One of the trips I took while in Cambodia was an organized tour to the Kulen Mountain, the river of the 1000 Lingas and nearby waterfalls.
Visit Kulen Mountain?
Phnom Kulen (literally “hill lychee”) is a sandstone hill sitting in the middle of a mountain range north of Siem Reap. It is considered a holy mountain in Hindu and Buddhist religion. A Buddhist monastery on the hilltop features an 8m long reclining Buddha which is still a site of pilgrimage today. The mountain is also very important for Cambodians who consider it the birthplace of the Khmer empire. Along the hill flows a sacred river, the “river of 1000 lingas” with lingas carved in the sand stones which form the riverbed. A short walk away from the main car park are the Kulen Mountain waterfalls, one being 4-5m high, the second about 15-20m. There is much more to discover in the national park, especially if you are into archeology. I recommend you check out this fantastic article.
How to explore Phnom Kulen
If you are staying in Siem Reap, chances are you will be encouraged to explore Kulen Mountain on a full-day guided tour. As it is about 40km from Siem Reap, I booked one of those with Siem Reap Shuttle. Let me tell you right now that I booked three tours with them and, even though they were friendly, I would recommend you try to find a private guide or just rent a motorbike and explore the region by yourself.
We were picked up by a mini van at 8am. At first I was impressed that they offered a pick-up service but I have come to regret that. We were the first ones to be picked up and spent the next 75 minutes touring Siem Reap to collect other travelers. So we left sometime after 9am. The roads were pretty good and driving up the mountain will give you a great view of the neighbouring hills. You can see traces of the ancient quarries, where the stones for the temples of Angkor were cut out.
First stop was the hilltop monastery, where we were encouraged to file by the huge reclining Buddha. I felt like being herded up and down the mountain more quickly than I liked. I love to take my time taking pictures but as this was an organized tour, I tried not to fall back too much.
Second stop was the river of 1000 lingas. Again, I would have enjoyed exploring the riverbed a little more. We were brought to one spot, given a few explanations and spent about 10 minutes there to take pictures.
Then we were headed for the waterfalls, where we were given 1 hour to walk around freely (again, to me, it felt like being back on a school trip). The time frame was hardly enough to take pictures, walk down to the second waterfall and have a quick refreshing dip. My friend and I brought sandwiches and tried some of the delicious fried fruits you can buy at the stalls.
I really enjoyed the site, though. There were monks and local families picnicking or playing in the water. Apparently it is a favourite weekend retreat for many families in the region and pilgrims who come to pay their respects at the monastery will relax at the waterfalls afterwards.
On the way back to Siem Reap, the van stopped at a restaurant along the street so we could have a late lunch. From my group, nobody ate there as it was very expensive for Cambodian standards. So if you are on a budget, I think your best option is to bring a picnic.
We arrived back at Siem Reap at around 3pm (apparently all full-day tours end around that time). All in all, I really enjoyed the visit and I absolutely recommend the site. But I would definitely try to arrange a DIY tour or find a local guide. I was ill prepared for that trip, because since then, I have found out that there are many people (teachers, etc), who offer to accompany you for a reasonable fee.
Where to stay in Siem Reap?
If you are looking for a budget option, I recommend Adan World hostel. It is a short walk away from the busy streets around Pub Street and the markets, so it is quiet at night. The rooms are clean and a good breakfast is included. It is a family run business and they will help you arrange all kinds of tours or buses to travel on. It does not have a real common area, so it’s not great if you are looking to meet other travelers but that can be done easily in Pub street.
What else can you do while in Siem Reap?
More to follow…
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch or leave a comment.