Explore remote Angkorian period temples and forgotten cultural treasures
Banteay Chhmar Temple is one of Cambodia’s national treasures. Dating from the Angkorian period, this is an impressive complex of numerous temples and structures that allow you to immerse yourself in the Cambodian history. The temple complex, its moat, baray (reservoir) and surrounding unspoilt environment form a unique archaeological site that provides a vital link to Cambodia’s cultural heritage and understanding of its past.
If you are interested in history and Cambodian heritage this is a site not to be missed during your visit to the Kingdom of Wonder.
Banteay Chhmar Temple is one of Cambodia’s most important and least understood temples from the Angkorian period. For these reasons, it is now one of Cambodia’s top priorities for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its remoteness from Angkor Wat, in part, explains the lack of in-depth documentation and study of the temple. The Ministry of Culture & Fine Arts (MCFA) is responsible for overseeing the temple complex.
The community based tourism project is helping to protect the cultural heritage and environment, as well as increase income for villagers through tourism activities – homestays, tour guides, cooks and other activities. Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism (CBT) is a group of local villagers dedicated to preserving and protecting the cultural heritage of the area as well as promoting responsible tourism industry in Banteay Chhmar. The CBT was originally started in 2007 with the aid of the French NGO Agir Pour le Cambodge (APLC). In 2009, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) began conservation work on Banteay Chhmar Temple and formed a partnership with the CBT. Additional support has been provided by Heritage Watch that supports the education of the local community and helps to increase their knowledge of the importance of protecting Khmer cultural heritage and its benefits to local livelihoods.
From Tath Sophal, CBT Coordinator: “This historic site is entirely run by the local people, the local CBT committee works with the provincial and national government to develop the Banteay Chhmar temple and make it accessible to both local and international tourists. When you come and visit our project, you will be guided by highly skilled and fully qualified local tour guides who speak very good English and have been trained by international heritage experts to provide excellent services to visitors. Tourism is very important for our community, it creates opportunities for local families, especially women who run homestay and are involved in local crafts.”
Banteay Chhmar is the 4th largest temple in Cambodia, dating from the Angkorian period. There are nine satellite temples as part of this temple complex.
Though there is no recorded or written name for the temple, scholars generally believe that the name Banteay Chhmar probably meant “The Small Citadel” or “Narrow Fortress” (a Khmer word possibly, chhmarl or chmarl meaning small, tiny or narrow). At some point, probably through oral transformation, the name became chhmar (cat). Therefore, nowadays, the temple is commonly called the “Citadel of the Cat.” These references and the oral transformation are not clearly understood, needing further research.
What is known, is that it was commissioned in the late 12th to early 13th centuries by King Jayavarman VII. A shrine in the temple once held an image of a Crown Prince, believed to be Indravarman, and probably a son of Jayavarman VII. The temple is similar in style to Bayon Temple, also commissioned by Jayavarman VII.
The temple is filled with Buddhist and Hindu images, Bayon-style face towers, friezes, halls and almost one kilometer of amazing bas-reliefs depicting life during the Angkorian period. These outer gallery walls with bas-reliefs show military and domestic scenes similar to Bayon Temple. All of these reasons have made it a high priority for the Cambodian government to have it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Unfortunately, over the past 800 years no conservation efforts have been done on the temple. This lack of conservation has led to the temple slowly disintegrating and disappearing under an overgrowth of trees and plants. Fortunately, the local community with its partners is working to protect this historic treasure of Cambodia.
The Banteay Chhmar temples and homestay are one of the most organised tourism sites run by the local communities, so you will not be disappointed!
Close to the entrance to the temple complex, there is a tourist information centre staffed by English speaking guides. We recommend that you visit the centre once you arrive, as the staff at the centre is extremally knowledgeable and very helpful and they will help you to plan your visit, provide information about any specific events or activities taking place at the Banteay Chhmar temples and the local village during your stay.
LOCAL TOUR GUIDES
- speak very good English
- have all been qualified as local tour guides with a certification
- In most houses, the guests sleep upstairs and the families sleep downstairs.
- 2-4 bedrooms in a traditional house with bed, mattress, mosquito net, cotton sheets, blankets, pillows…
- Western-style toilet and shower (shared bathroom)
- Electricity 24/7
- Provides drinking water, candles, mosquito coils and shampoo
- Hammocks to relax in; table and chairs
- Parking: car, motorcycle, minibus/van and bus
We would recommend most travellers spend several days in this area, as it takes a significant amount of time to reach this relatively remote destination and there is plenty to see and do. When you are tired of visiting the temples or if travelling with children who need a variety of activities, there are options to visit local villages, hire a bicycle and spend afternoon cycling through rice fields or take part in organised tours by the local community-based tourism committee. You can always visit the CBT office to find out what is happing in the local community and what programmes are currently running that you could visit or take part in.
VISITING THE TEMPLE COMPLEX
Visiting the temples! – Banteay Chhmar is the 4th largest temple dating from the Angkorian period after Preah Khan (in Kampong Svay), Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat being the largest temple. There are nine satellite temples as part of the temple complex. In addition, Banteay Torp temple is another intriguing temple well-worth seeing, it is about 12 kilometres south of the main temple. If your budget allows, we would recommend the hire a local tour guide to show you around the temple complex, who will guide you through the site and explain the history and development of the site. With the guide, you are allowed to visit some of the parts of the site where restoration work is taking place (please note that this only applies during the periods when such a work is being undertaken).
If you are planning to spend more than a half day at this project we recommend to hire a bicycle (at the tourist information centre for $1-2) which will enable you to explore the local area and some of the satellite temples. Cambodia can be hot, so plan your trip so ideally, you are not cycling in the middle of the day during the hottest part of the day. Just outside of the village there are rice fields with water buffalos and water reservoirs. Bring your camera as there will be plenty to see and take photos off.
If you are interested in Cambodian cuisine, you will be happy to know that this project runs genuine cooking classes for visitors. You will go to the market with a family from Banteay Chhmar to buy food and ingredients. Then, you will learn to prepare and cook traditional Khmer food at the family’s house, which you will have the chance to share with your host family. Please pre-book for these classes as they are not available without prior arrangement.
VISIT THE SOIERIES DU MEKONG SILK CENTRE
A social enterprise based in the village trains local women and provides employment to them. You will be able to visit their shop and explore the many products that are hand made with love in the local village.
Banteay Chhmar is located in Banteay Meanchey province in the Northwest of Cambodia. You can access this site by National Road #5 or #6 from Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap driving by bus, mini bus or taxi. If you are travelling by bus stop at Sisophon = Banteay Meanchey town. Sisophon is located at the junction of Highways #5 and #6. It is a major transit point between Phnom Penh, Battambang Siem Reap and Poipet (Thai border). Buses and taxis to/from Sisophon are available all day. It should not be a problem getting to Sisophon. From Phnom Penh to Sisophon it is about an 8 hour drive. Sisophon is 2 hours from Siem Reap and about 1 hour from Poipet.
From Sisophon to Banteay Chhmar it is another 65 km by taxi, pickup or moto which takes around 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The most comfortable way to get to the site is to hire a private taxi for approx $25, the cheapest way is to find shared taxis for about $5. So, depending on your budget and number of people you are travelling with, it might actually be cheaper to get a private taxi.
BANTEAY CHHMAR TEMPLES & HOMESTAY
OTHER TRAVELLERS EXPERIENCES
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We love the site, fantastic opportunity to see a historic temples without lots of tourists. We would recommend it to anyone.
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