Phnom Kulen, Our Very Best Angkor Wat Side Trip
Phnom Kulen, "the River of 1000 Lingas," and Banteay Srei. A pristine rainforest high above the plains of Angkor holds a world of mysteries: an ancient shipwreck now marooned on a plateau, a river bed of living stone carved with sacred Hindu images, and a reclining Buddha that has slowly risen high above the jungle over the centuries. Purple Dragon has pioneered this full day trip to places few outsiders have ever seen as an exclusive added option for customers taking one of our Angkor Wat package vacations.
Depart early in the morning for Phnom Kulen, a nature preserve atop the only hill in sight, high above the most distant of Angkor's temple treasures.
We drive deep into the countryside for an intimate look at rural life in Cambodia. Your four-wheel-drive vehicle begins a climb into the rainforest on a distant plateau. Like Angkor below, everything here is in immense proportions. The road cuts through gigantic boulders of the same pink stone which was used to build the magnificent Banteay Srei (see below).
Continue your adventure on foot, following a narrow jungle path to a log bridge for your first glimpse of the River of 1000 Lingas, a powerful sacred site for Cambodians, even today. Close to two kilometers of the stone stream bed has been sculpted with hundreds of stone lingas (Hindu phallic carvings), a legacy of 9th century God-kings, and a reminder that this forest was an important spiritual center even before Angkor Wat.
Phnom Kulen and Banteay Srei make a side trip from Angkor Wat. Journey through beautiful rural countryside to see sacred water and an elaborate pink sandstone temple complex all in one unforgettable day!
Downstream, the carvings culminate at the edge of a magnificent sacred waterfall. If you visit on a weekend, the place will be filled with Cambodians who come for picnics and ritual baths in the river, often taking some of its holy water home with them. This is still a holy place for Cambodians.
A short distance away is Preah Ang Tho, a colorful shrine that attracts Buddhist pilgrims from throughout Cambodia. Long ago, a sleeping Buddha was carved here within a single, massive stone. Over the centuries, the sacred image has slowly risen above the eroding jungle floor so that it may now be viewed only by climbing a narrow ladder.
Adventurous travelers may opt to hire a motorbike with a local driver to delve deeper into the jungle. Remote wonders include the site of an ancient Chinese shipwreck (a reminder that Phnom Kulen was once an island), a hermit monk who guards giant carvings now partially obscured by wild orchids, or the magical waters of a stone basin that has not gone dry in a millennium. The forest is quite unspoiled and you will undoubtedly see wildlife of many kinds. Giant boulders along the stream are decorated with carvings of Vishnu, Shiva, Lakhsmi and Brahma. This trek into the wilderness is a very special experience that very few visitors even know about.
In the afternoon, visit Banteay Srei, the "Temple of Women," only recently opened to visitors. Rediscovered in 1914, this temple complex is the most distant from Angkor Wat and is unique in many respects. While most of Angkor's temples are of massive proportions, Banteay Srei is on a human scale. Its profuse and gloriously ornate architectural details, mythical beasts with human heads, are amazingly well preserved pink sandstone, with intricate carvings that are exceptionally detailed and intact.