Ah, the temples of Angkor. I can’t think of a single traveler I’ve met who visited Cambodia without taking time to view at least a few of these historic marvels. Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the most famous of the bunch, although there are around two dozen other temples that are just as impressive in their own right. Bayon is covered in carved faces. With massive trees overgrowing the walls, Ta Prohm added great atmosphere to the film Tomb Raider. However, Banteay Srei, with its detailed red sandstone carvings, was one of my favourites. Although it’s a bit out of the way, not within the main Angkor Tom complex, it is well-worth a visit.
While in Cambodia two years ago for my brother’s wedding, my family and I traveled to Siem Reap and spent three days visiting the temples of Angkor. As the styles between temples vary dramatically from one location to another, I daresay we even avoided the common traveler’s plight (especially in Asian countries) of being simply ‘templed out’!
Unlike any other Angkor temple, Banteay Srei was built not by a king, but by a courtier, in honour of the Hindu god Shiva. It is quite small by Khmer standards, although no less worth visiting. Phallic lingas are carved in various spots within the complex. 18 kilometres away is Kbal Spean, or the River of a Thousand Lingas. Getting to this river involves a 40-minute trek through beautiful seasonal rainforest terrain. During the rainy season, when the river is at its highest output, the carvings are barely visible. If you’re there in the dry season, as we were, they are quite easy to see, and make for an interesting outing.
Even better- we visited a waterfall on our way back to the trail’s beginning, which was the perfect antidote to such a hot, sunny day!
Its modern name of Banteay Srei, meaning Citadel of the Women or Citadel of Beauty, may well refer to the thought that this temple’s detailed, delicate carvings could only have been done by women! It’s impressive how well these carvings have stood the test of time considering that this temple has been around for a millennium.