Today on the blog we go to a modern temple on the slopes of one of the Kulen mountains peaks. By 'modern,' I mean only that it's post-Angkorean. By all accounts, a there has a been a temple of some kind on this site since at least the 16th century. As far as I can tell, the actual temple buildings are of relatively decent date -- I would guess mid-to-late 20th century.
For more about the Kulen Mountains, please see the previous post, which you can find here:
The temple's name is Wat Preah Ang Thom. It sits within the bounds of the Kulen national park, which has a $20 U.S. entrance fee. It's about 25km beyond Angkor Wat if you're coming from Siem Reap, as most visitors are.
The first sight that greets you is a long staircase on the mountainside.
The ascent shouldn't pose a problem for any reasonably fit person with a decent pair of walking shoes, but the heat is a factor to bear in mind. I was there in March, which is one of the hotter months of the year. I would suggest perhaps avoiding April or May, which can be furnace-like, or at least avoiding a mid-day visit.
If you'd like to make an offering at the temple, which my local driver-cum-guide strongly advocated, the place to buy it is at the foot of the stairs. That's the where the vendors hang out. Lotus blossoms are a typical offering.
I selected some blossoms and set off up the stairs. I don't remember what they cost, but it was a trivial amount.
The steps are actually not so challenging since they're both shallow and broad.
After about 5-10 minutes, depending on your energy, you arrive at a flat area where there's a small chapel and the temple's administrative office.
The chapel is very ornate and clearly of modern construction and design.
It enshrines a venerable, and possibly ancient, Buddha image. I can't say for sure because no explanatory information is posted in any European language.
The image is lovingly robed and lavished with offerings. The Kulen Mountains have been considered sacred since at least the Angkor era, so I wonder if this Buddha has some kind of tutelary influence over the area.
The next set of stairs, slightly steeper than the first set but much shorter, takes you to a rocky area with caves and overhangs. The caves and some of the areas sheltered under the overhangs have been turned into shrines.
Apart from the style, one of the clues that these are modern statues is that they still have their heads. The number of headless ancient statues in the Angkor historical park and around is a scandal. If you see ancient Buddha heads for sale anywhere, please make a point of inquiring closely into their provenance. The majority, I would say, are probably looted and smuggled. In an effort to combat this trafficking, the Thai government has even gone so far as to forbid the export of modern, mass-produced replica Buddha heads. In the circumstances, it's an understandable over-reaction.
Now, the main focus for pilgrims and other visitors to Wat Preah Ang Thom is the large Reclining Buddha. To get there, you have to climb up some more stairs.
They're not too bad, but definitely steeper than the previous sets of stairs.
As you approach the top, you can make out the shape of the sandstone rock at the peak. It's a good reminder that the Kulen Mountains were the quarry for Angkor.
A wooden structure has been erected to shelter the Reclining Buddha. He was carved directly out of the sandstone peak.
You file in the right side and circumambulate to come out the matching door on the left side. The reason for this is that the Buddha is reclining on his left side. This is rather unusual. Most Reclining Buddha images in this region lie on their right side, as at Wat Pho in Bangkok, which is home to the grandest such image in Southeast Asia.
I took the above photo halfway around (you enter by His feet). Notice the numerous supplementary Buddha figurines added by devotees, and also the offering of robes by His head.
On your way back down, you should pause to admire the view of the forest canopy from the top of the staircase.
I called it a day after reuniting with my driver at the bottom of the stairs, and we headed back to Siem Reap, which takes about an hour if traffic is light, but 90 minutes or more if you hit rush hour.
If you want to see more in the Kulen park, there are the riverbed carvings at Kbal Spean and also various Angkor-era ruins dotted around the mountains, not to mention the waterfalls, which are probably the main attraction for most visitors. Alternately, you could combine a visit to the Kulen area with a stop at the Angkorean monuments of Banteay Srei or Beng Mealea, which are both roughly midway between the mountains and Siem Reap.
Have you been to any of these places? Which itinerary would you recommend? Please share in the comments below, on the L&P Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/lotusandpersimmon/) or under the relevant image in our Instagram gallery (@lotusandpersimmon).