The low-lying sandstone plateau of Phnom Kulen is 40 kilometres away from Siem Reap and the main Angkor Archaeological Park, taking around two hours by car or van. Sprinkled with many hard to reach crumbling ruins, the intrepid traveller can reach the less visited sites by moto. However, the key attractions are all easily accessible by road, which winds its way up to the top with some impressive viewpoints on the way up worth pausing for.
The main draws are the cooling cascades of the waterfall, the reclining Buddha — the largest in Cambodia — at Wat Preah Ang Thom pagoda and the 1,000 linga river carvings. Phnom Kulen attracts locals and tourists alike since this sacred mountain is the birthplace of the Khmer Empire and an important religious site, particularly busy on public holidays and weekends.
The waterfall has two levels; the upper is about five metres high, the lower about 20 metres. To reach the latter you descend down a not especially sturdy wooden staircase, which is not engineered for very young, elderly or the less nimble. But by making it down you are rewarded with a wide waterfall that you can swim in. Get changed in simple cubicles at the top and please do remember to dress appropriately. Whether you find the waterfall to have an incredible jaw-dropping wow factor is not guaranteed, but it still makes for a very pleasant compliment to temple sites with its lush jungle setting.
The river of 1000 lingas, Angkorian carvings carefully etched into the riverbed holding religious significance, rest just a few centimetres below the water’s surface when levels are low; they’re not so easily seen when the water is high. They are not to be confused with those at Kbal Spean, which makes for a good alternative to Kulen Mountain. Like Kulen Mountain, Kbal Spean can similarly be combined with a temple visit to create a full day’s excursion.
Check out the active pagoda, home to the reclining Buddha, which really only takes a few moments to visit. There are plenty of local restaurants around since Phnom Kulen is a popular picnic spot for Khmer friends and families.
To access Kulen Mountain you need to pay US$20, on top of your standard temple pass required to visit any of the sites in the main park on the same day. This means visiting Phnom Kulen is not a particularly budget day out, but it is one that delivers contrasts. Combine a visit with further afield temple highlights such as Beng Mealea or Banteay Srei to create a full day itinerary.
By Caroline Major
Last updated on 12th October, 2014.