Date of visit: 27th December 2014
I am greatly indebted to Anne for agreeing to visit the origins of the Khmer Empire, Kulen Mountain, located on the outskirts of Siem Reap. For a first timer in Siem Reap, one would prefer to explore the main temples near where we stayed, but she is really considerate (to me) when it comes to places of visit. She well understood my passion for history and ancient places. My husband is different. He can tolerate with my passion by going to those places but he will not enter nor explore the details like I do. It’s best to leave him at the gate where he can have his own time watching people, sipping coffee while smoking.
We have booked a private transportation with the hotel where they provided us a very good driver who speaks good English with immensely good history knowledge. I was most happiest in finding a person who speak the same history language. Anne did not participate in our conversation as she too not fond of history. We drove past paddy fields and remote villages to see the Mount Kulen’s attraction, i.e. carvings of Yoni and Linga etched into the sandstone riverbed. There are 2 other places that the driver took us at, the Reclining Budha and the Kulen waterfall. We covered the area within the first half of the day.
Kulen mount is situated in the Svay Leu District, at north east of Angkor Complex about 50 Km away, it takes approximately 2 hours’ drive up to the hill top with 487 meters height and plateau stretches 30 km long, it is opened for tourists in 1999 by private owned and charged for USD20 toll per foreign visitors (included in the transportation fee). The company developed road up to the peak. It is only possible to go up before 11 a.m. and only possible to come down after midday, to avoid vehicles meeting at the narrow road. For information, we paid USD99 for the whole trip, which includes a 1 day transportation to all places including the Angkor Temple, but excluding the Angkor temple entrance fee.
Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 to declare himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia. It was said that there are 56 Angkorian temples made of bricks and volcanic stones on the hilltop, but most of them are mostly in poor condition. On a later stage, the vast temple complex of Angkor Wat, began it's construction from the Mount Kulen.
The place is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire, dates back to the 9th-century, thought to be where Jayavanman II initiated the cult of the Shiva Linga during 802 AD declaration. The Emperor Jayavannam II declared a unified Khmer Empire under a single ruler, known as the Angkor period, although the capital city would not be moved for another century.
|Lotus flowerused by the Buddhist and the Hindus for prayer|
We explored several ruins, including the carvings of Yoni and Linga etched into the sandstone riverbed and the stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet. Our guide has taken us to the major attraction sights and explain the history of the Khmer Empire, revealing some unique places along the way. Besides, we spoke about the fall and rise of the empire all over the world, not limited to Khmer empire, said to be the greatest during his time.
The first stop was at the temple where the Reclining Buddha is located before we adjourned to see the lingas carving on the river bed. Next, we were taken to see pagodas and a beautiful waterfall at the end the river. The temple is at the summit of the hill where tourist had a chance to see Buddhist pagoda and a large reclining Buddha statue 8 meters length carved into a sandstone bock in 16th century. It’s in a different scale with the reclining Buddha that we saw in Bangkok in 2013.
One of the most prominent sights in Phnom Kulen (mount kulen) is the statue of the reclining Buddha that has been carved out of a giant sandstone boulder and stands at a height of 8 meters. This is flanked by two towering and rare Cham Pa trees. Although imposing, it is not the biggest Buddha in Cambodia. The reclining Buddha at Prasat Phnom Baset, north of Phnom Penh, is older and bigger. And there is something odd about this Buddha at Phnom Kulen, where the Buddha is lying on his left side which is an offence against the strict rules of Buddhist iconography. The place is called as Preah Thom which is quite crowded with beggars. There are a lot of local visitors, mainly on the weekends who came here to offer their prayers.
One of the most celebrated aspects combining the natural and the manmade is Kbal Spean, or the River of a Thousand Lingas. It was our second stop for the day. The sandstone rock bed of this shallow river is carvings of the Shiva phallus and its female counterpart Yoni symbols, interspersed with depictions of reclining Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma gods. This is said to have been done to assist the scared waters in better fertilizing the plains below. In the Hindu tradition, water flowing over the lingas is sacred and holy, and many Cambodians bottle the water from the downriver waterfalls.
A visit to Mount Kulen would not be completed without visiting the last attractive spot, i.e. the waterfall. It is splits in two spots the first waterfall is four or five meters heights and 20 to 25 diameters in dry and raining seasons. The second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters heights and 10 to 15 diameters in dry and raining seasons. We decided not to go down to see the 2nd tier waterfall as we were running out of time. Nevertheless, being able to dip our feet inside a cool water is priceless. The source of water eventually flows in to Tonle Sap Lake and is thought to bless the water ways of Cambodia.
I have to make this entry quite long for comprehensiveness and completeness, so it may assist you what to look up to should you want to visit Phnom Kulen.