The temple of Banteay Srei, located 45 minutes away from Siem Reap town, is well known for its small but beautiful temple of the same name. With some exquisite carvings and built of fine-grained rose-pink sandstone, Banteay Srei temple is not to be missed. However the surrounding area is full of undiscovered natural and cultural highlights. Combine that with a range of activities for all fitness levels, and homestays to suit all levels of comfort, then Banteay Srei district is much more than a pretty temple.
Thanks to a recent initiative by the Regional Economic Development Program (RED III) with the technical support of the German International Cooperation (GIZ) a website www.visitbanteaysrei.org and a tourist map help travellers prepare their trip to Banteay Srei District. Working together with tourism stakeholders, including remork (tuk tuk) drivers, homestay owners, restaurants and local communities the area is well prepared to welcome guests.
Nature lovers will find plenty to fill more than a day in Banteay Srei District. The holy site of Kbal Spean, or ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, offers an accessible medium-grade trek to see the riverbed with its carved stone lingas. Close by is the Angkor Centre for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB www.accb-cambodia.org) where visitors can support the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of threatened wildlife back into the Cambodian forest. Guided tours are available at 9am and 1pm daily and visitors usually see a variety of birdlife, gibbons and langurs which are being protected. The Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre (BBC www.angkorbutterfly.com) holds more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies and is one of the largest fully enclosed butterfly centres in Southeast Asia. Don’t forget your macro camera lens as super photos are easy to take…even with a smart phone. Also guided walks through Kbal Teuk Community Forest use local guides to see a variety of flora and fauna including fascinating pitcher plants that are carnivorous and feast on small insects. Banteay Srei District can also be used as a gateway to nearby Phnom Kulen mountain, where the Angkor Empire all began back in AD802.
To keep active during a tour to Banteay Srei District there is a range of cycling and trekking possibilities, from easy going short walks to longer day tours or treks. It is then very easy to spend a night in a homestay rather than return to Siem Reap town. Boat trips in natural beauty spots and ox-cart rides through the stunning countryside offer lots of local, spontaneous experiences that will last long in the memory.
Cultural highlights of course include the temple of Banteay Srei and 12th century Banteay Samre, one of the finest, restored temples in the country. Phnom Bok hill offers not just an outstanding viewpoint of the countryside but also some good exercise to reach the summit. Plan on 20 minutes to climb up and if going up for sunset bring a torch for the descent. The Cambodian Landmine Museum (CLM www.cambodialandminemuseum) provides an education on the dangers of landmines and also an enlightening experience to learn about the work of Mr Aki Ra. Tani Ceramics Museum displays pottery from the Angkor era and is interesting for a short stop. Another undoubted highlight is a visit to the conservatoire of the Sacred Dancers of Angkor http://www.nkfc.org/ part of the Nginn Karet Foundation, a charitable project that helps support many of the poorer villages in the Banteay Srei area and beyond. The Conservatoire Preah Ream Bopha Devi is a rural dance school educating children in traditional dance. Please check ahead to see if it is possible to watch training or see a stunning traditional performance.
Foodies need not worry in Banteay Srei District. If overnighting in a homestay there are lots of opportunities to try authentic Cambodian food. During the daytime we recommend a visit to Preah Dak village to eat some ‘Naom Banchok’ (thick rice noodles). Choose from a fishy broth or chicken curry which is spooned on the noodles and eaten with local vegetables. The village of Preah Dak is famous and visiting Cambodians won’t miss the chance to come here and try the tasty noodles. Cooking classes can be arranged at some local restaurants or also at homestays. Make sure you have a guide to help translate so you understand the ingredients and way to prepare the food.
There are many different homestays located in Banteay Srei District. All offer an immersive way to learn about local life in Cambodia by staying with a family. The most basic homestays are often a mattress on the floor of a wooden house with mosquito net covering and outdoor shower (bring the local scarf of ‘krama’ to protect your dignity as the locals do!). Though there are also more comfortable and even upscale homestays that offer air-con rooms and indoor bathrooms. Many are set with views of mango and dragon fruit farms.
As the name Travel Asia a la carte suggests we do not like to offer the same programme for all visitors. We like to listen to your interests and see what is best according to the time you have to spend at Banteay Srei and also your budget. Then we will pleased to make the best suggestion to craft your perfect countryside experience. If travelling elsewhere in Cambodia we recommend once arriving into Siem Reap to first try the homestay at Banteay Srei for one, or possibly two nights and then head into the town for the final stay at a boutique hotel before departing. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your plans.