The main attractions of the Kulen Mountains roughly 30km north of Angkor Wat and 48km north of Siem Reap can be summarized as follows: waterfalls and a Reclining Buddha. Today's post will be about the former, with a post about the latter to follow next week.
I had come to Siem Reap with friends, with whom I visited the Angkor historical park -- the first time for them, the third for me. After they left, I wanted to see something in the area I hadn't seen before. I settled on the Kulen Mountains, often erroneously called Mt. Kulen. Rather than a single mountain, it is in fact a small range of low peaks. They average about 400m above sea level. The highest peak is 487m, according to Wikipedia.
I asked the driver my hotel had sent to pick me up at the airport to take me on a 1-day excursion to the mountains. (See my review of that hotel, the Rambutan Hotel/Resort, here: http://lotusandpersimmon.com/lpshop/blog/72_rambutan-hotel-resort-review.html.)
We duly set off the next morning after breakfast. The drive took us past the East Baray, near one corner of which is the 10th century Pre Rup temple. We stopped, but I couldn't go inside because my Angkor pass had expired the previous day. I did take a number of photographs from outside the enclosure, though.
Like Angkor Wat, though smaller, Pre Rup is a temple-mountain with the central towers elevated on a terrace reached by steep stairs. It was built by King Rajendravarman and completed in the early 960s.
From there, we carried on to Phnom Kulen, as the mountains are called in Khmer. Apparently, it means 'Lychee Mountains.' Part of the journey was on a smooth hard-surfaced highway, but the last part was a on a very bumpy gravel road. I admired my driver's skill in negotiating the steep gradient in some parts, not to mention the fearsomely large potholes and gullies.
Our first stop was at the waterfalls. It was dry season, so the water flow was reduced to a comparative trickle. The first picture above is of these falls, but here's another one.
To get to the bottom of the falls, you have to climb down a a set of narrow metal stairs and scramble over some rocks.
The greenery is impressive.
Once at the bottom, you can swim in the rock pools, or climb up to "shower" under the falls. This local party, including some young monks, did just that.
Although Kulen is now part of the tourist circuit, I saw very few other Westerners on the day that I went. Most of the tourists seemed to be Cambodian. They mostly stayed above the falls. Numerous large family parties were enjoying picnics amid the laterite ruins.
For those who don't want to do their own cooking or schlep supplies, there are of course eateries ready and waiting for customers. Mercifully, they don't employ touts.
I chose one of the emptier ones to have some iced coffee with my driver, preferring to have lunch on the way back to Siem Reap (more on that in the next post).
The eating places are arranged along the river, which I think is actually the Siem Reap River.
It was the dry season, as I said, so the water level was quite low. This had the effect of being kid-friendly.
It ought to have made viewing the ancient linga and yoni carved into the riverbed above the falls easier, too, but it didn't. My driver and I waded in to look at them (the water was only calf-deep) but there was too much activity upstream and we couldn't get a clear view. I think if you went very early in the morning or late in the day when no people are around, you might have more luck.
To round the visit off, I had a look at the first stage of the falls.
These falls, as you see are only 4 or 5 meters high. According to Wikipedia, the bigger ones are 20-25m.
If memory serves, the waterfalls are within the boundaries of the Phnom Kulen Nat'l Park. I don't remember paying a fee to get into the park, but I must have because I remember going through a checkpoint. Perhaps my driver included the park fee in his own fee.
In the next post, I'll take you to an important temple on the lower slopes of the Kulen Mountains: Wat Preah Ang Thom, which features a 16th century Reclining Buddha. Have you been to the Kulen waterfalls? Tell us about it in the comments below, on the L&P Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lotusandpersimmon/), which we hope you'll 'like' and follow, or under the relevant image in the L&P gallery on Instagram (@lotusandpersimmon).