Banteay Chhmar town and it’s temples are found in Cambodia’s north-western province of Banteay Meanchey, 90 kilometres from Siem Reap and 60 kilometres from Poipet and the border crossing with Thailand.
Less visited than most of Cambodia’s famous temples, nevertheless, Banteay Chhmar Temple is very much a Cambodian national treasure. Built in a similar time to Angkor Thom, Banteay Chhmar has numerous Buddhist inscriptions, images and bas-reliefs relating to specific points in the Khmer Empire, signifying its importance as a temple complex.
History of Banteay Chhmar
For nearly 800 years the temple remained unexplored and untouched, however, the early 1990’s saw shameful looting in the complex. Thankfully, today with the collaboration of local people, Global Heritage Fund and the Cambodian government, Banteay Chhmar is being conserved for the benefit of the local community and visitors from all around the world. It has also recently been added to the Cambodian list for submission as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Banteay Chhmar is the 4th biggest temple built during the Angkorian period after Preah Khan, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. There are also nine satellite temples that are part of the complete temple complex. In addition, Banteay Torp, another fascinating temple is approximately 12 kilometres south of the Banteay Chhmar temple and is well worth seeing.
Although there is no recorded or written name for the temple, it is generally believed that the name Banteay Chhmar meant “The Small Citadel” or “Narrow Fortress” (a Khmer word possibly, chhmarl meaning small or narrow). Over time, the name became chhmar (meaning cat) and therefore, now the temple is commonly called the “Citadel of the Cat.”
It is known that Banteay Chhmar was commissioned by King Jayavarman VII in the 12th-13th Century and contained a shrine believed to belong to Indravarman, and probably a son of Jayavarman VII. A Khmer inscription found at the site (now on display at the National Museum in Phnom Penh) tells us how the prince was protected on different occasions by four of his servants, all of whom lost their lives in his defending their king. The inscription actually lists the names of the servants and tells us that their images were placed in the four corners of this shrine.
The temple is similar in style to Bayon Temple in the Angkor Wat temple complex and is only one of only two sites outside Bayon with the famous face towers. Banteay Chhmar also boasts a staggering total of over 1 kilometre of bas-reliefs. Temple entrance fee is $5 per person and this includes multi-day entrance to all of the satellite temples and Banteay Torp Temple.
Getting & Staying There
Banteay Chhmar town and temples can be reached via private tour or you can book a bus/private taxi from Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Poipet.
For travellers wanting to stay the night in Banteay Chhmar the Tented Camp offers guests luxurious and fully furnished accommodation within the main temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. Guests are able to experience a serene sense of peace and calm as you can take your time to relax and explore the temple ruins hidden amongst the lush forest. The natural condition of the temple and its remote setting is unlike any other temples in Cambodia and the tents are designed to have a low impact on the environment and wildlife.
In some ways, after over 800 years, Banteay Chhmar Temple still remains almost the same. Many local Khmer people still make their livelihoods through farming, fishing and local handicrafts as they would have done when the temple was built. As the infrastructure in the area improves, more tourists will be able to visit this very special temple and in turn help the local people and community.
Tourism offers an excellent long-term, sustainable and low-impact way to improve the livelihoods of the community. As a tourist to the area, you are helping to protect the cultural heritage and environment, as well as increasing the income for villagers through tourism activities.