Unique Asia Travel & Tours
Visit Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonders
Phnom Kulen, holy mountain of the Khmer empire

Phnom Kulen offers the rare opportunity to visit historical monuments inside a national park. There can be tours arranged for hikers, but camping overnight stays require special permissions and careful preparations. For bikers Phnom Kulen is the most exciting motocrossing area in the surrounding of Siem Reap and Angkor. 
 
Phnom Kulen, "hill lychee", is an isolated sandstone massif of about 25 km length and 10 km width. With neighbouring hills to the northwest it is 40 km long. Phnom Kulen is located to the northeast of Angkor. The average height of the plateau is about 400 m above sea level, the highest point is 487 m. At the southeastern angle of Phnom Kulen, close to Beng Mealea, were the major quarries of Angkor.
 
Phnom Kulen is a holy mountain for Cambodians, held in high esteem as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. Its Sanskrit name was Mahendraparvata, meaning "great Indra mountain". In 802 King Jayavarman II declared independence from Java, according to an account of an inscription dating from the eleventh century found in Thailand. It is not clear, what is meant by "Java". The usual interpretation is that it is the island of the same name. But some historians argued, it could have been a name for the area of today's southern Laos (Lava) or even for Champa in today's central Vietnam. King Jayavarman II is reported to have united the Khmer principalities and to have declared himself "Chakravartin", an ancient Indian title for a universal ruler or emperor, Java's kings also used this imperial title. The coronation on Mahendraparvata (Phnom Kulen) is considered to be the founding act of the Khmer empire.  
 
The only access road to Phnom Kulen, not passable for Tuktuks, starts near Banteay Srei and ends right in the centre of the main plateau. Close to the car park there is one stream bed called "1000 Lingas", not to be confused with the similar "1000 Lingas" at Kbal Spean. More than 1000 small stylized depictions of phalli are carved into the sandstone of the streambed, just 5 cm under the stream's surface. The underwater carvings of Lingas represent a fertility cult, water being the elixier of agricultural life in the plains of Angkor.
 
Not far from that central car park is the most venerated Theravada pilgrimage site of Siem Reap Province, the Buddhist monastery is called Preah Ang Thom. The main object of veneration is an 8 m long reclining Buddha cut from the rock. The sculpture is from the 16th century, considered to be the largest in Cambodia. It is on top of a rock bolder, sheltered inside a wooden hall.
 
The third main attraction are the 20 m high waterfalls of Phnom Kulen. They are within walking distance, close to the village, where Preah Ang Thom is located.

Phnom Kulen scenery and bats cave

Those three attractions close to the car park can be visited on a half-day excursion. Combined with visits of Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean it would be a perfect daytrip. But in case you intend to see the bats' cave and the rock-cut elephant statue on Phnom Kulen, too, you should spend at least eight hours inside the Phnom Kulen National Park. The cave and scupltures can only be reached by motorbikes. It is an exciting off-road experience in an attractive environment.

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