We had a wonderful final day in Cambodia, with a daytime tour to the holy mountain Phnom Kulen and an evening at the Phare Circus back in town. Both excursions came highly recommended and we were not disappointed.
A day at Phnom Kulen
Phnom Kulen, which literally translates to ‘Mountain of the Lychees’ (named for the abundance of lychee fruit in the surrounding forest), is a top attraction around Siem Reap. Located about 60 kilometres from Siem Reap city centre, it is a popular pilgrimage for both locals and tourists. In terms of historical significance, it is the birthplace of the Khmer empire, where King Jayavarman II declared Cambodia’s independence from Java.
Mr. Chuckles and I booked ourselves for another group tour with Siem Reap Shuttle to visit Phnom Kulen, having enjoyed our time with them on our trip to the Angkor temples. We were picked up at our hotel in the morning for a 1.5 hour drive to Kulen National Park. It is also possible to arrange a private transfer to the park for those who are so inclined, but you need to make arrangements to get up there before 11 am, as the road up to the mountain is one-way only – uphill in the morning and downhill in the afternoon.
Along the way, we stopped at a viewing point to admire some sweeping views overlooking Siem Reap province.
Upon arrival, our first stop was the Preah Ang Thom pagoda, which features the country’s largest reclining Buddha. In comparison to the super huge reclining Buddha we saw at Wat Pho in Bangkok, this one is considerably more rustic looking.
Next was a walk along Kbal Spean, a river bed containing carvings of yonis and lingas, which are symbols of the Hindu god Shiva. The carvings number in the range of thousands, hence its moniker River of a Thousand Lingas. Visitors come to seek blessings, particularly from the life-giving holy waters which are thought to help couples conceive.
Finally, the highlight of our tour, the Kulen Waterfall. These falls did not look as striking in photos as the Kuang Si Falls we visited in Luang Prabang, but in person I found them more beautiful. It was even better for me because I had the entire pool to myself at first, as everyone else was apparently afraid of the cold water. I found it quite refreshing and eventually convinced Mr. Chuckles to join me for a swim. Standing directly under the falls serves as a good massage!
An evening at Phare Circus
We had received several recommendations from other travellers to see a show at Phare Circus, so decided to check it out. This is a modern circus show performed by students and graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak’s vocational training centre in Battambang. The centre has provided general and arts education to marginalized youth as a social enterprise program to provide opportunities for them to earn a living wage.
The performance was impressive, featuring some insane acrobatics. The theatre was packed and the show was well enjoyed. Definitely worth seeing.
Onward to Vietnam
We are now saying goodbye to Cambodia and heading off to Ho Chi Minh City to begin the Vietnam portion of our trip. We have really enjoyed our short time in Cambodia and I will certainly miss it. The people are the nicest that we have met in our travels so far, and I am glad we managed to include so many activities over our days here. Arkun, Cambodia!