Cambodia

Day trip to Kulen Mountain!

looking-down-from-the-kulen-mt
Looking down from Kulen Mountain, really, really lovely.

Just like Tonle Sap, I’ve wanted to check out Kulen Mountain for some time. But it can be expensive, so I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. And said opportunity finally came a’knockin’ on my front door this month when my friend’s sister was visiting. Gotta love visitors!

Kulen Mountain or Phnom Kulen (Mountain of the Lychees) is considered a sacred site, as well as the birthplace to the Khmer Empire. It’s most known though for its lovely waterfall and archaeological ruins, such as the River of One Thousand Lingas, and a 16th century Buddhist monastery, boasting the country’s largest reclining Buddha.

Located about 2 hours from Siem Reap, Kulen Mountain, in my opinion, can be worth the planning and the cost if you have both the money and the time. However, there’s conflicting information regarding the cost. Some claim the $20 entrance fee is a scam, others say you can get in the park at $12 if a Khmer purchases the tickets, and lastly, you can attempt to hike up the mountain to avoid any cost whatsoever.

Now, we did try our darndest to get out of the $20 fee by asking around, you know to sleuth out the truth, but in the end, we ended up purchasing our tickets in advance through one of the hotels. (I think most foreigners would feel better paying the $20 if it was actually going towards preservation, but alas, we all know how these things work.) Regardless, I’m sure you could purchase your tickets on the same day you are going depending on when the ticket office opens up, as you will drive by it.

You could also make it worth your dollar by spending more time and visiting more sites than we did. Anyway…

On weekends and holidays, Kulen is particularly crowded, but if you leave early you can avoid the crowds. We left at 7 am and returned around 3 pm. And let me tell you, after we got to enjoy the waterfall mostly to ourselves, it got waaaay crowded with tourists and locals alike. This probably happened around lunchtime. I was glad to get out of the water by then.

There were 9 of us so we split the cost of a van which was $70. We hadn’t bothered asking for a discount since we got the driver through a friend. But as you can already tell, this isn’t a budget trip (at least for English teachers, eh?!). In any case, if you are interested in using Ra, who speaks good English and is a safe driver, and as far as we could tell a reliable one, too, his number is: 095.585.885.

ra-and-me
Funnily, Ra recognized me from Mia and I’s “learn to speak Thai” YouTube videos. This also happened last year at Angkor Wat when a guide came up to me…so maybe this will be a once a year occurance 😉
steps-to-preah-ang-thom
After the relatively smooth drive up to the top of Kulen, our first stop was Preah Ang Thom. I was surprised to see that the steps leading up to the big Buddha were lined with grandmas, goat heads (okay, I saw two, too many for me!) and money exchangers.
preh-ang-thom-offerings
The grounds were dotted with areas of worship, snacks (got to have ’em), monks awaiting to exchange with you and…
musicians!
Musicians! It was actually quite loud, I’m not sure how they got such good accoustics, must be the natural surroundings.
musician
Even when we moved away from the crowds, there was still the sound of music playing. This man (whose ‘third eye tattoo’ fascinated me) was beautifully playing the “tro ou” , a kind of fiddle.
It was up more stairs to the reclining Buddha and his many friends...just kidding, these smaller carvings were at the base of the statue.
It was up more stairs to the reclining Buddha and his many friends…just kidding, these smaller carvings were at the base of the statue.
It was challenging to try to photograph the entire reclining Buddha, so I opted for his head. I rather liked how it came out, too!
It was challenging to try to photograph the entire reclining Buddha, so I opted for his head. I rather liked how it came out, too!
He was fast asleep, until he woke up to see me taking a picture of him. I know, I'm terrible, but if you follow me on Instagram, you know how I love to take pics of people sleeping.
He was fast asleep, until he woke up to see me taking a picture of him. I know, I’m terrible, but if you follow me on Instagram, you know how I love to take pics of people sleeping.
On the way down from the Buddha, we were greeted with a spectacular view! [some of the van gang pictured here]
On the way down from the Buddha, we were greeted with a spectacular view!
Our next stop was the River of One Thousand Lingas (and yonis). It's the rainy season so I don't know if you can see very well, but the river bottom is entirely covered with male and female anatomy.
Our next stop was the River of One Thousand Lingas (and yonis). It’s the rainy season so I don’t know if you can see it very well, but the river bottom is entirely covered with male and female anatomy carvings. No doubt, a man’s idea…
Two boys were playing with their bows and arrows! It was so adorable.
Two boys were playing with their bows and arrows! It was so adorable.

waterfall-one-kulen-mt
The waterfall area was way more developed with outdoor restaurants and snacks than I expected, but this is a popular destination, so what was I thinking? [waterfall area 1]
I should mention here that once we got to the waterfall, I changed cameras, to my waterproof one. It doesn’t take the best pics, and let’s face it, water photography is it’s own genre. I’m not going to pretend I’m any good at it.

OMG. The water was freezing. So shocking after walking around in the heat. And so.much.fun.

There are changing stalls at the bottom of the metal stairs (50 cents per person), although folks get real creative. Like the Chinese guy who sat on our rented footlocker with his girlfriend standing in front of him, as he wiggled off his underroos. Sure, he was wearing a modestly-sized scarf his gf had wrapped around his waist, but as his bare bottom sat on the footlocker as he tried to discreetly change into his swimming trunks, I tried not to think about his package resting on the cold metal and me having to touch it again in order to open up the locker.

Damn it. I should have taken a picture, would have been easier to explain.

Innertubes, footlockers to keep your stuff, modest coverups for the ladies (no Khmers dare swim in bikinis) can be rented for $1.
Innertubes, footlockers to keep your stuff in, modest coverups for the ladies (no Khmers dare swim in bikinis) can be rented for $1.

By the way, how tall do you think this waterfall is? It’s 10-15 meters or 33-50 feet tall!

Of course, there are trinkets and such to buy on Kulen. While we didn't buy anything, we did get a few snacks along the way.
Of course, there are trinkets and such to buy on Kulen. While we didn’t buy anything, we did get a few snacks along the way. Most folks bring their own food. So we packed a little picnic and brought plenty of water.

Did I miss anything?

When’s the last time you swam in a waterfall? Wooooweeee!

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31 thoughts on “Day trip to Kulen Mountain!

  1. Reminds me of a similar freezing-cold waterfall swimming experience that I had last year in Reunion Island. PS, I like the waterproof camera pics! They have a nice lomography vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like quite a trip, Lani, and great planning on your part. Leaving early is always wise to beat the crowds. Yes, for those of us who have lived in Asia long enough, we know these entrance fees often go to places where we don’t want to know. Sad the way some things work but perhaps the locals are used to it.

    Lol, you were busted when that guy woke up from his sleep. He looks a bit fazed but didn’t seem angry that you had a camera in his face 😀 Maybe that deterred you a bit from taking a pic of that guy in the nude 😛

    Those are actually great shots with the waterproof camera. It looks like a massive waterfall and I bet the rushing noise was very loud. Crowded I have to agree with you. Quite a few people and it looks hard if you wanted to swim in a straight line. I have actually never swam in a waterfall before. One, because I don’t swim and two, I have never planned a trip to a waterfall. Maybe it’s about time I did. I can always admire it from a far 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s funny because I’ve done hikes to waterfalls, but haven’t necessarily gone swimming in them. Or, I’ve done the waterfall drive up (or drive by) and they typically weren’t your “lets take a dip” waterfalls either.

      Kulen was perfect because of the heat/tropical weather. I’d say it’s worth it when you’re hot and sweaty! And you don’t have to know how to swim. Plenty of intertubes, lifejackets and shallow ground. OMG. I forgot to mention, the little fishes nibbling on our skin!

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      1. The fishes made a few of us hop out of the water! It’s different when you are getting a ‘fish spa’ and you can see the fish nibble on your feet, but at the waterfall, it was a little nervy because you can’t see them! The water was too cloudy with all the movement, so they’d attack you when you didn’t expect it!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lol@ male and female anatomy carvings. No doubt, a man’s idea… 🙂
    No, I couldn’t see the carvings at the bottom of the river properly 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your trip and tips with us, Lani.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, we couldn’t see them very well either, especially since it was roped off, too. Maybe I’ll be back in the dry season when I can see them without all the water.

      Thanks for stopping by Timi 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a nice day out. Love it.

    Being an expat, there is no escape from the foreigner’s prices at times. But one has to bite the bullet and carry on. I was ‘stung’ very badly recently but I had no choice.

    I have not been near a water fall for a long time. I didn’t make it to the waterfall on one of my boat trips in Turkey. Had I tried to, I would have missed my boat.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha, my last waterfall was in Hawaii, off the Kalalau Trail, and there were signs warning you not to swim under the falls lest a blender come over and bash you in the head.

    Yours looks more crowded, but the blenders are conspicuously absent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what’s funny is I’ve never been in a waterfall in Hawaii. Oh, sure, seen my fair share, hiked to them, but never got in the water. I’m much more of a hiker than a waterfall-blender-seeking-gal.

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  6. Oh man that waterfall in the dead heat of summer sounds like a god send! I love hiking up mountains so this sounds like something I’d definitely do in Cambodia! Sounds like a fun summer vacation 🙂

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    1. It makes me curious about the other waterfalls nearby, too. It’s been nice discovering these other sides of Cambodia, more than Angkor Wat, you know? Cheers!

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  7. Mountain of the Lychees – do Lychees grow there? I love Lychees 🙂 Also smiled at the male/female underwater carvings. This also made me miss swimming – living in inner Sydney there is a distinct lack of waterfalls but I have had some beautiful waterfall swims – my favourite was probably in Laos. I imagine you have probably hopped across the border to lovely Laos in your time in Cambodia at some point?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m assuming lychees grow there, but I have to admit, I didn’t notice any.

      Yes, I actually crossed over to Laos many times when I was in Thailand. It’s kind of the “premiere” visa run place, but I did take time to travel not just to Vientiene, but to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, too. I liked it.

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  8. It looks abit hot there. Yes, too bad you couldn’t get a closer photo of the rock bed carvings of anatomy. Very interesting. Maybe it wasn’t flooded over originally…?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good question. I don’t know if they decided to do the carvings during the dry season knowing full well in the wet season it would be underwater or if the ‘river’ has shifted over time.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. That first photo (Looking down from Kulen Mountain) is a real stunner. I also love the one with the steps and the sun-speckled children. It’s so clear and detailed. River of One Thousand Lingas. Fantastic name.

    I’ve hiked to many waterfall. (Every hike needs a destination.) Most of those waterfalls were too cold for swimming, though. I did swim at one waterfall in the Philippines. It was a popular destination with picnic tables and changing rooms. We all went swimming. Then we payed a man with a raft and a long pole to take us under the waterfall. He found a place between the heaviest flow of water, but we still got pounded.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Under waterfalls seem so romantic, so it’s funny that you all still got drenched. I suppose that will inevitably happen.

      Yes, when I think of Oregon’s great waterfalls, I can’t imagine swimming in them! But there is something so wonderful and mesmerizing about listening to the roaring water.

      Glad you liked the pics. Thanks 🙂

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