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Temple watch: The trip to Banteay Chhmar

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The remote temple site of Banteay Chhmar is one of the greatest little-known wonders of northern Cambodia.  Its scale is huge, and it originally covered an area twice that of Angkor Wat. Little remains of its original walls, but the central sanctuary within the moat has some remaining Bayon face-style towers. There are also impressive bas reliefs on the inner sanctuary walls.

This vast site is quite overgrown, and it's a wonderful place to visit in the rainy season. It's situated 70 kilometres north of Svay, also known by the Thai name Sisophon, and it's very close to the Thai border. It is unaffected by the border tensions at Preah Vihear and is jealously guarded by the Cambodian military which has a large camp nearby.

There is work in progress to restore the eastern walls and plans to restore parts of the interior of the temple. The supervisor of the work told me that the trees will eventually be removed and new ones planted outside.

Road conditions on my last visit in late September were very bad after heavy rain. It took over two-and-a-half hours by 4WD to get there from Siem Reap, but the return journey in dry conditions took less than half that time. Conditions won't improve until Route 6 is paved.  Admission remains $5, and records show on average only one visitor signs in each day. So Banteay Chhmar is one of the best large temple sites to really get far away from the madding crowd.

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