Banteay Srei is pretty and feminine. One of the few temples of Angkor, which is commissioned by a brahmin rather than a king, this small but exquisitely carved site is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Literally meaning, the ‘Citadel of the Women’ Banteay Srei‘s carvings are so delicate that they are popularly believed to be too fine for the hand of a man. Thus, supposedly executed by a woman, the temple of Banteay Srei is also very pink. Made from stone of a rose pink hue, this small Angkor temple is considered to be the jewel of the Angkor crown and its carvings are definitely one of the finest in the world. Commissioned to be built in AD 967, many of Banteay Srei‘s carvings are 3 dimensional and the squat square temple can be approached from both the east and the west. The eastern side is connected with a causeway and luxurious carvings fill every niche of the libraries and its 3 central towers. Delicate women in traditional skirts and lotus flowers in their hands, seem to be a Banteay Srei favourite motif and lavish depictions of the scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana can also be found. Interspersed between them are male and female divinities and unusual, but exquisite stone filigree work.
I had combined Banteay Srei with a trip to the nearby Kulen National Park. Revered by the Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, Phnom Kulen is popular for weekend pilgrimages and during festivals. Known to hold a prominent position in Khmer history, it was at Phnom Kulen, that king Jayavarman II had proclaimed himself to be god king or devaraja and given birth to the Cambodian kingdom. Though, filled with many attractions such as the giant Reclining Buddha, beautiful waterfalls and remote jungle temples, Kulen National Park‘s hefty entrance fee of 20 USD make most of the travellers give it a miss. Compared to what you get at Angkor for the same price makes Phnom Kulen seem like an unlikely deal, but the truth is that this day trip is worth the bumpy ride and the fee. The drive to Kulen National Park is green and virginal and Khmer countryside looks pastoral. Upon entering the park gates, the road goes uphill through some spectacular jungle scenery to eventually fork into 2 different paths. One leads to a magnificent waterfall and a 9th century temple ruin.
The other road goes to a small river, which is filled with rived bed carvings and Wat Preah Ang Thom. Built on a sandstone boulder, this quiet wat has a rock cut Reclining Buddha at the summit and smells of wild greens and coiling incense. It is a very important pilgrimage spot for the Khmer people and sometimes local musicians can be found playing elaborate ensembles of musical instruments. The waterfall, which was also featured in Lara Croft : Tomb Raider, is a nice place to catch a breather and a jungle covered 9th century temple called Prasad Krau Romeas sits atop its crown. Due to lack of time and exhaustion, I had given the rest of Kulen‘s attractions amiss and returned to Siem Reap, feeling re energised. Although, drop dead gorgeous Angkor‘s grandeur can be a bit overwhelming and one can get seriously templed out amidst the cluster of ancient Khmer stone monuments. Thus, Phnom Kulen had been a refreshing change and it marked a relaxing end of my Angkor heritage exploration.
TRAVEL TIP – Banteay Srei lies 32km northeast of Siem Reap and 21km northeast of Bayon. A well marked, smoothly paved road goes all the way to the site and the drive takes about 45 minutes by car. It is also possible to reach there by remark moto and this takes around 1 hour. There are several atmospheric restaurants on the way to Banteay Srei and the drive is extremely pretty. Fresh green countryside complete with rice fields, water buffalos and lotus ponds run along the road and several homestays make it a jumping off base alternative to Siem Reap. Though located slightly away from the main Angkorian sites, Banteay Srei is beautifully restored and has an impressive number of tourist facilities, including a visitors centre, organised car park, designated dining and shopping halls, exhibition on the site‘s history and restoration. A lovely lotus filled reservoir lies at the back of the temple and it offers boating facilities. Other nearby attractions include the Landmine Museum and Banteay Samre. Another possible day trip includes Banteay Srei, River of a Thousand Lingas and Being Mealea. The temple is open from 0730-1730 hrs and is included in the Angkor ticket priced at 37/62/72 USD for 1/3/7 days respectively.
The huge plateau of Phnom Kulen looms around 50km from Siem Reap and about 15km from Banteay Srei. The entrance fee is a steep 20 USD and due to the uphill road, reaching there by a rental car or taxi is advisable. Although, it can be combined with Beng Mealea or Banteay Srei, dedicating a full day or most of it will make the visit worthwhile. There are plenty of sights and sites to explore at Phnom Kulen. Along with 20 or so small Angkorian temples, there is the pyramidal style Prasat Rong Chen. At the hard to access Sra Damrei or the Elephant Pond, there is an impressive gallery of life sized stone elephants, lions, frog etc. A moto ride is required to reach Sra Damrei from Wat Preah Ang Thom and then 1 kilometres walk to reach the stone animals. The views are quite impressive from there and it is difficult to reach during the rainy season. There are also ancient rock carvings at Poeng Tbal and a semi restored temple of Damrei Krap.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE