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Travel Report: Banteay Kdei Temple, Cambodia.

Banteay Kdei Temple Siem Reap.

Banteay Kdei Temple, Cambodia.

January, 2020.

Back in our previous lives, long before Sladja and I knew each other, we both spent a day touring The Temples of Angkor. My visit came in November 2015, hers shortly after in January 2016. Like so many first timers in Cambodia, we didn’t venture further than the so-called big three: Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm Temple.

Neither of us expected to ever return to Siem Reap. However, when fate threw us back to The Kingdom of Wonder, I knew we had to delve deeper into one of the world’s most fascinating collections of ancient temples.

Entrance Banteay Kdei Temple.

The entrance to Banteay Kdei Temple.

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. 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 ruins.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

The approach to Banteay Kdei Temple in Cambodia

The approach to Banteay Kdei Temple.

As with many Angkor temples, the path was lined with vendors selling handicrafts. There were also mooching dogs and children playing around their parents’ stalls. “Hellooo!” sang one little girl, nestled in a rickety wagon atop a pile of dusty plastic sheets.

Khmer girl Banteay Kdei Temple Cambodia.

Temple girl.

We also passed a group of men playing traditional Khmer folk music. The sound was somewhat sombre, perfectly matching their serious expressions. There was absolutely no pressure to give money. Rather, they’d left a line of wooden donation boxes in front of their stage for anyone who wished to leave a few notes or coins.

Traditional music Banteay Kdei Temple Siem Reap.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

Eventually, we arrived at the entrance steps to the ruins. The site dates back to the 12th century, when King Jayavarman VII ordered its construction as a grand, Buddhist monastery.

Guardian statues Banteay Kdei Temple

Banteay Kdei Temple.

The name he bestowed upon the complex, Banteay Kdei, loosely translates as The Citadel of Chambers. It has picked up several other names over the centuries, such as Citadel of Monks’ Cells, a reference to the vast number of monks who once lived within these walls.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

Having entered the ruins under a crumbling archway, we soon found ourselves swallowed up by a dizzying maze of corridors, chambers and courtyards.

The Citadel of Chambers.

Exploring Banteay Kdei Temple Cambodia.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

For reasons that continue to puzzle historians, Banteay Kdei was built with poor grade sandstone and, frankly, shoddy workmanship. As a result, its deterioration was swifter than that of its brothers and sisters. According to some experts, the king’s declining wealth may have been a factor. So, you know, he decided to cut a few corners.

Banteay Kdei Cambodia.

Banteay Kde Templei: a glorious neglect.

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 an episode of The Walking Dead. Without the zombies, naturally.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

Banteay Kdei Siem Reap.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

When we finally came across someone, it was this friendly shrine custodian. Happily, there was no hassle here either. Hence I was glad to give 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 can bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits.

Inner enclosure Banteay Kdei Temple.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

The most breathtaking part of our visit came when we emerged 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.

Inner enclosure Banteay Kdei Temple

Banteay Kdei Temple.

The inner enclosure also contains several galleries which link up to the towers. Back in the temple’s 14th century heyday, a giant library stood here too near the central sanctuary.

Exploring Banteay Kdei Temple Cambodia.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

From the back end of the inner enclosure one can wander off deep into the surrounding forest amid tweeting birds, buzzing insects and occasional lulls of engulfing silence.

Stone carvings Banteay Kdei Temple.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

Among the visitors who came to Banteay Kdei that day, few seemed interested in exploring the woodland. Thus we had the run of the place as we followed a loop path along the walls with their engraved mythical creatures.

Srah Srang Lake Cambodia.

Srah Srang Lake.

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 steps to this dramatic, multi-tiered platform, adorned with naga balustrades and guardian lions.

Srah Srang Lake.

Srah Srang Lake Cambodia.

A royal bathing pool.

Known as Srah Srang, this was King Jayavarman VII’s royal bathing pool. He had the platform built from sandstone within the shade of a dozen large trees. Summer after summer, this is where the king swam with his wives, and any other special guests fortunate enough to be invited.

Srah Srang Lake Siem Reap Cambodia

Srah Srang Lake.

The lake is a fantastic spot for sunset and a wise choice for those wanting a quieter experience. Indeed the masses typically flock to Angkor Wat at sundown, leaving this as an excellent view point for the discerning photographer.

Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket Office Siem Reap.

Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket Office.

You can visit Banteay Kdei with The Angkor Pass, purchased both online and in person at The Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket office.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Banteay Kdei Temple.

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.

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  • Anna

    This definitely looks like a place I’d like to see – quiet and peaceful! Thanks for the tip mate!

    August 17, 2022 - 9:02 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anna, a few more Angkor Temples hitting these pages over the next week.

      August 17, 2022 - 10:45 am Reply
  • thomasstigwikman

    These are really great photos. Interesting place.

    August 17, 2022 - 9:17 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Thomas!

      August 17, 2022 - 9:20 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your series on temples. I’ve seen only well maintained ones in Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, and am now wanting to see the ones you’ve blogged about the last few weeks. Another great post!

    August 17, 2022 - 2:14 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Aw, that’s great Tricia. A few more Angkor Temples on the way and then, later on, what is actually my favourite collection of temples in Cambodia. Sorry to leave a bit of a cliffhanger there.

      August 17, 2022 - 4:51 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    So nice to have time and space to explore Leighton. Sometimes, it pays to read the reviews and take the path less travelled. Too bad the place is crumbling, but then again, that is part of its charm. Thanks for taking us there. Allan

    August 17, 2022 - 2:18 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right Allan, the very thing that was the problem for Banteay Kdei also lies at the heart of its appeal today. Thanks for reading!

      August 17, 2022 - 5:58 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Although it’s “shoddy workmanship”, it’s still a lovely sight. A library you say … now, what type of books would they hold here you think? Yes, the lake is beautiful, looks really peaceful. Oh … and the picture of that little girl right at the beginning of your post, made me smile – she’s adorable!

    August 17, 2022 - 2:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Corna, I’m guessing the books would have been about Buddhism… Buddhism… Buddhism… Hinduism… Buddhism… How to Obey Your King and Make Friends… Buddhism. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone asking for Fifty Shades of Grey might have been disappointed. 😉 And you’re right, little Cambodian girls (and indeed boys) are incredibly cute. Thanks for reading!

      August 17, 2022 - 4:59 pm Reply
      • wetanddustyroads

        So, no travel books or Fifty Shades of Grey … oh well, then I suppose there wouldn’t be much for me to read 😉.

        August 17, 2022 - 5:20 pm
      • Leighton

        Ha ha thanks for your good humour Corna, as always.

        August 17, 2022 - 5:33 pm
  • NattyTravels

    It looks like an incredible place to visit. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    August 17, 2022 - 2:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Natty!

      August 17, 2022 - 4:59 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Looks like a fantastic place to spend the day exploring. It must be massive. The inner enclosure seems to be isolated in an expanse of nature. Same with the private bathing pool. Just a little spa for getting away from the crowd. Liked the shot of the little girl. She looks like she was having fun.

    August 17, 2022 - 2:53 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, how I would’ve loved to use that royal bathing pool as my own private respite from the sun! Appreciate you working your way through these posts for a second time, you are a real trooper. I’ll be in touch soon via email.

      August 17, 2022 - 5:03 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    How cool to go back together and get to explore deeper!

    August 17, 2022 - 3:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Lyssy.

      August 17, 2022 - 5:04 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    What a great find, even if the kings used cheaper workers. Love the lake, great bathtub! Maggie

    August 17, 2022 - 4:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Maggie, I remember just how horribly hot it was that day. When we got to the lake, every part of me wanted to just dive in and cool down. Somehow though, I thought that wouldn’t have gone down well, so it remained a nice little daydream.

      August 17, 2022 - 5:56 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Another beautiful and interesting temple! I can’t decide if I mostly love the temples and surrounding or the people you have encountered. Either way, both are enchanting, and I always look forward to your next post!

    August 17, 2022 - 5:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, anonymous! Thanks for the kind words, it means a lot. Hope you enjoy the rest of the Angkor Temples.

      August 17, 2022 - 6:00 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Wow, it must have been special to see it so much quieter than the more major sites. It looks lovely 🙂

    August 17, 2022 - 5:50 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Hannah, I do prefer the quieter sites I have to say. It’s true that Banteay Kdei is nowhere near as splendorous as Angkor Wat. However, the overall feeling of the place, without the crowds, is really something to savour.

      August 17, 2022 - 6:02 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    It is interesting to imagine what life was like for the monks who lived in this temple. That is pretty sweet that you guys could explore the area more in depth!

    August 17, 2022 - 7:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allie, I would probably give up a finger or two to be able to spend a few hours roaming around these halls during its heyday. Back to the Future style, if you will. Perhaps with the added luxury of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak 😉

      August 17, 2022 - 8:01 pm Reply
  • Stan

    what a rich series this is becoming leighton. this lesser visited temple looks like a gem, I’m with you on preferring this over the circus of Angkor wat, no matter how beautiful and iconic it is. looking forward to seeing what other temples you have up your Angkor sleeve

    August 17, 2022 - 8:38 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Stan, two more to come, both often left out of the main circuit. Hope they live up to your expectations!

      August 17, 2022 - 8:40 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Sounds so interesting and stimulating – two years ago when we wandered around the remains of a town called Olympia (no not that one, this one is in Turkey), and the fact that the place had been poorly constructed and didn’t stand the test of time, just made it more fascinating to wander through. You continue to add to our Cambodia list, particularly Siem Reap and its environs.

    August 17, 2022 - 11:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey ‘someone’, I’m glad Banteay Kdei and its shoddy workmanship appeals, just like those ruins you mentioned in Turkey. Thanks for following my Siem Reap series. (By the way I’ve just had a thought, is this you Phil?)

      August 17, 2022 - 11:50 pm Reply
  • hollymrichards

    What a wonderful off the beaten track place to go! Truly sounds like a magical experience and your photos and writing really transport us there. Before coming across your blog I hadn’t given Cambodia the thought that it clearly deserves! This is another place I would love to visit with a sketchbook.

    August 18, 2022 - 1:21 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Holly for your infectious enthusiasm. Cambodia does seem a little under the radar in the region, certainly when compared to surrounding countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Not quite sure why that is.

      August 18, 2022 - 12:09 pm Reply
      • hollymrichards

        Yeah I think of the three, Cambodia isn’t really talked about much – you’re definitely doing your part to change that!

        August 18, 2022 - 7:32 pm
  • Rebecca

    A lesser-known part of the Angkor Wat, that’s for sure! The Banteay Kdei Temple was truly all to yourselves, and it’s incredible that there’s a part of the massive network of temples that isn’t overrun with tourists…but I guess given just how large Angkor Wat is, it’s bound to happen, I guess! Glad you and Sladja made a return trip over to this monumental beauty to explore together!

    August 18, 2022 - 5:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Rebecca, it is such a massive ruin and so incredibly atmospheric you’re left feeling that you wish you could bottle it.

      August 18, 2022 - 11:15 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    How amazing to revisit and to have another opportunity to explore the Kingdom of Wonder in more detail. It’s even better that the temple wasn’t very busy! The inner enclosure looks beautiful, even if the walls are crumbling.

    August 18, 2022 - 5:35 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading guys, it’s been a lot of fun sharing these amazing temples. Just two more Angkor ruins to come over the next week.

      August 18, 2022 - 11:16 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Another temple to visit Leighton, interesting to learn about its construction and use of weaker sandstone materials than some of the other temples. I enjoy walking through ruins so it must have been a great experience. Also Srah Srang Lake looks idyllic and worthy of a visit on its own merits. Lovely photo of you both there too.

    August 18, 2022 - 11:48 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Marion, I’m glad that Banteay Kdei appeals to you. It makes such a huge difference when you can get away from the crowds and really lose yourself in a ruin as vast as this. The lake opposite the main entrance is the icing on the cake, how I wish we could’ve dived in to cool off. Thanks for reading.

      August 18, 2022 - 12:00 pm Reply
      • Anonymous

        What a thrill it must have been for you and Sladja to visit the marvelous ruins together after initially seeing them just a few months apart! I like how you both also prefer getting off the beaten track and tour sights that are less visited. Banteay Kdei is certainly a gem even if it were awfully hot and the lake looked inviting and almost irresistible!

        August 18, 2022 - 9:23 pm
      • Leighton

        Hello, please forgive me that I don’t know who this is, but for some strange reason a number of comments from my regular readers are coming through as “Anonymous”. This is very weird and annoying, I’ll be getting onto WP support to see if they can shed any light on it. Thanks for reading about Banteay Kdei, it’s such a fascinating ruin and, as you say, suitably off the beaten track.

        August 18, 2022 - 10:09 pm
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Your well documented tour reveals that Banteay Kdei Temple looks even more Tomb Raider like than Ta Prohm Temple. You have a great eye for details like the engraved creatures on the wall. It is those little details that make these places unique and interesting. I wish I could sit cross legged like in that final photo.

    August 19, 2022 - 4:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey John, thanks for keeping up with these various Angkor Temples. While at the time I was happy that we got to delve a little deeper into the ruins, I have since rued the fact that we didn’t do a few of the even more isolated ones. Anyhoo, two more to go. Keep an eye open for my posts on the Koh Ker Temples a few weeks from now, for me that was the absolute revelation of our time in Cambodia. Hope your summer is going well.

      August 19, 2022 - 9:57 am Reply
  • Bama

    I’ve only been to Cambodia once, and like other first timers, I only visited the big three. Apart from Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei is a temple I’d love to see the next time I go to Siem Reap. I wonder if you saw tourists renting e-bikes or e-scooters in and around the city. I rented a bicycle back then, but after a trip to Bagan in 2015 where my friend and I rented an e-scooter, I think they should also do the same in Siem Reap.

    August 20, 2022 - 4:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Bama, great to hear from you again. I don’t recall seeing e-bikes or the like in either 2015 or 2020, it was a very tuk tuk and moto heavy scene. Or failing that, a few hardcore people (like yourself) on bicycles in the searing sun. Funny you should mention Banteay Srei, that’s my next post. Appreciate the follow!

      August 20, 2022 - 9:52 am Reply
  • SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

    Wow lovely pics

    August 27, 2022 - 5:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Saania!

      August 27, 2022 - 5:07 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Slowly catching up with your Angkor posts! This was possibly my favourite of the temples we visited and certainly the quietest. Glad you liked it too. You’ve certainly done it justice here!

    September 1, 2022 - 1:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Sarah, I can see why it would have been your favourite.

      September 1, 2022 - 1:22 pm Reply

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