TWHS: Ensemble de Banteay Chmar, Cambodia

Today before we get into the sites that everybody’s heard of in Cambodia, one more Tentative World Heritage site that will bring you back to the early days of Angkor Wat before the tourists moved in, take a look at this video of a place that gets only about 1500 visitors a year:

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar


Situé dans une région aride, le groupe de Banteay Chmar couvre une superficie importante dont une grande partie fut aménagée sous forme de bassins artificiels. La tour centrale est entourée de douves de 65 mètres de largeur sur 3,60 mètres de profondeur et de huit temples secondaires. Une galerie d’enceinte enferme completement le temple dans un rectangle de 250 mètres sur 190 mètres d’axe en axe. Le temple de Banteay Chmar possède cinquante six tours dont certaines sont ornées de visages et une galerie d’enceinte décorée de bas-reliefs historiques et mythologiques.

OK, enough French practice for today, pour nos lectores que no son franceses,

Located in an arid region, the Banteay Chmar Group covers a large area, much of which has been developed as artificial ponds. The central tower is surrounded by a moat 65 meters wide by 3.60 meters deep and eight secondary temples. An enclosure gallery completely encloses the temple in a rectangle of 250 meters by 190 meters axis in axis. The temple of Banteay Chmar has fifty-six towers, some of which are adorned with faces, and an enclosure gallery decorated with historical and mythological bas-reliefs.

Yes, Cambodia is succinct in their descriptions. Let’s see what CNN had to say last month:

Hidden beneath a canopy of trees in the northwestern jungles of Cambodia lies a lesser known beauty: Banteay Chhmar, which roughly translates to “Citadel of Cats.”

Brought to life in the 12th century by Jayavarman VII, one of the Khmer Empire’s greatest rulers, this little-understood temple was left uninhabited for nearly 800 years. Time, severe pillaging and the inexorable domination of nature left the site in a state of semi-collapse. It was added to UNESCO’s tentative list in 1992…

… With millions visiting Siem Reap every year, he says, the “old feelings of mystery and adventure” once associated with the temples are all but gone.

But Banteay Chhmar — a few hours’ drive from Angkor Wat, with just 1,500 visitors annually — still captures that transcendental experience.

 As Warrack puts it, to explore the temple is to “step back into another age and experience a unique interaction, perhaps battle, between culture and nature.”

Check out the Trip Advisor reviews for more.

Of all the temples in Cambodia — and, we dare say, probably of all the temples in the world, at least the ones we’ve been to so far — wandering through Banteay Chmar is the one that gives you the most lost-city-explorer feeling.

There’s enough of the passages and walls and towers standing so that you definitely know you’re in a city and not simply a pile of rocks,

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

but those piles of rocks are everpresent and massive trees are growing everywhere,

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

making the occassional face enigmatically smiling at you downright spooky in the complete silence.

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

Although the place has been heavily looted, impressive statues remain,

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

and really quite breathtaking indeed wall carvings:

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

Everywhere you turn there’s more ruins, never thoroughly studied or catalogued.

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

Usually we’re not stuck for words to describe places, but the majestic solitary decrepitude of Banteay Chmar has a feeling which is quite novel indeed…

Ensemble de Banteay Chmar

… not quite as creepy as “haunting” implies, but somewhere towards it on the melancholy side of “evocative.”

You can hire a car for a day trip to Banteay Chmar from Siem Reap — some three hours each way — and we strongly suggest that you consider that seriously.

The Siem Reap complex is quite justifiably the main Heritage Site, New Wonder, etc. of Cambodia; but the experience of wandering on your own (ok, with the other 1499 or so a year) through the unrestored complex here is immensely more memorable than being shuffled through with the two and a half million that are hitting Angkor Wat!


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