25km north of Angkor Park
Daily: 7:30am – 5:30pm
Admission: Included in Angkor Pass ($37/$62/$72)
Washroom On Site: Yes
It’s a long journey to this miniature temple, but you will be rewarded with exquisitely carved towers and a unique architectural scale. However, damage control measures will prevent you from getting too close.
True to its translated name, “the citadel of beauty,” Banteay Srei is hailed as the jewel of Khmer art. It is primarily built from rust coloured sandstone, instead of the boring bricks or laterite like at the other temples. Soft sandstone enables the distinctive and elaborate carvings that you normally only see on lintels to cover entire towers here. The structures are also “miniatures,” which makes them human-sized instead of massive. When standing next to a gopura, it’s not that much taller than what a floor in your house or condo might be. You can really take in the entire structure without straining your neck upwards and getting sun in your eyes.
Out of all the temples we visited on our trip, Banteay Srei was the only one that had a very touristy “welcome center” at its entrance. Here an employee will check your Angkor pass and you can visit the washroom before entering. Information boards have been set up for you to read about Banteay Srei and the other Angkor temples. There’s one interesting infographic displaying the chronology of the Angkorian temples.
Once you pass the causeway, there’s a picture spot from an archway in front of all the gopuras. Vandalism in the past has spawned extra security precautions, and now a rope barrier keeps all visitors at arms reach from anything.
This is a big downside of this location, as you cannot enter any of the towers or walk among them. You will only be allowed to walk in a square perimeter around the inner temples. This makes it hard to get a good look at anything in the center of the complex, like this troupe of monkey guardians standing vigil – a different sight from all the lion and elephant guardians at the other temples.
Luckily, there are still a lot of impressive things to see from the periphery. Since they are at a much lower line of sight, pay close attention to the carving work. Sculptures of mythological creatures stare down at you from the corners of gopura roofs. The pediments (the triangular space above a door) depict entire scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the twenty-armed demon Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa in an attempt to unseat Shiva.
The grounds of Banteay Srei are pretty vast and there’s still some things of mild interest after you’ve finished the temples. If you walk through the complex and over a short wooden bridge, a group of musicians will be set up here. They’re victims of landmines who have CDs for sale that you can buy to support them, but they also don’t mind if you sit and enjoy their music.
If you turn right and follow the path from the musicians, there will be several viewing spots overlooking small ponds where some water buffalo might be grazing. Turning left will take you to the “botanical garden,” but when we got there, it was a plain open field. Whichever way you take, the path will always lead you back to a washroom and somewhere you can buy a drink.
Last thing to note, if you try to leave through the gate you entered, you will be politely directed to exit via a path past the washroom. Even though the way you entered is the quickest path to your tuk tuk, there’s a reason why they’re so resolute that you exit a specific way. It’s because you’ll be “exiting through the gift shop.” To get back to the parking lot, you will have to walk through a gauntlet of vendors and children badgering you to part with your money. You should be used to this by now (and hopefully know how to say no), but to make it easy, take the path behind the shop tents to quietly slip past them.
Banteay Srei is a good temple to fold into any plans you may have to visit Phnom Bok, as the latter is easily on the way back to Angkor Park or Siem Reap. You can read my guide to see if it interests you. It takes roughly 45 minutes to get from Banteay Srei to Phnom Bok.
Banteay Srei is about an hour-long journey from Angkor Park. It will take more time if you’re coming from your hotel deep in the heart of Siem Reap. You will get very windswept during the ride if you’re taking a tuk tuk, so stash the hat and consider making this a sunglasses day. Ladies, you should think about putting your hair in a ponytail or neat braids so you don’t show up to the temple with bird’s nest hair big enough to fit a garuda.
If you have an arrangement with a tuk tuk driver for a flat fee every day, he has every right to charge you more if you want to come to Banteay Srei. Our driver charged an extra $10 on top of the daily $15.
If you don’t have a daily driver, there is no reason to invest in a costly tour if all you want is a ride. Chat with any tuk tuk driver that is hanging out near your hotel, and ask his fee. Hopefully, it will be in the same ballpark as what we paid. If you’re somehow worried that he’ll ditch you once you get to Banteay Srei, that would just be a stupid plan. He’s driven an hour all the way out there and he doesn’t get paid until you’re done. It’s not like there will be other “marks” at Banteay Srei for him to pick up because everyone else visiting already has a driver!
I do not recommend trying to use an e-hailing service. You’ll likely find a ride there with little problem, but you may be stranded when trying to get back. Drivers won’t be hanging around all the way out there, nor will any be willing to drive an hour to pick you up for whatever paltry sum they will make from the ride.