Siem Reap, Cambodia: Banteay Srei, the "Pink Temple"

January 22, 2018
Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.


 
THERE’S MORE TO BANTEAY SREI - AKA THE “PINK TEMPLE” 
OF SIEM REAP - THAN MEETS THE EYE... 

It is a known fact that yours truly does not like to get out of bed for less than a $10,000 view in the morning. So imagine my consternation when, after an early wake up call and bumpy, dusty hour-long drive into the heartlands of Siem Reap, the famous pink temple that is Banteay Srei - also known as The Citadel of Women - was a lot less the ‘millenial pink’ I expected than it was ‘overcooked salmon’. B*tch, HUE better work. Was my pastel colour-motivated trek into the wildnerness all for naught? Happily, it was hardly a wasted journey, for I had serendipitously discovered a temple that was far unique to the others in Angkor for a myriad of reasons...




Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.

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The person who nicknamed Banteay Srei “The Pink Temple” should be read (red) to filth as being either colourblind, or be praised for having the extreme farsightedness to troll a generation of millenials obsessed with seeking out yet another “Peggy Porschen pink” landmark for their carefully colour-curated Instagram feed. A more likely explanation is that Banteay Srei’s nickname was derived from the red sandstone - now faded by centuries of exposure - it is constructed from. 

Like the fairer sex it was named after (Banteay Srei can be translated as ‘Citadel of the Women’), red sandstone is a soft and yielding medium, which lends itself very well to carving. For this reason, Banteay Srei is embellished with more detailed carvings and sculptures than other temples in Angkor. The red sandstone walls are filled with intricate bas relief carvings of devatas - female deities - and leaf motifs, lending another nickname for Banteay Srei: ‘Citadel of Beauty’. This level of detail is especially amazing given the scale of the structures: unlike the mammoth monuments of Angkor, such as Bayon and Angkor Wat, the buildings of Banteay Srei are in miniature. Walking through a city of tiny temples, libraries, and galleries, the effect is that of Gulliver in Lilliput. 

For the reasons of its exceptional intricacy, dollhouse-like scale, feminine motives, and distinct not-quite-pink-but-I’ll-let-it-slide colour; Banteay Srei is a bijou little gem of a temple, widely praised as a “jewel of Khmer Art”.

Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.
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Although the ravages of time and weather have not been kind to some of the sculptures, as a whole Banteay Srei is remarkably well-preserved for a 10th century temple.

Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.

Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.


Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.


Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.


So, was I seeing red for thinking pink? Despite being initially disappointed at the lack of Grand Budapest Hotel-esque shades, Banteay Srei more than made of for its misleading name with its many unique traits. One: For being constructed out red sandstone, Two: For its exceptionally intricate motives (thanks to sandstone being as carvable as wood), Three: For its emphasis on devatas (female deities), and Four: For being the only major Angkor temple not comissioned by a monarch but rather by two courtiers to the king at the time.


Seeing red at the Pink Temple of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei aka The Citadel of The Women.


WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Banteay Srei is located 32 kilometres away from the city, on the outskirts of Angkor Archeological Park. It’s easily an hour’s drive thanks to bump, dusty country roads which could be terribly precarious in an exposed tuk-tuk. I had an SUV so every pothole was a mild adventure rather than a buttock-clenching moment. This might be the occassion to prebook a car for comfort’s sake. As with Angkor Wat and Ta ProhmBanteay Srei is covered by the Angkor Pass, which has to be purchased only from the The Angkor Ticket Office. 

Red sandstone is especially soft, which makes the intricate carvings of Banteay Srei especially delicate. Practise your hovering-"I'm pretending to but I'm not actually not touching"-hand poses (as demonstrated on the left) before you go. And on the topic of propriety: you know the drill by now, cover your shoulders and knees! 

Have you been to Banteay Srei? Did you have to manage expectations or were you pleasantly surprised?




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