Siem Reap is famous for its ancient temple wonders, but what else does it have to offer? There are many hidden treasures located outside the main tourist bubble; it is just a case of knowing about them and making the effort to explore.
With this in mind, with a group of friends, I recently ventured to Phnom Kulen or Kulen Mountain which is approximately 60km outside of Siem Reap. Kulen Mountain is a very sacred site for locals due to its integral role in Khmer history and culture, as well as its religious significance and impressive waterfalls. It therefore, attracts a large number of locals. The huge national park has various activities that make it an ideal day out with a little adventure.
We rented a minibus and off we went to learn about the ancient mountain that founded the Khmer empire. The drive in itself is breathtaking- green luscious rice filled countryside, with traditional wooden houses and palm trees in the distance. And of course not forgetting the water buffalo and cows! One could say it is picture perfect scenery. The $20 for the entrance ticket to explore all the fascinating sites each with their own history and link to the mountain.
Most people drive directly up to the top, however, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to trek up the mountain. It first started with many steps, that finally lead us to a beautiful pagoda. Here we followed the stories displayed on the outside to learn about the story of Buddha. From there we discovered two crystal clear blue pools, that are the ideal spot to cool off from the heat. Funny enough there were many people in the pools having a great time! We then continued our trek through the jungle, listening to the birds and nature doing its thing before arriving at the main checkpoint at the top. We got back in the van and continued to Wat Preah Ang Thom.
Along the way to Wat Preah Ang Thom, we stopped off at the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, with interesting carvings of religious symbols in the riverbed. To get to the sacred Wat Preah Ang Thom, there are of course many steps, but it offers stunning views and houses a giant reclining Buddha that is carved into the stone it sits upon. It is a place of worship for Cambodians so be mindful when looking around. As we were ready to descend down the stairs, it started to pour it down. We were able to find refuge undercover, this didn’t stop the fun because we were able to listen to music played from local instruments and learn about what they represented. There is never a dull moment!
Once it did finally stop raining, we headed straight for lunch! As the national park is mainly visited by locals, the path to the waterfall is lined with Cambodian style huts and hammocks, making it the perfect picnic stop. We however, did not come prepared with any food and found a restaurant where we enjoyed delicious food! During our travels, we are all trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use and so we all carry around our own straws. We were delighted when we told the restaurant and they came back with their own bamboo straws which we then got to keep. Winning!
Overall, it was a fantastic day out and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore and learn more about Cambodia and its culture.