Located some one hundred kilometres north-west of Angkor, in Banteay Chhmar are the remains of an ancient city which was centred by a complex temple plant of enormous size.
- The central complex (C) is extended to the east and to the west by flat temples (CE, CW). Adjacent to the east is a "hall of dancers" (HD). More temples are roughly symmetrically placed at the north-south axis and to the east (AN, AE, AS).The central temple (C) has eight face towers.
- An enclosure wall of 120 m by 130 m (II) butts the northern and southern annex temples and excludes the hall of dancers.
- The entire plant is framed by a stately gallery (III) of 200 m by 250 m with reliefs at the outside of the wall.
Map from CAC, modified.
- Around this complex the town centre is framed by a moat of 700 m by 800 m. In the axes are imposing causeways with giant balustrades.
- A baray, measuring 750 m by 1600 m, is adjacent to the east.
- The outer town is framed by a moat, 1600 m by 2000 m.
- Here seven more temples (see: Ta Prohm) and the Mebon are placed axially; Yeay Chou is located in the south-east of the outer town. Map from GHF.
- Architectural reconstruction of Banteay Chhmar
by Olivier Cunin, funded by the Robert Kiln Charitable Trust (UK) via GHF
- 3D digital reconstruction of Central Sanctuary
- Global Heritage Fund Banteay Chhmar
"A state of indescibable ruin"
"This temple, which could be ranked among the three or
four most beautiful of ancient Cambodia, has fallen (...) in a state of
indescribable ruin. It was built on the same level as the ground, but
the foundations have certainly been poorly made. These heavy structures
were erected on imported earth only, and soon collapsed under their
weight as well as because of the penetration of the rains. (...) The
Khmers have never known cement (...)"
(Aymonier 1999, p. 143.)
Banteay Chhmar was one of the monastic cities which Jayavarman VII (1181-1217/20) founded or extended in his kingdom.
It is located near the royal road to Phimai, in the core of the kingdom. Numerous water basins indicate that there were kutis, the housings of Buddhist monks.
An inscription at the eastern adjacent temple honours five heroes who lost their lives in the battles after the death of Suryavarman II (about 1150-1181).
A hundred years ago the Thai-Cambodian border was marked 25 km to the west, and the place got remote.
Banteay Chhmar: Map of the central complex
Banteay Chhmar: Map of the city
"The outer gallery is decorated with important reliefs, very
similar to those (...) at the Bayon. (...) Banteay Chhmar presents a
striking mix of historic events with religious (...) and mythological
"High up in the relief, the largest boat has its stern decorated with a devata sculpture, makara and ramming horn. On board, above the sixteen pairs of rowers are soldiers with weapons and standards, and, on a platform, the Khmer leader, wearing a breastplate, in the process of throwing an arrow at the Chams. His hairstyle, with the chignon fixed by a pin ending with a Lokeshvara statuette indicates he might be the king."
"A monstrously large man with the head of a lion, crawling on the ground and about to devour the man with the Cham hat on his chariot. Above is a large man trying to kill an even larger similar monster. (...) The monster depicted is believed to be the Bharata Rahu (?)."
The most striking images at Banteay Chhmar were eight standing bodhisattvas, from whom two are still in situ.
Originally the south wing was more than 25 m long and showed eight large images of the bodhisattva; two are still in place.
In 1998 the biggest part of the gallery was dismantled and carried away. Eye witnesses have reported that they have seen Cambodian soldiers loading the stones on military trucks. 1999 the Thai border police confiscated a truck with the numerated stones of a 6 m long sector. Later these stones where handed over to the National Museum Phnom Penh, where they are now on display.
A beautiful face tower at Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm is located south of the southern causeway. The tower and the moat are well preserved. Best light in the late afternoon. The Mebon, or: Prasat Samnang Tasok, has another face tower.
After some 7 km on the road from Banteay Chhmar to Sisophon, a road goes to the left (west), marked by an adorned doorway. After some 2 km you see the towers on the right. Five towers were linked by axial galleries and a mandapa at the east. At the east and the west are large entrance buildings. The temple is surrounded by a wide moat and two enclosure walls. At the centre, and at east and south, three towers are still standing upright. Some remains of the original carved wooden ceiling still exist. The towers make an impressive picture; best light is in the afternoon.
Global Heritage Fund (GHF) has started the restoration at the southern causeway, the south wing of the east gallery, and at a tower in the central complex. Visiting the temple I met John Sanday, Field Director of GHF. He told me that now 50 local people are working at Banteay Chhmar.
Banteay Chhmar is more than a "second Angkor"
Banteay Chhmar is a relaxed rural place. Visitors are rare. Visiting the temple you may be alone.
The place is in the best sense of the word undeveloped, charming with its naturalness, genuine Cambodian.
Community Based Tourism (CBT) is a great asset of Banteay Chhmar: Visitors are welcomed as guests, and not taken as subjects of exploitation as in Angkor. The money they spend is channelled to the village.
Community Based Tourism
- Visit Banteay Chhmar
- Tour Guides
- Dining and Meals
- Silk Center
- Village Tours
- Traditional Music
- Rice Flattening
- Events and Village Life
In February 2012 I went to Banteay Chhmar and stayed two nights, I was friendly welcomed by Mr. Sophal, the manager of CBT, and his team. I slept in a home stay where I felt very well. At night, after some beer at a food stall I walked to my home. Mr. Sroun, my host, waited for me in the darkness of the road to escort me to my room.
Have a torch, there is not so much electricity in the village.
It was my third visit, so I decided to visit the temple without a guide. It walked along the east, south and north gallery and along the enclosure of the central temple. But I could not find the entrance to the interior of the temple; all gates and nearly all vaults have collapsed, and the paths to pass the heaps of stone blocks are hardly discernible. The faces towers remained invisible for me. Next time I will take a guide.
Travelling from Siem Reao to Banteay Chhmar
Taxis to Sisophon start from "near the river", a few meters from La Noria Hotel. For the front seat (which counts for two) you pay $ 10. There are also regular busses running Siem Reap – Sisophon and retour.
In Sisophon you change the taxi at Phsar Thmei ("New Market"), to Banteay Chhmar it is $ 10 again.
In Banteay Chhmar you head to "Community", the office of CBT.
Back to Sisophon in the afternoon, taxis are at the Bus Station. Have the phone number of your accommodation, as the drivers don't speak English.
- Aymonier 1999, p. 132-145.
- Briggs, p. 225-227.
- Roveda 2005, p. 434-444.
Vittorio Roveda has thoroughly studied and described the reliefs of Banteay Chhmar. (Citations from there.)
- Jacques/Lafond, p. 239, 246-255.
- CAC, Groupe de Banteay Chhmar, 2007
- Jacques/Lafond, p. 235-240, 246-256.
- Banteay Chhmar: Map of the city (pdf, Global Heritage Fund)