World Travel GuidesUNESCO World Heritage Site Banteay Samre Temple, Angkor

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Banteay Samre is a medium-size ruin located on the east side of Angkor, away from the rest of the monuments. Visitors usually combined an excursion here to a visit to Banteay Srei. However, as I discovered, although Banteay Samre is on the way to Banteay Srei, it isn't that far out, so I visited it together with the ruins of the Small Circuit, such as Ta Prohm and Thommanon. I know this is not the usual practise, but it works for me. As for Banteay Srei, I visited it combined with Kbal Spean.

Banteay Samre is named after a people called Samre who lived at the foot of Mount Kulen. The people living in the village of Pradak (which you'd pass on your way to Banteay Samre) are said to be their descendents.

Construction Details

Built towards the middle of the 12th century

Story behind the name of Banteay Samre

There is a story associated with Banteay Samre. In this story, there was a poor farmer named Pou. He planted sweet cucumbers from seeds he received through some supernatural way. When he got his first harvest, he presented it to the king, who found it so sweet that he wanted it all for himself. He commanded Pou to kill anybody who enters the cucumber field.

One night during the rainy season, the cucumbers were scarce. The king, rather impatient to taste it, sneeked into the cucumber field himself. Pou, not realising it was the king, mortally wounded him with his lance, and buried the "thief" in the field.

The inner enclosure of Banteay Samre, as seen from the outer wall.

The king had no direct descendants, so his noblemen resorted to divine intervention. They sent out his white elephant. The elephant stopped in front of the Pou, and paid homage him him by lowering his trucnk between its feet and knelt. The noblemen took this as a sign, and enthroned Pou as king.

On becoming king, Pou exhumed the corpse of his predecessor and gave it a funeral ceremony at the East Mebon, followed by the rites of cremation at Pre Rup.

The new king, however, was facing difficulties in controlling his court dignitaries. Feeling humiliated at being governed by a lowly farmer, they expressed their discontent by refusing to show respect to him. Pou, feeling powerless to discipline them, left the Royal Palace and went to live in solitude at Banteay Samre. There, King Pou issue a decree to have all those who humiliated him beheaded. After that incident, his reign continued peacefully.

When Banteay Samre was discovered, it was overrun with vegetation. Restorers using anastylosis - a restoration process of dismantling, reassembling and replacing vital lost pieces - has brought out the beauty of Banteay Samre. When I visited it with Chooi Yoke, we found that the temple was very well kept. The lawns were neat and tidy, and there were workers upkeeping the place.

I learned that Banteay Samre was restored after a similar project was carried out on the much smaller (but perhaps even more exquisite) Banteay Srei. The knowledge and experience gained from the Banteay Srei project provided restorers the confidence to execute the task.

No inscription was found on Banteay Samre to accurately pinpoint its construction date. Nevertheless, judging from the style of its construction, Banteay Samre is believed to have been built around the time of Angkor Wat, that is, towards the middle of the 12th century.

One of the gopuras, or towers, at Banteay Samre.

Banteay Samre consists of an outer wall with four gopuras enclosing a courtyard. Raised within the courtyard is the second enclosure. There is an east and a west inner gopura that links to the gopuras of the outer wall. Steps lead steeply from the outer wall to the central courtyard. There is an seconde courtyard within the second enclosure. Detached within this inner courtyard are two structures which restorers called the "Libraries". And then, right in the middle of the whole complex, is the Central Sanctuary. I think trying to explain in words sounds rather confusing. When I have the time, I shall draw a plan so AsiaExplorers members can understand me better.

I arrived at Banteay Samre with my wife quite early in the morning, driven there by our tuk tuk driver Mr Han. The road took me to the northern side of the monument. From there, we walked to the main entrance to the east. At the east is a 200 metre causeway with naga balustrades and stone lions at regular intervals. I walked the whole length of the causeway to have a feel of its size. The pools on both sides of it have long gone.

Traces of a causeway that extends from the east entrance of Banteay Samre. style.

After causeway, we entered the outer enclosure. I walked around to get a proper angle. It was still early morning and the sun had jus risen, bathing the monument in a rich vermillion. I observed that the north, west and south gopuras are of similar design. They are cruciform in plan, and have two wings connected to the galleries as well as two porticoed doors.

As I walked around Banteay Samre, it appears so similar to Angkor Wat, but only at a reduced scale. Even the prasats, or towers, are similar to those at Angkor Wat, and if I may add, those at Banteay Samre appear in a better degree of preservation.

The tympanums on the porticoes are often ornately sculptured. I learn that the best preserved panel, also one of the finest in Khmer art, is found on the north gopura northern side. (I must say I didn't see it, as it was against the light at the time of my visit). Drawn from the Ramayana epic, it depicted the fight between Rama and Ravana, each on their respective chariots.

Banteay Samre is not the most popular monument in Angkor, which is a shame because it is an exquisite example of Khmer art. Owning perhaps to its distance, not many people have been to it. Nevertheless, I would encourage AsiaExplorers members who have read my description here to attempt visiting it should they be Angkor.

Guardian lions on the causeway, with the central sanctuary of Banteay Samre in the background.

Morning sun lit up the eastern side of Banteay Samre.

A lingga with yoni within Banteay Samre.

How to reach Banteay Samre

To get to Banteay Samre, turn right somewhere between Pre Rup and East Mebon, about 14km from Siem Reap. (I think there is a signpost - if you're passing that way, can you verify for me?) After that, go straight on the road between Pre Rup and the eastern Mebon. The road will pass a small Cambodian village (the name of the village is Pradak). Here, you see a T-junction to the left. The left turn takes you to Banteay Srei. Don't turn left, but continue straight on for another 2 km or so, and you arrive at a right run dirt road. This road takes you to the northern entrance of Banteay Samre.

If you need tuk tuk, you can call my tuk tuk driver Mr Han (contact below) to see if he is available to take you there.

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