Srah Srang, meaning ‘royal bath’, is a mid-sized baray opposite the east entrance of Banteay Kdei that runs out towards Pre Rup. Some 700 metres long and 300 metres wide, the baray was dug out in the mid-10th century but then built in the 12th century during the reign of Jayavarman VII. It has an almost sublime beauty to it — Angkor expert Maurice Glaize compared its majestic calm to that of Piece d’eau des Suisses at Versailles, yet many today give it but a passing glance.
The western end of the Srah Srang remains in the best condition, lined by a long stone wall with a terrace and staircase at its centre. The stairs are flanked by nagas and fearsome lions as they run down to the water’s edge, but they don’t put off the local kids who are often found splashing around here. The reservoir is semi-filled; when the water levels drop you can make out temple ruins that once would have sat in the middle.
Dawn here is breathtaking and late afternoon is also particularly pleasant. If you rise early it is easy to take in sunrise from the landing stage at Srah Srang then head over to nearby Ta Prohm before the crowds arrive – this is the best alternative to sunrise at Angkor Wat and will particularly appeal to keen photographers. There is an impressive stillness in the early morning light – thereafter the surrounds are less quiet, since Srah Srang is located by the main road, with the intersection east to the Grand Circuit, west to Ta Prohm and returning south to Siem Reap.
Should you have ample time, you can walk all the way around its edge; on one side runs a series of restaurants for tourists, the other is home to a small village. At the main platform there are also drinks vendors and a couple of local restaurants should you be in need of refreshment. However, some fairly strong-willed kids will also try to sell you trinkets and postcards – don’t promise to buy something from them later if you don’t mean it, as they will hound you.