Off the Beaten Track Cambodia - Kulen Mountain Day Trip 

Photo of Off the Beaten Track Cambodia - Kulen Mountain Day Trip  1/1 by Tanya.Korteling

Since arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia last September I've been itching to get out and explore. I'm also keen to share what this beautiful country has to offer aside from the Angkor Temples and The Killing Fields. Whilst these are absolute musts, there's a whole lot more to Cambodia, much of it off the beaten track, away from the tourist hoards. With that in mind, this series was born. Andy and I will endeavour to visit and write about one off the beaten track place here every month. The aim being to encourage people to stay longer in Cambodia and see some of it's less touristy offerings. First up is a Kulen Mountain day trip, where a group of us went on a day trip from Siem Reap in January.

Siem Reap is as being as flat as a pancake, but 40 km to the North East of Angkor Wat, in Svay Leu District is Phnom Kulen National Park. The small regular shaped plateau of the Phnom Kulen mountain range protrudes from the landscape, nestled amongst thick jungle. Locals consider Kulen Mountain or 'Mountain of Lychees' to b the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. It's frequently visited by Buddhists and Hindus's in pilgrimage. On top of the plateau is a sacred hilltop with about 30 ruined temples. Much of the land is yet to be de-mined, which means currently, the public can't visit many of the temples, and definitely not without an expert guide.

What to See and Do

The majority of people, locals and foreigners alike, who visit Kulen Mountain do so as a day trip from Siem Reap. You can drive to the top or hike from the foot of the mountain in about 2 hours. The hike does give you the option to see a couple of things en-route that you may otherwise miss such as:

    Elephant statues - symbols of Hinduism stands at the foot of Mount Kulen.
    Preah Ang Jub - is reached via muddy tracks, obstacles such as fallen trees and roots and challenging steps. It has a pool of sacred water whose source is at the top of the mountain. Buddha devotees offer prayers here.

On our day trip, due to limited time we skipped the hike. Instead we drove straight up the mountain to the car park. From this point you can either walk or drive (or a combination of the two) between the different things there are to see and do.

Preah Ang Thom and the Reclining Buddha

Photo of Kulén, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia by Tanya.Korteling

Built on a massive sandstone rock is the 16th Century Preah Ang Thom Monastery. This houses a huge gold reclining Buddha, again, carved out of sandstone. The monastery is reached via a flight of stone steps. The approach is lined with stalls selling offerings, such as flowers, fruit, fake 100 riel notes, and incense sticks. There is also a good selection of food and drink stalls, the smell of BBQ meat wafting past is enough to tempt anyone.

Valley of A Thousand Lingas

Photo of Phsa Leu Thom Thmey, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia by Tanya.Korteling

Carved in the riverbed that passes through Kulen Mountain are thousands of 'lingas'. These are phallic, fertility symbols of Shiva the Hindu god. They are a pattern of large bumps on the sandstone riverbed, usually on a base of the female version the 'yoni'. It's said they bless, or fertilize the river as it flows over them to Angkor, into Siem Reap, and onto the Tonle Sap Lake.


Photo of Off the Beaten Track Cambodia - Kulen Mountain Day Trip by Tanya.Korteling

After all that walking around sightseeing you'll be ready for some food and a rest. There are two waterfalls at Kulen Mountain, a small one of 5 metres, and a bigger one of 20 metres further down. To the side of the smaller waterfall are several raised platforms, where you can relax and order local food and drinks. People watching opportunities are also good here, especially during a public holiday. Local families sit on the platforms eating, drinking, chatting and playing cards.

Food and Drink

Photo of Off the Beaten Track Cambodia - Kulen Mountain Day Trip by Tanya.Korteling

There's many local food and drink options around the car-park area, on the approach to the Reclining Buddha and at the top of the smaller waterfall. They range from local snack stalls, to BBQs to pop-up restaurants where you can sit and order a full meal. You can also order from a restaurant and have the food bought to your raised platform near the waterfalls.

How to Get There

Transport to Phnom Kulen National Park varies in cost depending on the vehicle and how many people. It's likely to be around the following:

The entrance fee for Phnom Kulen National Park is not covered by the normal admission ticket or 'Angkor Pass', there is a separate admission fee. For foreigners this is $20 USD (£16 GBP), if bought at the gate. Alternatively ask your driver or guide to buy it for you from the City Angkor hotel in town for a reduced rate.

Other Activities

  • Preah Kral Pagoda - this is an isolated hilltop pagoda
  • Prasat Oh Pong - a tall Khmer temple
  • Srah Damrei meaning 'Elephant Pond'. Found here are impressive stone animals, which are said to be protectors of the mountain. There's a life-size stone elephant, along with smaller replicas of lions, a cow and a frog.
  • Poeng Tbal -an interesting site with ancient rock carvings
  • Bat Cave - this is well known as a place of Buddhist meditation, where the monks also act as guides.
  • Aran Rung Chen and Pa Oung - two more obscure, crumbling, moss covered temples.
  • Wat Preak Krau - a modern cliff top pagoda

1. Get your driver to stop at the ticket office and buy the ticket for you. He may add on a dollar or two commission but it will be less than buying it when you arrive.

2. Take beer water for the journey as it's likely to be hot and the roads are VERY dusty, especially during dry season.

Photo of Off the Beaten Track Cambodia - Kulen Mountain Day Trip by Tanya.Korteling

3. Have a break at a roadside stall, we stopped and bought a selection of bananas as a snack.

4. Take mosquito spray and sun lotion, both could come in handy.

5. Don't forget your swimming kit, so you can take a refreshing dip in the water fall.

6. Be respectful and remove your shoes when visiting the Monastery, ladies will should also cover their shoulders and knees.

7. Be aware that the money the locals are changing near the monastery is 'fake'. It's used as an offering, so if you do change any you won't be able to use it anywhere else.

8. Try some local food - just make sure it's cooked through and piping hot first. Our favourite was the beef was delicious.

9. Take some riel for the toilets (R500 a time), and be prepared to squat as there are no western toilets. Also if you're not comfortable with using a 'bum gun' or bucket and water take some toilet paper with you.

10. Pick up your rubbish before you leave, during festivals and public holidays enough rubbish is left lying around without more being added to it.

Have you visited Kulen Mountain or Phnom Kulen National Park either as a day trip or multi-day tour? Have I missed anything there is to see off the beaten track?

This post was originally published on Can Travel Will Travel.

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