The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar

Photo by Els Slots.

The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar is part of the Tentative list of Cambodia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Banteay Chhmar is a massive temple complex from the Angkorian civilization. It is located in a remote location in what was a provincial city. The complex had sacred monuments and a man-made water control system.

Map of The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 13-Feb-23 -

The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar (T) by Els Slots

Put this one on your to-do list, as Banteay Chhmar may be nominated in the next few years by Cambodia. Serious restorations and improvements of the visiting conditions have taken place, especially since 2017. A lot of money and effort has been put into what is still a remote site not far from the border with Thailand. As with the other Cambodian sites, most of the work is being carried out by local workers and paid for by the Cambodian government. In the earlier stages of its rediscovery and preservation, both the World Monuments Fund and the Global Heritage Fund have been active here as well to mitigate the effects of structural instability and looting.

The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar is the focal point of the contemporary town that bears the same name. The ancient site is encircled by a wide moat, still filled with water. The modern town is much smaller and feels like a temporary set-up at its fringes.

My visit to Banteay Chhmar was organized by the local Community-Based Tourism (CBT) group. I stayed overnight in one of their homestays (in a fine room on the second floor of a traditional wooden building) and had lunch and dinner at their CBT clubhouse. A local guide showed me around the archaeological complex. And one of their drivers brought me to the border with Thailand at Poipet the next day. When tourism picks up, the question is how long this CBT structure will continue to exist: it’s a complex system where everyone shares and waits his turn. A ‘regular’ guesthouse has already opened in town. Still, they do a fine job, and communication in English is clear.

The guy that had received me at the CBT headquarters later in the afternoon changed into his official guiding uniform and picked me up from the homestay with his motorbike to go to the site. There were no other tourists present, only a few come. The entrance fee is 5 USD.

Banteay Chhmar was built in the late 12th or early 13th century by King Jayavarman VII, who was also responsible for Angkor Thom. It was a temple complex, constructed to celebrate the Khmer's success in the military campaign against the Champa.

Since this site was last reviewed by Ian in 2010, a lot has changed. The front courtyard has been fully restored thanks to a Cambodian donor. Inside, the grounds are still fully covered by stone rubble - 95% of the buildings had collapsed, but everything has stayed in situ. But no more “you will have to clamber over toppled rocks for pretty much the whole time”: a wooden walkway has been added. From the walkway, you look down into the shrines. One of them sports one of the few face-towers to be found outside of Angkor. Also, the colonnaded galleries are still intact.

It has been a pretty, Angkor-style complex so far, but what comes next is stunning and the site’s Unique Selling Point: the relief carvings on the outer walls. The East Gallery has images of multi-armed Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattvas: one with 32 arms, the others with fewer. Originally there were eight of those, of which six are now back in place. In 2020 two additional carvings were returned from the National Museum in Phnom Penh, carvings that had been looted from the site in 1999. The full gallery walls are currently being restored by anastylosis. Unlike other Khmer sites, the carvings are not only religious in nature but also depict scenes of daily life and of the battle on land and water between the Khmer and Cham. Original bas-reliefs can still be seen on the northern side of the walls.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Ian Cade

UK - 16-Nov-10 -

The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar (T) by Ian Cade

This is a little way off the beaten track, but well worth a visit if you are in North-Western Cambodia. The ruins are some of the most extensive from the Angkorian period and contain some particularly fine carvings, ranking along with the finest at Angkor Wat.

The remains are pretty extensive and are very much still ruins, you will have to clamber over toppled rocks for pretty much the whole time you are in the central complex so take a sturdy pair of shoes and a decent dose of common sense as some of the structures are very precarious. The most impressive single element was the carving of the multi armed goddess'. There are only two of these remaining after several other were brutally hacked of a sent out of the country in one of the most astounding pieces of cultural barbarism I have encountered. However it is not all bad news, I had a tour of the site with Mr Sy from the local Community Based Tourism project. This group along with the Global Heritage Fund have been putting in a lot of effort to promote the sites. The GHF have also been doing some extensive restoration and mapping of the area, both to help preserve it and to help with its nomination to the World Heritage list, an overview of the work can be found here. This would make a great WHS and would be suitable reward for the local and international efforts that have been put into protecting a very vulnerable site. Keep up the good work and best of luck.

I visited this site from my friend's house in the NGO rich town of Sisophon, however it could conceivably be done as a long day trip from Siem Reap. I would thoroughly recommend staying the night at Bantay Chemar and the CBT group offer a good selection of home-stays and local food which would be a nice way to get a feel for Cambodian life.

Half the fun of this visit for me was the trip there. Firstly I was in a share taxi, in Cambodia there seems to be no limit on the number of people that can get on a single mode of transport. My standard sized car contained 7 people and the majority of a market stall, when I told my friends about this they said I had been lucky, they had travelled with 9 in a car before! There had been heavy rains a week or so before and these had an effect on the road conditions. On the way up parts of the road had been washed away and enterprising locals had put planks across to make a bridge and charged a not insignificant toll. We then had to wait for about 45 minutes whilst dumper trucks and a Belorussian tractor filled in a more significant breach in the road, providing me with time to speak a few locals and get a taste of the pace of Cambodian life. On the return leg the mighty Belorussian tractor was doing a sterling effort of rebuilding the road still however the locals who had set up the bridge had decided that 3 o'clock was far too late and dismantled it and taken it home on the back of some carts. This left me with a 3 hour detour on some mightily poor roads, over yet more makeshift toll bridges. It was a great if very bumpy experience.

These were the first Angkorian temples I visited and I was very impressed by them. I hope that they do become a WHS soon as they are certainly worthy and a lot of effort has been put into them by local groups and the Global Heritage Fund.

[Site 7; Experience 8]

Full Name
The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar
Archaeological site - South (East) Asian Religious structure - Buddhist
2020 Revision

Renomination of Ensemble de Banteay Chmar (1992)

2020 Added to Tentative List

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The Archeological complex of Banteay Chhmar (T)
WHS 1997-2024