A plateau over 30 kilometers long which you can see on a good day from R6 when approaching Siemreap from Phnom Penh. It’s 40k to the check point at the bottom of the hill, the road is good all the way. A further 10k up the hill you will reach the main attraction, the waterfall, a favourite spot for the Khmers on the week end.
Visiting is fairly easy to this point, a car is recommended, although you could hire a moto, or for the very fit it’s doable by push bike, the hill climb is a little steep in places.
At the top relax in the waterfall, great for swimming. Visit the pagoda, with the reclining buddha and see the river of 1000 lingas. All this can fill a relaxing day.
For the more adventurous, there are some hidden treasures around Phnom Kulen. The area is riddles with tracks and old ruins from the 9th century. Mixed in with this are some 12th century carvings in the rock faces, some similar to those found in Kabal Spean. At the time of writing, the network of crumbling temples is fairly unvisited, with only the more adventurous traveling further than the waterfalls. However, there seem to be changes afoot, with a big map showing many of the hidden places. Ticket control was with the military as a form of ‘road tax’, but recently things seems to have changed with access controlled by the ministry in what seems to be an attempt to promote tourism here. On the tracks there are now signposts to the attractions and local (apsara??) staff at the main sites, who are now responsible for the temples, while the minister of the environment is now responsible for the national park.. It looks like things are changing.. The recent Lidar survey of the area revealed the extent of 9th century city, and with developments such as APSARA staff, is this going to be the ‘new’ place to see, I hope not.
The settlement is thought of as the start of Angkor. King Jararavaman II built a pyramid here in the 9th century, thought to be one of the first in the area. However, archeological digs have discovered foundations over 2000 years old in within the main Angkor park. Also, ancient carvings have been found around the Kingdom sight thought to be 2000+ years old. There must have been settlements here before the Angkor period, a hill being a natural place reside with good defence.
Theres lots to discover, caves, hidden monasteries, 12C carvings, sometimes hermits & ‘magic’ men. There are still people wondering this mystic land today. I have heard of holy men on the hills of Cambodia too, and have met an apprentice after the 2010 bridge disaster in Phnom Penh.
If you do decide to venture further than the falls, a local guide is recommended. The tracks are difficult, only for the experienced off road biker. The locals know the points of interest and can handle the tracks with a pillion rider. Not many speak english, so a little bit of Khmer will be a great help, or bring a Khmer friend along. A note of caution if you are thinking of going to the remote places on your own, although my guide knew where he was going, he still had to ask directions at times, there quite long distances between temple sites and it’s easy to loose your way.
For the photographer, phnom Kulen offers something different, escaping the crowds of Angkor Wat. An option to swim in the sacred waters, but most will want to wait until the crowds have gone to get their shot. There are various options around here to add to the day’s excursion on our photography tours. Phnom Kulen can offer a culturally special insight to your visit to Cambodia.
Take a look on what’s to offer with our photography workshops in this video.
Interested in ancient Khmer are, check out the sight Kbal Spean