banteay Srey with a trip to see the waterfalls, lingas and temple of Phnom Khulen, where you can happily splash away an afternoon alongside local daytrippers for whom this is a very popular spot (entrance fee is $20).
The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity is a marvellous project and the first nature conservation and endangered wildlife rescue and breeding centre in Cambodia. Daily tours start at 13:00, bringing a wonderful opportunity to see the centre’s work and Cambodia’s wildlife, so much of which faces growing threats from poaching and logging. Here you’ll find gibbons, langurs and lorises, civets and other wild cats, as well as the shy and rather unusual pangolin. It’s a wonderful opportunity, especially if you’re travelling with kids.
Nearer to Siem Reap, the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre is a surprisingly diverting way to spend an hour. Within a small but glorious tropical garden enclosed by nets thousands of butterflies whirl and twirl in search of nectar. It’s educational too – as guides will demonstrate the whole “how to make a butterfly” process, and another hit with kids.
Not far from here, the Cambodia Landmine Museum provides a highly informative and important insight into Cambodia’s past and its continuing struggle with the legacies of war. Landmines continue to kill and maim Cambodians every year, some of which were laid by the extraordinary man who founded the Landmine Museum. As a child, Akira was ‘recruited’ by, in turn, the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese and Cambodian armies, all of whom compelled him to lay landmines. The museum funds invaluable demining work performed by Akira and his team, and he will not rest until every last mine is pulled out of the ground of his country. His work was recognised by CNN last year, when he made it to the final 10 of the CNN Heroes for 2011.
Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity
T: (099) 604 017 / (011) 426 856
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre
T: (097) 8527 852
The Cambodia Landmine Museum
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.