The story goes that a poor Samre farmer (Samre were a group of people who populated the Kulen hills to the northeast of Siem Reap) by the name of Pou had a particular talent for growing sweet cucumbers. When Pou presented some of the cucumbers to the then-king, he was so taken with them he secured the exclusive rights and commanded Pou to kill anybody who tried to enter his cucumber fields without permission. When cucumber production dropped off during the monsoon, the king became impatient and snuck into the fields himself to try and source a few of the delectable cucumbers — the farmer followed his instructions and speared him to death. When he realised his mistake he buried the king in the middle of the field and hoped nobody would notice.
When a new king couldn’t be decided upon, the dignitaries consulted a divine elephant to select the new monarch. The elephant walked straight to the farmer’s shack, where it saluted the farmer, knelt and then encircled him with its trunk and placed him gently on its back.
Once king, Pou his predecessor dug up and performed proper funeral rites at Pre Rup (guides more often tell this story at Pre Rup than at Banteay Samre). His subjects were a bit put out being ruled by a Samre, and despite all his efforts he couldn’t get the respect he deserved. In the end, Pou moved out to Banteay Samre and set up his court there.
Built by Suryavarman II, Banteay Samre is believed to have been completed early in the 12th century. An extensive renovation from 1936 to 1944 was led by archaeologist Maurice Glaize and the results are impressive. With its tall and windowless laterite walls, the temple is rather citadel-like, and while the central tower may remind you of Angkor Wat, visitors who have seen the Khmer sites in Thailand will also notice similarities to the temples at Phanom Rung and Phimai.
It is thought that the temple sat at the centre of a sizeable city as the eastern causeway (which was once flanked by a naga bridge) runs for 200 metres and it’s easy to imagine a city surrounding it. Aside from the imposing outer wall, another highlight worth mentioning are the unusually deeply carved lintels and pediments — while not as spectacular as Banteay Srei, they are nevertheless very attractive.
Best viewed in the early morning or late afternoon, many choose to combine a visit here with the trek out to Banteay Srei, in which case you are best to visit Banteay Samre before Banteay Srei to avoid disappointment. Banteay Samre, though not as far out as Banteay Srei, is not in the central Angkor complex and not worth cycling to, though it’s reachable by tuk tuk. One of the appeals of Banteay Samre is that tour groups don’t visit this temple (yet!) so it is relatively quiet throughout the day.