A COLOURFUL VISIT TO BANTEAY SREI BUTTERFLY CENTRE (BBC)
On a day out in Banteay Srei district, I discovered that Siem Reap has many exciting activities that do not involve temple-hopping. Feeling a little templed-out I opted for something a little different on a free day in Siem Reap. Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre (BBC), 25kms north of Siem Reap has friendly staff, beautiful butterflies and delicious food and a worthwhile stop on a day itinerary exploring the area.
First stop was breakfast at Pssar Chaar (old market) in the centre of town. Here I had a sweet ice coffee and ban sung, delicious rice noodle salad with spring rolls. Borey, my tuk-tuk driver, was waiting for me as I left the market and headed to the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre.
It is not hard to find tuk-tuks in Siem Reap. With thousands of foreign tourists visiting the town, most tuk-tuk driver speak a very high level of English which makes it very easy to get around. As we headed out towards the Angkor Complex, Borey and I exchanged stories about our families. He came from a family of 5 children and has 2 himself. He lives about 5km’s from Siem Reap town and learnt his English just by speaking with tourists.
As we drove, I marvelled at the landscape changing. On the road next to the main temple areas are tall trees on either side. This clears often into large open space, lakes or farmland. Closer into Banteay Srei district and BBC, the view changes to with farms and villages on either side. Many people set up stalls on the side of the road selling vegetables, fruit and souvenirs. After an hour or so we pulled into BBC.
LEARNING ABOUT BUTTERFLIES
When we arrived at BBC, we were warmly welcomed by Lay, a young Khmer man who would be our guide for the morning, Lay, 26, was an excellent guide and spoke very good English. He spoke openly about his desire to learn more, hoping to improve his English.
First stop of the tour was to the butterfly enclosure. We entered through a doorway that protected against butterflies leaving with brown beaded strings hanging to the floor. On the other side of the doorway was a lush garden that reached high into the air above. Before I even noticed the butterflies it was the diverse vegetation that took my attention. Green leaves and colour flowers were everywhere. All plants looked well looked after and luscious.
As we admired the plants, the show began. Dozens of these magnificent butterflies that until now came out of the flowers and plants, orange, blue, yellow, brown… an explosion of colour and movement!
Lay lead that way to several information panels that described the history of this centre, the evolution of the caterpillar butterfly in its final stage of butterfly, and a picture glossary that described all the species present at BBC.
Walking to the back of the enclosure Lay explained more about eggs, young caterpillars, and cocoons. The centre has a large collection of insects as well – including impressive stick bugs! As Lay described the lifecycle we were able to look at butterflies in all the different stages. And at that, we had finished our tour – feeling impressed by Lay’s knowledge that had now become our own.
Following the tour, I sat down in one of the hanging chairs in the butterfly enclosure. Here I was able to escape the heat for a moment, enjoy a fresh fruit juice and watch the butterflies. Definitely a change in pace from my few days previously exploring Angkor Wat and the temples.
PALM SUGAR PRODUCTION
Before heading on my way I ventured up the road from BBC to have a look at local palm sugar production. Banteay Srei district is known for palm sugar and is made locally by women. On this road, ladies sit next to stalls filled with products made from palm trees. On the tables was palm sugar as granules, blocks, palm fruit and palm juice, large wooden spoons and bowls. As I wandered up to one woman, she smiled as me whilst stirring a large wok full of brown liquid. I could smell the caramel of the sugar strongly. Upon tasting a nibble of the sugar (it was delicious!) I purchase some sugar for a few dollars.
A morning at BBC I took great pleasure in rediscovering the process of a butterfly’s life, both in its most beautiful form with its sublime colours, and in its cocoon or caterpillar form. Lay provided a true human encyclopedia on the butterfly but above all passionate and professional. Not to mention the little sweetness of the palm sugar to finish the experience.
It was also nice to learn about BBC’s effort in conservation. Not only do they provide jobs for people form the local community, the centre is important for raising awareness of the need to conserve forests. An interesting approach…by engaging with farmers that may otherwise cut down trees and change natural ecosystems into cultivated farmland. Instead of farming produce, local farmers cultivate butterfly larvae – less destruction but also income producing for their families. It also raises awareness in local communities about why these natural areas are important for all aspects of the ecosystem.
So all in all – an expensive, insightful and impactful morning at Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre!