Banteay Srei is often called one of the most beautiful temples in the Angkor complex, despite winning the superlative “Least Likely To Get A Boyfriend” in the class of ’88.
Its intricate carvings are rumored to be crafted by women, since the hands of men aren’t delicate enough to create such detail.
That, of course, is utter horse shit. Women in medieval Cambodia weren’t out carving sandstone. They were busy cooking and making children.
Not to mention the fact that human tools were simply too primitive a thousand years ago to create these amazing structures—it was aliens who gave us the lasers necessary to get the job done.
Whatever rumors you believe, Banteay Srei really is incredible. Most of the temple was built with red sandstone, which looks completely different from the muted and weathered structures Angkor visitors are used to.
The temple lies roughly 25 minutes by car or tuk tuk to the northeast of the main complex, which means you don’t really want to ride a bicycle there.
We settled on $15 for the entire day with the most persistent tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap. He finally corned me on the previous night while I was picking up laundry and launched into his sales pitch before I could eject.
$15 for the whole day—especially combined with the long drive to Banteay Srei—isn’t bad.
Sure enough, our driver was waiting right in front of our hotel at 6 am. I don’t think he ever slept.
It’s extremely important to seek out Banteay Srei as early as possible. Once 8 am rolls around, the tiny site is jam-packed with tourists. The central area is also fenced off, meaning there is precious little space to take pictures.
We rocketed through the Cambodian countryside, gleefully ignoring even the deepest potholes. I also experienced a feeling I hadn’t felt for some time—a slight chill in the morning air. By “chill” I mean lower 70s, but that’s pretty cold.
Turns out a 6 am departure is right on the money, because no sooner had we disembarked our steel wagon when the very first bus of tourists pulled in. Not just any bus, though—a bus full of Chinese tourists.
We had to act fast before every single nook and cranny of Banteay Srei was stuffed with spitting, shouting, selfie-sticking adult children.
If you think I have an unhealthy disdain for the Chinese, you’re absolutely right. Let me give you an example why.
Right after we half-ran into the temple to snap pictures before the hordes arrived…the hordes arrived.
Like I said, the central area is roped off—partly to protect the delicate carvings from vandals and accidents, and partly so people are able to take pictures of the temple without obstructions.
Fuck that, say the Chinese. I watched on, half appalled and half impressed, as a grown, 50-something man groaned and heaved his decrepit, creaking body over the rope. He really wanted to get some good pictures, I guess.
The first foot came down, and he paused to catch his breath. Trespassing was a lot more strenuous than parking your ass on a bus for 12 hours, for sure.
“What are you doing?”
He looked at me like a small child caught with his hand in an ancient cookie jar. I pointed two fingers at my eyes, then pointed them at the rope, then to the sign explaining the rope, just in case he didn’t understand the global symbol printed on that sign that indicates “Do Not Cross” in every society on the planet.
I shooed him away and took my picture.
It’s a thankless job, but somebody has to do it (because the usual security guards must have still been eating breakfast).
The tricky part about Banteay Srei is trying to leave, especially when your tuk tuk driver is off taking a nap nowhere near where he was supposed to wait.
After wandering through forested trails alongside ponds crowded with the last lotus flowers of the year, the intrepid explorer makes his way back to the real tourist attraction at Banteay Srei—all the cheap souvenirs you don’t want, plus lunch at 150% markup.
You fight your way past hawkers selling the most useless junk on the planet, looking for your tuk tuk driver to continue your adventure.
You walk to the exit. Then the entrance. Back and forth, back and forth. You cave in and decide to check how much lunch costs.
$12 for rice and pork? This isn’t P.F. Chang’s.
The woman waving menus at you yells as you walk away:
I just kept walking. If she offered to pay me to eat there, I would reconsider.
About the 6th or 7th time we stomped past the parking lot entrance, I decided to do some detective work and head outside, around the corner.
There was our driver, fast asleep in the shade.
“You were supposed to meet us at the exit.”
“Yes, I cannot park there.”
“I saw other drivers there.”
“OK, so sorry.”
I couldn’t be too mad, though. Jade went off on a tirade about Chinese tourists, and he gave us a knowing grin.
“Yes, we do not like them too.”
What do you think?