Banteay Kdei Temple in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor complex is not generally considered one of the ‘major’ Angkor temples and is thus skipped by many visitors and tour groups, though one of its major attractions and, why we think it’s well worth including in any temple itinerary, is precisely because much of the time you’ll have the temple almost completely to yourself.
As one of the smaller sites, it also fits conveniently into a 30-45 minute visit so is ideal for our first-day dusk visit. Day 2 of our standard Angkor itinerary includes dawn at Angkor Wat so rather than mess around obtaining the laminated entrance passes at 4.30 in the morning we prefer to go up to the site the evening before, after our arrival from Phnom Penh, sort out passes for the following day and then take in a short dusk tour of Banteay Kdei as a kind of temple ‘appetiser’.
Dusk is also a perfect time of day to visit this atmospheric Jayarvarman VII period temple which, albeit a smaller version of, is in the same style and period of the more famous Preah Khan and Ta Prom temples. It lacks the much photographed giant trees and roots of that pair and can’t compete with Ta Prom’s iconic Tomb Raider sets or Preah Khan’s Dungeons and Dragon-esque, labyrinthine atmosphere but is in much better overall condition and also has thankfully escaped, (for the present at least), the large-scale and for us dubious, restoration and reconstruction works currently being undergone at the former.
The four entrance gates around the extensive outer wall feature the iconic Jayarvarman VII faces whilst in the central temple area the most famous sight is the Hall of the Dancers or ‘Hall of the Dancing Girls’. Whether or not any girls actually danced in what must have been quite a confined space is debatable but the modern name is derived from the multitude of apsaras, (a kind of heavenly dancing girl), carved onto the pillars in the hall to the east of the main shrine area. Elsewhere some well-carved lintels remain and there are plenty of finely crafted devatas or minor goddesses decorating the walls.
Probably would pale somewhat if you scheduled a visit to Banteay Kdei after one of the aforementioned larger sites but as an introduction to Angkor – as we said a kind of appetiser or aperitif for the more spectacular temples to come it’s just about perfect.
You can find all our Cambodia itineraries and Angkor programmes at this link.