Heading nearly 50km outside of Siem Reap into the Phnom Kulem National Park we had a more relaxing day of visiting temples and waterfalls planned.
Phnom Kulem is considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire and the temple of Phreah Ang Thom is the most sacred place in Cambodia for Hindus and Buddhist, as well as the site of the largest reclining Buddha in the country. The National Park was created in 1993 and listed in 2012 by UNESCO to protect the area from the farming practices causing deforestation in the region.
The landscape was beautiful as we ascended the hill, but it is largely unexplored by tourists due to the area being a Khmer Rouge stronghold during the 1970s and therefore unexploded landmines are still present. I’m glad we didn’t plan on cycling as the private road up to the temple might be relatively new, but it’s steep and made of red sandstone so would have been hard work. It was a bumpy 45 minute drive to the Phreah Ang Thom temple at the top of the hill.
Phreah Ang Thom is still used by Buddhists and when we visited it was the weekend of the full moon and so prayers were taking place and there was a strong smell of incense in the air.
As the whole area is a temple you need to remove your shoes to walk around; I couldn’t help feeling sad that the lady looking after shoes had been injured in the war.
As monks prayed under the sacred rock and worshippers chanted, we ascended the concrete steps at the side of the rock to the giant reclining Buddha, carved into the top of the rock.
From the temple we also visited the nearby waterfalls and played with some of the local children. The waterfalls are beautiful but very busy with tourists. This immediate area does suffer from litter and street hawkers, which is a shame but I guess isn’t uncommon, I can think of similar places in the UK that suffer litter from uneducated visitors.
We’d taken a fantastic packed lunch as we’d been advised that whilst there is a local cafe, the water quality and hygiene wasn’t guaranteed. I have to say our packed lunch was the best I’ve ever had!