A pilgrimage to Phnom Kulen

Siem Reap Travel Blog

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Last week I spend a wonderful sunday going to Phnom Kulen ('Mount Kulen'). Phnom Kulen is a Cambodian pilgrimage and day-trip for families or couples. It's on a two hour drive by moto from Siem Reap and is regarded as the birthplace of the Angkorian Empire. So Phnom Kulen is supposed to be a very sacred place. When King Sihamoni was crowned, he was blessed with water from Phnom Kulen for example.
I went there with a Cambodian friend, who knew how to get there and could drive the moto up the mountain. A problem is that tax is raised for the road. The Lonely Planet reported that cheaper tickets for foreigners could be bought at the Angkor City Hotel or something and since my friend confirmed this, we went there to get a ticket.
But it turned out, that the ticket was also $20 dollars here, instead of the $12 dollar according to the Lonely Planet. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive to Kulen. The first part goes through the Angkor park, same road as to the Banteay Srei. You drive through very nice parts of beautiful Cambodian countryside, but then out of nowhere there is this new road, very wide and smooth, for a couple of miles. This road ends in a ridiculously big roundabout, while there isn't really any traffic at all. Anyway, it was worth the laugh! Then another 45 minutes on a dirt track with a lot of dust will take you to the national park. I suspect the area around the mountain has suffered a lot from forestry, because there weren't many left there. The road ends with a guardhouse and a barrier, where you can either show or buy your ticket, and where my Khmer friend just had to pay $2 dollar.
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Then the road goes quickly up the mountain and into the forest, but still you don't get the idea that your $20 dollars are spend on this. Probably just another money grab. On the foot of the Wat are a collection of stalls selling food and souvenir products, though not the kind you find a lot in Siem Reap. At that point we had a group of ten children running around our motobike, yelling things. It wasn't untill later I found out that they were applying for the job as shoe guard. After parking the motobike, my friend chose the smallest of all, a very sweet 4 year old, to guard our shoes. So we had a very tough-looking fellow with us to walk up the stairs. A lot of beggars on the stairs though. The area around the wat was very crowded with people praying, but a very serene place. We left our shoes with our shoe guard, and climbed the stairs to the reclining buddha.
It's a very big reclining buddha, but the house around it is so small that it makes things very crowded. But then again, it must be quite difficult to build something up there.
After handing out some money to the beggars, we went to the river to watch the 1000 linga's. I don't know if there were 1000 for a fact, but there were many. It's a very beautiful, serene and quiet place. Too bad that the locals just walk on the carvings. Tell that to someone from Unesco and they will probably start crying. For the true local experience, we also visited the waterfalls, where a lot of Khmer seemed to be gathered to go swimming and enjoying their days off. Because it is still dry season here, the waterfalls were not that impressive, but still very nice. I went for a swim, neatly with my clothes on offcourse and this was very cool! There was even this woman where you could borrow swimming pants.
I brought an extra set of clothes, so I was alright, but she also made a changing booth from some canvas materials, which was quite practical I can tell you. It was great at such a hot day to be able to swim. The people around me were very excited and happy and playing with the water. Even a large group of monks was getting into the water. And the whole day I've just about seen five other non-Khmer people, which is very nice after being in Siem Reap for such a long time! So this was definitely worth the 20 dollars!

Pictures will follow!
globalodyssey says:
a very enjoyable read
Posted on: May 30, 2009
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