I am sitting here in Siem Reap back from almost a week of surveying in Banteay Meanchey province. I have heaps of photos and what I think are some interesting things to share from this trip. However, I’m sleepily full of Indian food from dinner so I will start with some photos from my visit to my touristy trip to Banteay Chhmar (or sometimes spelled Banteay Chmar) temple near the Thai border in Banteay Meanchey province, Thma Puok district. The rest will get posted over the next few days.
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Some background on Banteay Chmar:
Banteay Chmar temple was built by Jayavarman VII, the famous Buddhist king and prolific builder of among other things the Bayon temple and Angkor Thom. This temple was built in honor of his son who was killed fighting the Chams. Banteay Chmar is quite a long haul from Siem Reap (about 3-4 hours by car) and is very close to the Thai border. In this part of Cambodia many people speak Thai and they use the Thai baht in addition to the US dollar and Cambodian riel. (To make things confusing, prices were always quoted in baht which need to be multiplied by 100 to get the price in riel which then needs to be divided by 4000 to get the price in dollars).
For those reading this who are thinking of a trip to Banteay Chmar here is some travel information. It costs us $70 RT to hire a car from Siem Reap. There is no chance of the driver picking up a return fare in B.C. so the cost is high. However one might be able to negotiate a better deal as a day trip through a guest house in Siem Reap. But keep in mind gas is expensive and shows no sign of slowing so $70 may be the going rate (it was actually much cheaper than other price quotes we’d gotten). There is a guest house in nearby Thma Puok (which also has some pretty decent restaurants). The rate was $5/night and it was definitely one of the least appealing places I have stayed. Dirty and hot rooms, rats wandering freely, and unfriendly staff. There looks to be another guest house opening at the back of a restaurant on the main road (near the HALO offices) and when this is open I would bet this would be an excellent place to stay. However, one can also stay in the village of Banteay Chmar itself, which sits just outside the temple. After one night in Thma Puok we headed out to B.C. and happily stayed there for the rest of our trip. This is through a Home Stay program and I cannot speak more highly of it. Banteay Chmar village is small but charming, the accommodations are a bit spartan (no power in some locations) but clean and in an old Khmer wooden house. The food is excellent (can be provided by the guest house owners) and the home owners were friendly and welcoming. More information on this can be found here.
Banteay Chmar is also famous because of the amount and scale of looting at this site. A National Geographic reporter stumbled on looters dismantling a large portion of the wall in the late 90s/early 2000s. There is another very interesting story on an archaeologist/historian Claudes Jacques who discovered a looted inscription from this site in a Thai antique market here in the New York Times. So the looting here has been a big problem, however I think the worst of it is over. The road to get here is better and it seems that there may be more tourists coming in the future (it is very rarely tourist-ed now). There is also a rumor of a walkway being put in to access some of the more difficult parts of the site.
Now for some photos.
Banteay Chmar is in the process of being slowly rehabbed. When you approach the main gate the area in front is stacked with stones waiting to be put together like puzzle pieces.
The entire exterior wall is filled with beautiful carvings (primarily of battles with the Chams)- this is similar to Jayavarman VII’s Bayon Temple. And this was the focus of much of the looting. Some examples:
Croc goes after some fallen Chams.
Jayavarman holding court- check out the beads he’s wearing!
This is the multi-armed Avalokiteshvara from the top of my post. You can see next to this section of the wall is a large empty space where a giant section of the wall was looted. I understand that it is in the National Museum in Phnom Penh now.
Fighting a wicked monster!
The interior of this temple is sprawling and many of the buildings inside of collapsed. The rubble piles up almost to the roof of some of the interior buildings. You don’t walk through, instead you have to scramble over the collapsed sandstone blocks. Apparently they may be building a wooden walkway so you can walk through and over the temple without almost breaking your leg.
In this photo you can see that the rubble from the collapsed structures piles up almost as high as the roof of some of the still standing structures.
Above: This little boy was silently following us around most of our tour.
There are still a few standing structures including the four-face towers, similar to the ones seen at the Bayon.
Looting is EVERYWHERE in this temple unfortunately. Some sad examples.
Above and below: looters go after a face in a lintel. It ruined the lintel and they probably broke the face into tiny pieces so the whole thing was pointless.
Here is an example of a beautiful apsara carving in a wall and a looted carving right next to it.
This is from the smaller temple of Ta Phrom nearby Banteay Chmar but outside the main temple complex area. It has another face tower and a lovely little moat.
Banteay Meanchey is a heavily mined region and the area around this temple is no exception. You always have to remember to stay on well-marked paths.