Kulen Mountain National Park
This place is also called Phnom Koulen and Phnum Kulen in Khmer language. The name indicates something that can be found in someone’s imagination. In reality there is no mountain whatsoever and therefore it’s a tricky name. That it even is a supposed part of a mountain range makes it somewhat funny. Don’t take it too serious when going by names. It all depends on your own definition of what a mountain is. That people from the lowlands that are partly below sea level couldn’t see a mountain at all, must be some indication. The Highest point is some 487 meter and the average height of the range is 400 meters. A pimple or at most a hill would give the place a more realistic idea.
This being said, the Kulen Mountain National Park does have enough to offer in many ways for a lot of people. A lot of people is exactly what you find when you visit there in the weekends or even more crowded on public holidays. The days that Cambodians have three or more days off from work. In that case Cambodians from Phnom Penh and the more southern provinces are coming to visit Angkor and this Sacred place of Kulen. This on top of locals from Siem Reap province and tourists.
The price for a ticket of Kulen mountain is $13 when you purchase it in Siem Reap town and $20 when you purchase it at the National Park. A thing to keep in mind is that the road leading up to the parking area is till 12.30 pm only open for upwards traffic and from that time till 5 pm only for downwards going traffic. This means that you can get up there at 9.30 am but not return down 2 hrs after. This to avoid traffic chaos on the road which is curvy and not wide enough at some spots for two lanes. We’re talking here only about the small distance on the hill.
One thing Kulen Mountain has to offer is a picnic area. A small stream is running through this picnic area. This gives the perfect recreation possibility for people who are there with kids. The stream is shallow and therefore you can’t swim there or drown. For smaller kids a great place to play in the water.
The picnic spot along the stream exists of a lot of cabins. A sort of small house style platform. It has a roof, the floor is about half a meter above the ground and there are 2-4 hammocks attached to the wooden support poles. Nice for people who like to take a nap or just hang and swing a bit while reading or busy with phones. Don’t count on it that your phone has a network there. It might depend on which provider you have, but overall there isn’t a network most of the time.
A picnic means food and drinking. Although there are some sellers of food walking around, it’s better to bring all that you want yourself. Boxes with chunks of ice to keep drinks cold. Food items of any kind. There is a possibility to bring a speaker for music but it should work on Bluetooth from a phone. You can leave trash on the platform when you’re going. Empty plastic bowls, cans, etc. A cleaning team will clean it up shortly after you left. The picnic spot is a 5 min walk from the parking area.
The next thing that Kulen Mountain has to offer are two waterfalls. A walk from the picnic area to the first fall is just a few minutes. This, in all honesty, is hardly a fall with max 5 meters height. Alright, when the place is already called Mountain, then this can be called a fall. You’re faucet at home in that case too. As long as water falls, no matter the distance it falls.
At the bottom there is a kind of pond but just ankle deep. People walk around in it. It’s possibly different in the rain season. From there you follow the path down to the second fall. From the picnic spot to the second fall is 200 meters walk. There are metal stairs at some point. Slippery spots here ‘n there all the way down. Wearing shoes can be recommendable. The walking time between the first fall and the second fall is again just about 5 minutes.
By reaching that fall there is a very short piece that you can actually go by foot. This one can be called more a waterfall in height. A max of 20 meters. There are 3 separate flows of water falling down. Not one wide water flow but instead three small ones. Here too it will be different in the rain season between May and Nov. There is a pond for swimming but there is no deep point in the pond. The deepest point gets to an adults waist. It stays more of a playground than a swim area. Especially on a holiday when there are more people than water.
A positive thing to mention here is that at this spot you can get swimming clothes for rent. There are two small changing rooms and there are safety boxes for rent for your valuables and to put your clothes. On a midweek day this might be an interesting place to hangout.
The water comes from the Siem Reap river and gets to the Tonle Sap lake, with the falls somewhere on the way. The water from Tonle Sap lake goes into the Mekong river. That goes all the way down south through Cambodia and ends up as the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
Preah Ang Thom
A 16th century Buddhist Monastery near the Picnic area, but still far enough to go with a vehicle and has its own parking lot. The Preah Ang Thom temple or monastery is worth the visit when you are at Kulen mountain anyway. You will find a relatively big lying Buddha. Nothing huge in size compared to the one in Bangkok though. You walk upstairs, leave your shoes down. There are sellers and there are beggars. Every single step of the stairs has one. They aren’t bothering you. They sit quietly, more in shame than as a hassle. Often they’re real victims of the genocide of the past. Blind people, landmine victims and senior citizens.
Beside the stairs up is the small area to leave your shoes. You can sit there and buy something like water or incense. It has a small walking space around it. More up by an iron staircase is the Lying Buddha. The whole area is a sacred, important place for Cambodians. For foreigners who have visited plenty of temples, pagodas and monasteries in other Asian countries, this one might not be impressive.
The location of Kulen mountain is in the province of Siem Reap in northern Cambodia, 48 km from the town of Sieam Reap. In distance not too far from this town but in time it can easily take you an hour to get there because of bad roads and slow drivers. You can rent a motorbike for around $12 to get to Kulen. In grades of impressiveness it can’t be compared with Angkor. Neither with many falls in Asia nor with many temples in Asia. This all for foreign visitors who are short in time and have to pick places of beauty and importance to them. Kulen is more of a great family, friends, expats outing place from their daily life for religious or recreation purpose than a must see place in a vacation for tourists.