The huge Angkorian-era temple of Banteay Chhmar is one of Cambodia’s least-visited and most intriguing destinations, still untouched by the mass tourism that has long since enveloped the temples of Angkor and which is now (following recent road improvements) beginning to reach out even to the formerly remote and inaccessible temples of Koh Ker and Preah Vihear. Covering an area of around three square kilometres, the temple was built by Jayavarman VII as a memorial to soldiers killed while defending his son in a battle against the Chams. The temple is best known for its magnificent carvings, once rivalling those at the Bayon and Angkor Wat, although many of these have been looted – most notoriously in 1998 when a group of rogue soldiers removed two massive panels and trucked them across the border for sale in Bangkok. Confiscated by the Thai police and returned to Cambodia, the panels are now in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. A massive programme run by the Global Heritage Fund and Heritage Watch is now slowly restoring the site, while efforts are also being made to have the temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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