The sleepy farming village of Banteay Chhamar is home to one of Cambodia’s largest and least visited temple complexes. The site is said to be “one of the greatest architectural marvels of South East Asia”. Located less than 12.5 miles (20 km) from the Thai border, the town’s remote location and lack of infrastructure keeps the temple off the main tourist path. The temple receives less than 300 visitors per month in high season; there is a very reasonable chance of having the 741 acre (3 km²) site all to you. Just like the Bayon at Angkor Thom, the complex was built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII in the 12th to 13th century. Visitors to Banteay Chhamar will surely recognize the huge face towers that Jayavarman VII commissioned for both Mahayana Buddhist temples.
From 2008-2014 the Global Heritage Fund over saw a 1.5 million USD project to survey and protect the site from further deterioration. The work included the reassembly of much of the outer enclosure walls where some of the best bas-reliefs can be viewed. The interior of the temple is very much in a state of ruins; trees, vines and dense foliage growing on, over and through collapsed sandstone walls. The visual effect is stunning and one can’t help but think this would have been the perfect location to have produced an Indiana Jones movie. In addition to the main temple, there are a number of smaller satellite structures and a large, mostly dry, man made lake known in Khmer as a baray.
There are no hotels or guest houses in the village or surrounding area but home stay is available through the Banteay Chhamar Community-Based Tourism Group (CBT). Their website, Visit Banteay Chhamar, provides a wealth of information on touring the area, lodging, meals and contact information. Rooms cost just $7 USD per night and while the facilities are typical of rural Asia they are very primitive by Western standards. Delicious and inexpensive meals are provided by the organization at the visitors’ center across the road from the temple entrance.
The CBT staff can organize taxis from either Siem Reap or Battambang or taxis can be booked in Siem Reap for around $120 USD each way. After visiting a few of the many travel agencies in Siem Reap, I decided to get on a bus headed to Bangkok through the Poi Pet border crossing. This route up highway 6 passes through the town of Serei Saophoan, 64 miles (103 km) from Siem Reap. From there it was supposedly easy to find a motorcycle taxi to travel north to Banteay Chhamar. For $7 USD I got a seat on a tourist bus which conveniently picked me up at my hotel. Unfortunately, we spent one hour picking up passengers before leaving the city. Once we got on the highway the trip took two hours including a quick bathroom break. The bus dropped me off in front of the Nasa hotel at the junction with highway 56 in Serei Saophoan. As soon as I got off the bus a motorcycle taxi appeared to complete the remaining 35 mile (57 km) of the journey. We arrived at the temple entrance an hour and a half later. The taxi fare was $15 USD.
On the return trip to Siem Reap I got a car from Banteay Chhamar for $25 USD, which only took an hour to arrive at the old bus terminal in Serei Saophoan. From there I bought a bus ticket from Capitol Tour which cost $4 USD and arrived in the center of Siem Reap in less than two hours.
The next thing on the agenda is another attempt at Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border. I’ll get on a bus Friday morning and make the three hour trip to the town of Sra’aem. Sra’aem is less than 19 miles (30 km) from the temple so with any luck I will arrive around noon. I might try to get to Koah Ker on the way back to see Prasat Thom (temple). Either way I will be back in Siem Reap early next week.
Until next time,