08 May 2012

A trip to the Citadel of the Women

Visiting villages along the way
Banteay Srei - the Citadel of the Women - is most likely every Angkor visitor's favourite site. It is an awesome place, 25 km outside of Siem Reap and neatly tucked in between moats and trees.

Farmers working in the rice fields
The other nice thing about Banteay Srei is that one gets to see the country side as well, since getting there brings one through the picturesque Cambodian farmland. We did stop a few times to visit people in their houses along the way and buy buy little things. People here are very poor farmers who do not profit at all from the masses of tourists visiting the temples. Most of them are farmers who work their fields with their bare hands - planting and harvesting the rice.

Professional visitor facilities
My first visit to Banteay Srei back in the year 2000 was very different though. A small dirt road, impassable during the rainy season, led directly to the ruins. The number of tourist could be counted by two hands and local children got excited when a departing bus with tourists from Japan threw money bills out the back window with all the children dropping everything they had in their hands, running after the flying money bills. A sight we did not really like back then!

Nowadays the paved road leads to a huge parking area and a very well managed visitor center. It was actually a bit of a shock for me, since I expected more tourists but not this many and not this professional-run tourist machine around it.

It quickly became clear that we cannot avoid other tourists on this visit, but again, thanks to my excellent guide, was I able to view and visit the temple in an almost secluded moment.

Banteay Srei temple site
Banteay Srei is the perfect temple site in a remarkable state of preservation and an amazing amount of detail. Every stone is carved and to me it is the perfection of Khmer art in stone.  Just walking around and enjoying all the sculptures, lintels, figures and other decorative items makes a photographers heart smile.

Library with scenes from Ramayana
There was still (or rather again) restoration work going on in the temple and the entire inner area was sealed off, meaning we could not walk into it, but we were able to see it. This was actually a good thing because I was able to take photos of the temple rather than people standing in front of the buildings and sculptures.

Most tourist groups are just pushed right through the inner area of the temple. It is like a fast moving machine. They come and go in no time and just take a few snapshots. The tour guides almost have no time to explain anything, so with a little patience we were able to enjoy the whole temple on our own.

Pediments at the east entry tower
On the way out we visited the museum, which has an excellent display of the various stages of the restoration, the lintels and all the gods which can be seen here or which were found here and are now in museums. I wished they would have made their display available in a guide book but there was nothing available. However photography was allowed, which was good enough for me.

Temple guardians
Banteay Srei is an awesome site, with so much to see. So it is a good idea to come here at your own schedule with your own guide. It would be a real waste to just speed through this remarkable temple.

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