Banteay Srei temple is considered to be the finest example of any temple built in the Angkorian era. The temple is constructed from red sandstone and lends itself perfectly to the well preserved, intricate carvings, said to be some of the best from anywhere in the world.
Banteay Srei is located near the hill of Phnom Dei, approximately 25 km north-east of the main temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon. Banteay Srei is well signposted and the road is surfaced all the way. A trip from Siem Reap should take about 45 minutes by car or one hour by tuk-tuk. The cost in a private taxi will be approximately $30 return and $20 in a tuk-tuk. There are a few small restaurants offering Khmer food and drinks near the entrance to the temple.
Banteay Srei was consecrated on 22 April 967 A.D and was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Banteay Srei translates as “Citadel of Women”, and it is said that the temple was built by women because the intricacy of the carvings was too fine for men to create.
Banteay Srei is one of the only temples in the Angkor Archaeological Complex not to be commissioned by a king. Instead, it was a brahman, supposedly a tutor to the Khmer king Jayavarman V, who paid for the temple’s construction.
The temple is square in design and has entrances to the east and west, with the east entrance approached by a causeway. Particular points of interest are the beautifully decorated libraries and the three central towers, which are decorated with male and female deities and stunning bas-relief work.
Some of the most notable carvings at Banteay Srei include posturing women with lotus flowers and traditional skirts that are still clearly visible today. In addition, there are highly detailed re-creations of scenes from the Ramayana contained in the library inlays above the lintel. One of the most remarkable things about Banteay Srei is the fact that almost every inch of the interior buildings are covered in fine decoration. Standing guard over the reams of perfectly preserved carvings over are the mythical guardian’s statues.
Banteay Srei was only rediscovered again in 1914 and was the location of a famous art theft when André Malraux stole four devatas statues in 1923. Thankfully, he was quickly arrested and the statues returned. The incident was the catalyst that stimulated international interest in the temple. Banteay Srei was the first temple restoration undertaken by the EFEO in 1930, and as can be seen today, the project was a major success and soon led to other projects such as the restoration of Bayon temple. Banteay Srei was also the first temple to have been given tourist facilities such as a large car park, a dining and shopping area, clear visitor information and an exhibition centre on the history of the temple and its restoration. There is also a small lake behind the temple where local boat trips are possible through the lotus pond for $7 per person.
In addition to the magnificent temple, there is plenty to do in the Banteay Srei district as well as several guesthouses offering basic but comfortable accommodation. Visitors to the area can combine a visit to Banteay Srei as part of a long day trip to the River of a Thousand Lingas at Kbal Spean and Beng Mealea. If you only have half a day to spare, a suggested itinerary might include Banteay Srei, the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Banteay Samre. It takes approximately 1 hour to explore Banteay Srei temple, but allow 90 minutes – 2 hours if you want to visit the information centre and explore the surrounding area.