Phnom Kulen Adventure

Known as Mahendraparvata at the time of the Khmer Empire, Phnom Kulen hit the headlines in 2013 as a ‘lost city’ revealed through the use of aerial LIDAR data. This was 21st century archaeology at its very best and several new sites were discovered as well as a much bigger urban settlement than was previously realised. Explore some of these newly accessible adventures on the back of a motorcycle, the traditional form of transport in rural Cambodia. 

On this experience you will set off by road from Siem Reap to Phnom Kulen, the sacred mountain that was the birthplace of the Khmer empire. It was here that Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 802AD, setting the stage for the glories of the Angkor-era that was to follow. This mountain plateau was known as Mahendraparvata and was an early capital of the Khmer empire. At the busy settlement of Preah Ang Thom you will switch vehicles to a local motorcycle taxi to explore remote jungle sites on the sacred mountain. Start at ‘bat cave’, a complex of Hindu and Buddhist shrines hidden beneath the rockface, then ascend to an impressive viewpoint that offers panoramic views of lowland Siem Reap Province. Continue to the striking stone guardian animals of Sra Damrei, which include a life-size stone elephant. Next travel to the brick temple of Damrei Krab and the early pyramid temple of Rom Cheng, which is believed to be the temple where the devaraja (god-king) ceremony actually took place, where Jayavarman II proclaimed himself the earthly incarnation of Shiva. Continue to the incredible rock formations of Poeng Tbal, which include a number of holy carvings. These sites date from the 9th century and the reign of Jayavarman II, pre-dating the relocation of the capital to Angkor by almost a century.

Return to Preah Ang Thom village for a local lunch, then head to the impressive riverbed rock carvings which include innumerable lingas and representations of Shiva and Vishnu. There is a classic waterfall further downstream which is the perfect place to cool off after exploring and nearby is a small, jungle-clad temple called Prasat Krau Romeas. Wat Pre Ang Thom is a focus of pilgrimage for Khmers during religious festivals and the large reclining Buddha carved into a huge sandstone boulder here offers spectacular views across the lush jungle. You will then switch vehicles back to a car, and descend from the plateau and return to Siem Reap town.

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