Travel Report: Banteay Kdei Temple, Cambodia.
Banteay Kdei Temple, Cambodia.
January, 2020. Back in our previous lives, long before Sladja and I even knew each other, we both spent a day touring The Temples of Angkor. My visit came in December 2015, hers shortly after in January 2016. Like so many Angkor first timers, we didn’t venture further than the so-called big three: Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm Temple.
Neither of us expected a return to Siem Reap. However, when fate threw us back towards The Kingdom of Wonder, I knew we had to delve deeper into the world’s most fascinating collection of ancient temples.
Hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day, we began our explorations at Banteay Kdei Temple. We’d been attracted by several online reviews describing “a hidden gem” that is “mostly ignored by overseas visitors”. On both counts, this sounded right up our street!
Banteay Kdei Temple.
Pleasingly, these descriptions turned out to be right on the button. In fact, there were barely a handful of visitors in sight as we made the long, dusty approach to the temple interior. As with many Angkor temples, the path was lined with vendors selling handicrafts, mooching dogs and a group of men playing traditional Khmer music.
We also got plenty of waves and a high-pitched “helloooooo!” from the various children playing in and around their parents’ souvenir stalls.
Ducking into the interior, we immediately found ourselves swallowed up by a dizzying maze of corridors, chambers and courtyards. Aptly, Banteay Kdei translates as The Citadel of Chambers, named so by King Jayavarman VII, the man who ordered its construction in the late 12th century.
The Citadel of Chambers.
For reasons that continue to puzzle historians, Banteay Kdei was built with poor grade sandstone and, to put it kindly, shoddy workmanship. As a result, its deterioration was swifter than that of its brothers and sisters. Perhaps, by this point, the king had discovered a few holes in his pockets, who knows.
The general dilapidation certainly makes for an atmospheric experience, especially without the crowds. Stepping over piles of rubble, strolling down leafy, echoey halls, it felt a bit like we’d been transported into a scene from The Walking Dead.
Banteay Kdei Temple.
When we finally came across someone, it was this friendly shrine custodian. Happily, she didn’t hassle us much. Hence I was glad to drop a dollar and light an incense stick.
For my troubles, she gifted me an orange and red bracelet. In Buddhism, the wearing of such bracelets shows compassion to others. Moreover, people believe they can bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits.
The most breathtaking part of our visit came when we emerged out into the inner enclosure. It’s simply gorgeous, with towering trees, giant boulders and fine views across the temple’s sculpted towers.
The Inner Enclosure.
What’s more, one can wander off deep into the surrounding forest amid tweeting birds, buzzing insects and occasional lulls of engulfing silence. The ruins extend out here too, with this fascinating graveyard of sombre, stone blocks.
As if one needed another reason to visit Banteay Kdei, how about this stunning lake, just across the road from its east entrance. Just head up the short flight of stone stairs to this dramatic, multi-tiered platform, adorned with naga balustrades and guardian lions.
Srah Srang Lake.
Srah Srang Lake also dates back to the end of the 12th century when Jayavarman VII ordered its creation. A popular bathing spot for the king and his inner circle, he later added a small temple island.
On certain days, during the low season, it’s possible to see some of the temple’s jagged remains poking up through the water. The lake is a fantastic spot for sunset, and a much quieter prospect than Angkor Wat.
At the time of writing, foreign tourists have been virtually wiped out due to COVID-19. As a result, those lucky enough to be in Cambodia have an unprecedented opportunity to see the temple free from the usual crowds. If you can, don’t even hesitate!
For more on this incredible region of Cambodia, check out more of my travel reports on The Temples of Angkor.
You can also read my exhaustive guide to the sights, cafes, restaurants and hotels of Siem Reap.
Or maybe delve further afield with my travel reports from across Cambodia.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.