The Angkor Wat archaeological park is enormous. While the central temples closer to town can take a couple of days to explore, it’s really worth going further afield to see some of the other temples as well. One of the most beautiful is Banteay Srei, about 40 kilometres north of Siem Reap.
Banteay Srei is an exquisitely carved temple of red sandstone, completed in 967. Like Ta Prohm, this is one of the temples the tour buses focus on, so get there early.
We spent time exploring the temple, and then went out the back of the temple to listen to the landmine band. Any donations or sales of their CD go towards educating their children.
On our return, the temple was crawling with visitors from a bus tour. The atmosphere had changed, with tourists pushing and yelling out to each other. Like I said, GET THERE EARLY.
We headed back towards town, making two essential stops on the way.
The Cambodian Landmine Museum
Aki Ra planted thousands of land mines as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. He has since dedicated his life to the detonation and removal of these dreadful weapons. The landmine museum is more than a museum: it supports a relief facility for children, and funds programs that continue to remove landmines, rebuild communities and educate children.
Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. Before the Khmer Rouge—and actually paving the way for the Khmer Rouge—was America, which dropped half a million tonne of bombs and landmines on Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Much of this remains out there, undetonated. Next came Pol Pot’s army, slaughtering any Cambodian with an education, and littering the land with mines. Years later there are still as many as five million undetonated landmines in Cambodia.
Clearing Cambodia is a mammoth job. And visiting this museum is a sobering experience indeed. In my opinion, this museum is absolutely appropriate for children of any age.
The Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre
This is a wonderful place to visit after the landmine museum. You enter an enclosure with a guide who takes you through the butterfly cycle, and introduces you to all the local species. It’s a gorgeous place and the boys all agreed this was a highlight of their time in Siem Reap.
A serene spot in a rather crazy town. Definitely worth a visit.
TIP: While we travelled in a tuk tuk on the other days, on this particular day we hired a minivan. I would recommend you doing this with kids. It’s a fair hike to Banteay Srei and doing it by car is quicker and more comfortable.