We propose to follow the thread of the history of the Khmer Empire and spend half a day in the heart of Angkor before discovering Banteay Srei, the jewel of Khmer art. Going in the direction of Pre Rup, a temple erected in 962 under King Rajendravarman II (944-968), the visitor will have the opportunity to be immersed in natural and cultural landscape.
Stop first at Baksei Chamkromg temple (dedicated in 948), to admire the elegant tower at the top of a pyramid, an image of the Mount Meru, and that was the residence of the gods and the axis of the world in the cosmogony imported from India.
On your way to Pre Rup and Mebon temples, do not miss the visit of Prasat Kravan (dedicated in 921), the only temple of its kind and one of the better decorated of its time. Arriving from the West, at the back of the temple, you will see five brick towers, standing on a common platform and exceptionally arranged in a single row. Have a look inside the central tour to see the splendid bas-reliefs carved on brick walls, portraying Lakshmi, Vishnu wife, and a very unusual representation of Vishnu with eight arms, the only one in Angkor!
Proceed with the visit of Pre Rup temple where you will be particularly amazed by the size of the sanctuary and the combined and harmonious construction in brick, sandstone, laterite and stucco. Climb the impressive stairs to the top of the pyramid to see the 5 towers arranged in a staggered and admire the surrounding landscape. Scholars think that this state-temple may have been conceived by Kavindrarimathana, unique architect known so far for Khmer era. He also designed the East Mebon sanctuary that stands on what was an artificial island in the baray.
Built in the general style of Pre Rup, the East Mebon was dedicated in 953. The sculpture is varied and exceptional, including two-meter-high free-standing stone elephants at corners of the first and second tiers. Carving on lintels is particularly elegant. Visitors looking out from the upper level are left to imagine the vast expanses of water that formerly surrounded the temple and enjoy the beautiful view on the rice fields before joining Banteay Srei district, to have lunch, make a stop on the road to visit Prodak village, its wickerwork handicraft shops and discover the temple located about thirty five kilometers North East of Siem Reap, close to the foothills of the Kulen Mountains.
Following the timeline will allow you to visit Banteay Srei, one of the architectural highlights of Angkor Park, built in the 10th century and dedicated in 967.
Although small in size, you will be amazed by the beauty of the temple due to the outstanding quality of carvings covering almost every square meter of its walls, the high quality of sandstone (time gave to its surface different colors from pink to greenish), the remarkable pediments depicting mythological scenes and the exquisite dvarapalas and guardian ladies of its three sanctuaries, to name the few.
Well restored during the 30’ by the Angkor Conservation under aegis of EFEO (French School of Asian Studies), with access area entirely remodeled into a nicely landscaped garden by the National Authority of Apsara in cooperation with the Swiss government (2000-2008); this temple where the memory of the French writer, Andre Malraux, is still persisting despite the passing years, is definitely a gem of a temple! The pediments of its libraries, the dvarapalas and guardian ladies of its three sanctuaries, the foliage decoration of its wall and lintels are the most exquisite you will be given to see during your visit of Angkor site.
On your way back to Siem Reap, pass by Banteay Samre, near the southeast corner of the East Baray. The trip there is a nice little 3km road excursion through villages and beautiful rice paddies. The temple is named after the Samre, an ancient ethnic Indochinese tribe most likely related to the Khmers. Banteay, is a Khmer word for citadel. In its architecture and style the temple bears a very similar resemblance to both its neighbor, Banteay Srei, and the majestic Angkor Wat itself. Banteay Samre highlights would have to include the interior moat which when filled with water must have given the temple a mystical and peaceful sensation.
To pursue in the spirit of your visit to the temples, we invite you to discover a rich Cambodian cultural heritage attending a performance of Apsara traditional dance.