“Are we the first ones here?” I excitedly asked the guards checking tickets at the temple entrance.
“No,” he looked at me seriously, “you are second. We were first,” and with that he burst into jolly laughter with his fellow guards.
I half wasn’t expecting our tuk-tuk driver to show up at 5 in the morning after agreeing on the time the previous day, but he was there right on time as we rolled down the steps with droopy eyes.
We set off towards the temples with no street lamps to point the way, just streams of light from the odd motorcycle, but for the most part it was just us on a tuk-tuk surrounded by darkness; first riding through thick forests and then through misty fields where a strange haze hung over the land.
Banteay Srei was the furthest temple I visited during my stay in Siem Reap. Located 32 kilometres away from the city, the journey translated into a lengthy one hour ride via bouncy tuk-tuk, but it was definitely worth it as this turned out to be one of the most memorable temples of my three day temple hopping adventure across the land.
What makes this Hindu temple stand out among the rest is that it was constructed using mostly red sandstone, and because this stone lends itself very well to carving, Banteay Srei was embellished with far more detailed carvings and sculptures than say Angkor Wat or Bayon.
Every inch of the doorways and walls are adorned with leaf motifs and female deities known as devatas.
Another interesting little fact about Banteay Srei is that this temple was not commissioned by a king, rather by a Brahman who was a tutor to the royal family, which goes to show just how much power he held.
While many of the temples of Angkor can begin to blend together after you’ve spent three days going from one set of ruins to the next, this is one of the temples that I remember most vividly; in part because of its truly impressive architecture, but also because I had the whole place to myself which is very rare when you are visiting a popular Angkorian temple.
There are countless temples to visit when you come to Siem Reap, but if you are looking for something that’s a little more unique, then I highly recommend Banteay Srei – and who knows, if you rise early enough, you may just have it to yourself like I did.
For more info on things to do and see around Siem Reap, you can check out my Cambodia travel itinerary.
Have you been to Banteay Srei?
Do you have a favorite Angkorian temple?
Hadn’t heard of this place till now, but sure looks interesting. Not sure if I’d be able to wake up that early (;)) but I am sure this place would have excellent sunrise photo-opps what with all the beautifully carved idols. Reminds me a lot of the hindu temples in the Central part of India.
I am sure a long nap would have followed after the achievement of being the first one in a surreal place 🙂
I hadn’t heard of this one before either, but I’m glad I ended up making it all the way out there. I’m actually heading to India later this autumn so I’m sure there will be plenty of temple hopping happening over there. 😉
Siem Reap is so stunning and it’s really deserving to be a World Heritage Site. The ones who made and designed the temples are really geniuses. If they were born at this generation I think they’d be popular architects and designers.
I also love the soil (last photo) because it looks so red. 🙂
Agreed, these temples are one of the most impressive feats of architecture I have ever seen. I actually met a couple when I went to Angkor Wat, both of them were architects and they had come all the way from South America just because of their love for architecture.
Beautiful. It’s lovely that you had it all to yourself – although I think it would be a little creepy to me as well. I once showed up to a place and was the first person to arrive for the day, and that place wasn’t beautiful at all and was EXTREMELY creepy. Ever since then, I’ve vowed never to be the first person anywhere when sightseeing, lol.
Your blog really makes me want to visit Thailand and soon!
Haha, what place were you visiting? I don’t think I would enjoy being the first one at a spooky attraction either. 😉
I thought this temple was really pretty, but Beng Mealea was my favorite. I loved how it was being reclaimed by the jungle and visitors could climb through the ruins. Beng Mealea was also the least crowded which was a huge plus!
I didn’t make it to Beng Mealea, unfortunately, by I like the sound of it – a temple reclaimed by the jungle. It would give you a good perspective of what most of the temples looked like before they were ‘rediscovered’ and restored.
The detail in the carvings looks beautiful! I hope to visit here when I make my way around Cambodia. I’m assuming most tuk tuk drivers would know this place by name?
Yes, the tuk-tuk drivers would definitely know about this temple. 😉
Wonderful pictures. We visited Banteay on our recent visit to Cambodia and love it as well. the pink hues are amazing at sunset. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Mike! I bet it looked just as impressive at sunset. 🙂
“While many of the temples of Angkor can begin to blend together”
so true!! after a day, I couldn’t remember how Banteay Kdei looked like. Haha.
My favorite temple was Bayon. Wouldn’t have forgotten it, so unique.
I had known about Banteay Srei, also considered as the most intricate but because of the distance, we weren’t able to bike to it. When we asked some tuktuk drivers to bring us there, it was a bit expensive, yeah because it indeed is far.
Next time! So it will be my favorite temple on my 2nd Angkor visit. Haha.
Bayon was a pretty cool temple. Unfortunately, I got to there when it was super crowded so people were literally pushing and shoving, but it was nice to get to see the stone faces.
We loved Banteay Srei, too – one of the most beautiful temples of Angkor, I think! The detailed carvings in the stones were amazing.
Good call on getting up early! Seems like it was definitely worth it. We are super stoked to be heading to Cambodia in September. We’ll have to put Banteay Srei on the list! Thanks for sharing 🙂
This is my second favorite Temple of the whole temple complex. It was smaller than I had expected. The detail was astounding. My favorite was Prasat Takeo. It is one of the first temples built in Siem Reap and named after the area where Khmer civilization is said to have started. Great Pictures BTW!!!!
We just saw it yesterday. Not big and a visit won’t take long, but it is one of the most intricate and beautiful temples at Angkor. It is also the reddest of the temples around Angkor. But one of our favorite temples of all was about 15 minutes from Banteay Srei – Banteay Samre is gorgeous and when we visited practically empty. We actually felt like we had just walked onto a movie set..
These 2 temples are the furthest from the ‘main’ temples but I think they can’t be missed. They were actually our highlight.
Wow – this temple looks AMAZING. I wish I had come across your blog when we were in Cambodia. Next time we’ll have to get it. It is so unique for temples in that area.
We did however take a trip out to Beng Mealea, another out-of-the-way temple, also exceptional for it’s India (read; Hindu) motifs. Did you get there? Well worth it next time you visit.
Just finished a day trip to Banteay Srei. We also visited Kbal Spean. The two can be done comfortably in one day with a few hours spare to stop at some major temples on the way back. Loved the carvings in Banteay Srei but it’s way too hot in January.
When I first arrived in Cambodia, I thought my tuk tuk driver was going to flee and not come back after we struck a deal at 11pm and he had to return at 5am. But, guess what, he’s there at my doorstep at 4.45am. And, what’s amazing was that they were so trusting, they would tell you to pay them another day if they don’t have any change to return you instead of quietly pocketing your change and bid you goodbye. I marvelled at this and wondered will this kindness be extended to me in the first world. Food for thought!
The temple is so pretty but it is also quite far from the city right? Are tuk tuks the only mode of transport or do you get cabs as well? My back wouldn’t last an hour in a tuk tuk.