A Journey to Sacred Mountain
By: The Servant. Pictures by : John Seow ( January, 2002 Volume 2 No.1 )

Many travelers visit Angkor to see the magnificent Angkor Wat. But although incredible and awe-inspiring, Angkor Wat does not mark the start of the Angkorian Empire begun by Jayavarman II in the ninth century. That honor belongs to another, less visited but very accessible site deep in the lush Cambodian jungle the sacred mountain of Phnom Kulen. At just 42 kilometers north of Siem Reap Town, many visitors combine a visit to Phnom Kulen with a trip to the pink sandstone temple of Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women. But Phnom Kulen is also a change of scenery for those who have spent days looking at the impressive lowland temples and wish to see a different, rural Cambodia, waterfalls and forest. In 802 AD, the mysterious King Jayavarman II proclaimed this place and its surrounds as his empire and declared it free of the rule of Java, and Phnom declared it free of the rule of Java, and Phnom Kulen was born as the new dynasty's first capital. The all-weather road leading to the mountain, whose name means Lychee Mountain in Khmer, is easily traveled. Lush forest and sandstone boulders alternate with the rich green of rice paddies. There are few people on the way up the mountain. Quiet envelopes the traveler.
The road rises gradually until it reaches the base of the mountain, where guards charge a $20 entry fee to proceed. Phnom Kulen is basically privately owned by military interests and operates totally independently of the Apsara Authority which overseas the main temples of Angkor.

Entry passes for Angkor Wat are not valid here. Inside, travelers can walk, or take motos to the the top. Those who wish to drive their own vehicles to the top must pay an additional parking fee. The peak of Phnom Kulen opens out into a large, flat plain. To either side, tall waterfalls crash down the mountain, clean and clear and cool. Etched into the riverbed, carvings can be seen. Brahminist yonis and lingas-on a smaller scale than at the famous and nearby Kbal Spean, known to foreigners as the River of a Thousand Lingas-but still haunting, impressive and beautiful. A mountain peak temple houses a huge reclining Buddha, gazing serenely out from His peaceful mountain home. This is the largest reclining Buddha in the Kingdom.
Nearby, a Buddha relic is housed in a colorful stupa. Even in hot season, when the lowland temples swelter, this place is relatively cool due to its high altitude. It is worth hiring a guide while you are in Phnom Kulen. These are often the same soldiers who man the entrance, and know the area well. And, hidden in the jungle all around the main Kulen temple complex are gems sometimes beautifully preserved temples which appear from dense overgrowth.
Prasat O'Thma Dap, Prasat Chrei, Prasat Neak Ta these are among 53 temples scattered among villages within about a 30 kilometer radius of the main mountain of Phnom Kulen. Although these temples have been looted, like most in Cambodia, some lintels and statues survive and many are in quite fine condition. The Phnom Kulen area is still mined another reason not to stray from paths but it is considered secure and a guide will show visitors sights few tourists have yet seen while ensuring your safety in the maze of paths the local villagers have carved through the undergrowth while going about their daily tasks of farming and hunting. Phnom Kulen is indeed a magical place. Stay an extra day in Siem Reap to see it. It is an unforgettable memory of this stunning, exotic Kingdom you will keep with you forever.