It’s not just a temple…Banteay Srei District in Siem Reap

Most who have heard of Banteay Srei know it as one of the outlying temples of Angkor in Siem Reap. But Banteay Srei is more than just a single temple — it’s a whole district that has retained much of the charm of provincial Cambodia. These days, Siem Reap is a built-up tourist town that can feel more international than Cambodian. However, the rice paddies of Banteay Srei District are only a short ride away, and well worth stopping by for a day or two to see rural life in Cambodia before development changes the face of it.

Banteay Srei Siem Reap

Banteay Srei is still Siem Reap province but feels like it’s a world away.

Local business owners in Banteay Srei have started an awareness campaign to encourage tourism beyond the temple, and in truth the district offers a surprising number of activities for visitors. True, these offerings are not as polished as what you’ll find in the town of Siem Reap. But that’s Banteay Srei’s charm — its lack of experience with tourists means that it has retained the beauty and local flavor of the Cambodian countryside.

Things to do in Banteay Srei District

ACCB Siem Reap

ACCB is a wildlife rehabilitation center next to the Angkorian site of Kbal Spean.

Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity

The Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (known as ACCB) is a wildlife rescue center that rehabilitates and homes rescue animals and, when possible, reintroduces them back into the wild. The Center has an impressive array of animals on site, including gibbons, lorises, leopard cats, turtles, and several types of birds of prey. For the most part the animals had been illegally kept as pets, usually in horrific conditions, or rescued from the wild meat trade before ending up at ACCB. Visitors are allowed to enter for guided tours which are held at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day except Sunday. The animals are usually more alert and playful on the morning tour; it’s mealtime for them and cooler than in the midday heat. The price of a tour is a minimum $3 donation per person, but we recommend $10, as the center survives entirely on donations and is always in need.

Kbal Tuek Community Forest

The Kbal Tuek Community Forest is a fledgling ecotourism project that aims to protect the local forest from development and encroachment. Guided tours are available and recommended; the unique flora and fauna of the forest — such as the carnivorous pitcher plant “bompong lok” — can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for. While the forest is not yet an established tourism spot, there are some nice views and the families in the area are very friendly and happy to host visitors.

Dragon Farm Banteay Srei

Red dragonfruit (more like neon pink) is grown on several farms in Banteay Srei.

Dragon Farm and Homestay

If you’re interested in the dramatically colored dragon fruit, a visit to Dragon Farm is recommended. They have fields of dragon fruit plants and are happy to offer tastings of fresh-picked fruit. I will admit that this is one of my least favorite fruits because so often it is nearly tasteless. Not so at Dragon Farm, where the vivid pink fruit was a pleasure for the palate as well as the eyes. The farm also offer a simple homestay for guests who would like to spend some time in the area.

Cambodia Landmine Museum

The Cambodia Landmine Museum is the most popular tourist attraction in the Banteay Srei District, other than the eponymous temple. The museum was started to educate people about the history of landmine use by all sides of Cambodia’s civil war and the devastating effects that these weapons have had on the population and continue to have. The museum shows the continued need to clear the thousands of landmines that still dot the countryside.

Banteay Srei Butterfly Center

Located on the road to Banteay Srei temple, the Banteay Srei Butterfly Center bills itself as the largest butterfly enclosure in Southeast Asia. The center has thousands of butterflies, all native species of Cambodia, and guests can get up close and personal. Guided tours are available; they cover the life cycle of butterflies and butterfly farming, and you’ll get to see a butterfly feeding. Cost for admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children.

Srah Duon Riek Banteay Srei

Srah Duon Riek: Just one of the lakeside picnic spots around Banteay Srei.

Srah Duon Riek

This lakeside picnic site is a beautiful spot to stop and take a break after visiting Banteay Srei temple. If you’ve spent too much time in Siem Reap proper you probably haven’t had the chance to enjoy Cambodia’s lovely scenery. Anyone with a taste for landscape picturesque should plan to visit to Srah Duon Riek, especially during the lush green rainy season, and don’t forget your camera. If you call in advance (phone number below) a boat ride around the lake can be organized.

Village walks

There are several small villages in Banteay Srei District and it’s possible for visitors to take a guided walk through some of them. One is Preah Dak, which also has a reputation among Cambodians of serving the best num banh chok in the country, and in addition to the guided walk you can also take an ox-cart ride. In nearby Tbeng Village, walks are offered that focus on local agricultural practices, including home gardens, which are a staple of Cambodian diets in the countryside. Village walks and tours can be booked at visitbanteaysrei.com.

Kbal Spean

Part of Phnom Kulen National Park, Kbal Spean is known as the “river of 1,000 lingas,” lingas being phallic carvings that represent the Hindu god Shiva. The riverbed and the rocks surrounding Kbal Spean waterfall are intricately carved with Hindu symbols dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, including lots and lots of lingas. The waterfall and carvings are accessible by an easy 45-minute walk through the forest. Entrance to the site is available until 3 p.m. and requires an Angkor Archaeological Park ticket, which must be bought in Siem Reap and cannot be purchased at Kbal Spean.

Banteay Srei temple Siem Reap

Banteay Srei temple, known as the citadel of women.

Banteay Srei

Known as the “citadel of women,” Banteay Srei was once touted as a little-visited Angkorian temple. Those days are long gone, however, and now during the busy winter months you’ll find bus tours arriving at the temple hourly. It’s still worth a visit, though. Carved out of beautiful red sandstone, Banteay Srei is a temple in miniature. The doorways are hardly high enough for an eight-year-old to comfortably pass through, but it’s known for having some of the most detailed and intricate carvings of all of the Angkor temples. A temple pass is required to visit Banteay Srei and must be purchased in Siem Reap — tickets cannot be bought on the site.

Tips

Please do not buy souvenirs from children or visit schools. In Preah Dak Village you’ll run into kids who will insistently pressure you to buy woven palm fish. Don’t do it. All of the child protection agencies in Cambodia advise tourists not to buy from children, as doing so perpetuates a damaging cycle that encourages treating children as tourist attractions and money-makers instead of letting them get a proper education. By the same token, they urge visitors to Cambodia to avoid schools that try to get tourists to visit. Would you want strangers treating your child’s school as a tourist attraction and disrupting the lessons? Learn more.

Please don’t hand out sweets.
Giving out candy to children is also a no-no, as cavities abound. Again, would you want your child to beg candy from strangers? It’s not good for Cambodian children, either.

Get your temple pass in Siem Reap before you come to Banteay Srei. Admission to the Banteay Srei temple and Kbal Spean require an Angkor Archaeological Park ticket, which must be purchased in Siem Reap. The tickets aren’t available at the sites or anywhere else in Banteay Srei District.

Accommodation

Want to stay the night? There are several local and boutique homestays around Banteay Srei that will give you the chance to experience real Cambodian countryside living and try authentic home-cooked Khmer food in a local family home.

Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity

Off of National Road 67, by Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei District [map]
T: 099 60 40 17
accb-cambodia.org

Kbal Tuek Community Forest

Tbaeng Lech Village, Banteay Srei District [map]
T: 012 461 064 (Khmer only)

Dragon Farm

Srah Khvav Village, Banteay Srei District [map]
T: 012 618 430; 069 485575

Cambodia Landmine Museum

Open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
National Road 67, Banteay Srei District [map]
cambodialandminemuseum.org

Banteay Srei Butterfly Center

Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
National Road 67, Banteay Srei District [map]
angkorbutterfly.com

Srah Duon Riek

Srah Khvav Village, Banteay Srei District [map]
T: 012 630 327

Village walks

Preah Dak village and ox-cart ride: T: 095 967 722; 090 757 728
Tbeng community: 092 966 047
visitbanteaysrei.com

Kbal Spean

Open 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Off of National Road 67 (follow signs to ACCB) Banteay Srei District [map]

Banteay Srei

Open 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.
National Road 67, Banteay Srei District [map]

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