AN ADVENTURE BY MOTORBIKE AT PHNOM KULEN, SIEM REAP
I had just spent three glorious days exploring the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap. It was time for a little change. After a recommendation from someone at my hostel I decided to try Phnom Kulen National Park. Don’t get me wrong, Angkor Wat is amazing. But after a few days exploring temples with large crowds I was ready to see some green, nature areas.
One of the first things my Mum said to me before I left on my South East Asia adventure was “do not get on a motorbike.” As I soon discovered – it it is a hard one to follow. Especially as a solo traveller, often a motorbike is the most affordable option. Not feeling adventurous enough and accepting that my driving skills would not suffice, I hired a motor taxi (motodop) for my visit to Phnom Kulen. Sorry Mum!
Having visited the Banteay Srei area and Kbal Spean Waterfall a few days prior, I chose to explore Phnom Kulen for the day.
Sophea, my moto driver, picked me up from my hostel in Siem Reap town at 8am. The ride from Siem Reap to the bottom of Phnom Kulen was quite scenic from the back of a moto. We passed farmlands and villages, trees, shops and people going about their daily lives. At times the road was a little dusty – I would recommend a face mask and sun glasses to protect your face.
We arrived at the ticket office after about 1 hour of driving. Stretching my legs, I went to purchase my Phnom Kulen ticket ($20). Although a little pricey, after a full day on the mountain I thought it was worthwhile. The office is basic and there is no tourist information here.
After a quick cold soda with Sophea, we were on our way.
The road that winds up to the top of Phnom Kulen is incredibly stunning. The initial climb provides views out over the expansive National Park with patches of farmland too. When you begin to climb higher, the road is framed either side by tall trees with large boulders and rock crevices making for terrific photographs.
The road itself was quite bumpy and had large potholes. I was glad to be the passenger and not the driver!
We reached the top after about 40 minutes driving. A good stretch of the legs was needed before I visited the sacred Preah Ang Thom Pagoda.
SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL EXPLORING
I wandered up a set of steps that lead me to the pagoda. Following the lead of a Cambodian family next to me I removed my shoes before entering. Like many Buddhist temples in Cambodia, colourful paintings adorned the walls. Prayer flags and buntings hung from the ceiling and golden buddhas shimmered back at me. The place itself was a nice experience – more so to see how Cambodian’s enjoyed the place. Sophea had told me that many Khmer people come to Phnom Kulen to see the pagoda. A regular practice is to provide offerings and in return receive good luck.
After visiting the Wat, Sophea drove us to visit Srah Domrei – the Sacred Elephant pool. From the main road, the pool was a short walk down hill. The pool is in a clearing with a carved elephant statue. With pre-prepared snacks purchased from Siem Reap, Sophea and I sat in amongst the forest. Before leaving, Sophea gestured for me to wash my face with the water – for luck he said!
For the afternoon, we headed to the waterfalls at the top of Phnom Kulen. As the sun was getting higher in the sky, so too was the temperature and I was craving a swim.
SWIMMING AT WATERFALLS
Like Ta Prohm, a temple featuring overgrown trees bursting through ancient carvings, the waterfall on Phnom Kulen was made famous by the film Tomb Raider. It consists of two main sections – a top pool a small waterfall and a lower section accessed by steps with a strongly flowing waterfall.
At the top of the waterfall I smiled at Cambodian families splashing around in the water. It is normal in Cambodia to swim fully clothed and I kept this in mind when I went for a dip.
I chose the bottom section of the waterfall as I could watch the waterfall gush over the edge of the cliff side. It is a pretty stunning waterfall! Birds circled overhead and I was happy to be submerged in water.
After my swim, I headed back up to the picnic area for a spot of lunch. I saw Sophea from a distance napping in one of the many hammocks strung up for visitors.
I bought fried rice and salty fried fish from a vendor nearby for lunch. Afterwards, I decided to relax in a hammock, Cambodian style, and read my book. The afternoon passed by leisurely.
After about 3pm we decided to make for our decent, following suit with many other mini vans and cars. Feeling refreshed from the swim, I soon accumulated a layer of dust from the road. Yet, it was still a lovely drive down the mountain. I stopped a few times to take photographs of the view out over the park.
HEADING BACK TO SIEM REAP
By the time I reached Siem Reap town, it was late afternoon. I thanked Sophea for his time before he was on his way.
Although I could have visited a few more historical and cultural sites at Phnom Kulen, I prefered to go at a slow pace. There are lots of possibilities there and some incredible archaeological sites and intriguing history. Kulen Mountain is a significant place and a well worthwhile day trip from Siem Reap if you are looking for something with a little bit more nature.