The last time I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia I met some really great guys from Australia. We had a blast together. So when they said they were coming back to Siem Reap I had to go meet them. Siem Reap is not far from Bangkok by bus, though the journey can be a bit long with a few nuisances along the way. Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.

I’ve been to Cambodia many times and so have my friends, so were able to avoid most of the touristy stuff. We had all been to the Angkor temples before. We’d seen most of the museums. This time we just hung out it the small city center drinking and eating. There’s nothing wrong with that once in a while, though we finally started itching to do something a little more. We tried the War Museum, but that is depressing and taking only an hour.

Phnom Kulen Waterfall, outside Siem Reap, Cambodia
Phnom Kulen Waterfall, outside Siem Reap, Cambodia

Instead, we decided to take a day trip to Phnom Kulen National Park. Phnom Kulen is about 50 kilometers from Siem Reap, out in the jungle up a winding dirt road that goes one direction in the morning and the other direction in the afternoon. It takes about two hours to get to, despite the relatively short distance. Since there were five of use, we just got a minivan for the day. That was $55 and the entrance fee is $15 if you buy from a travel agency, $20 if you buy when you get there.

Wat Preah Ang Thom, Reclining Buddha
Wat Preah Ang Thom, Reclining Buddha

Wat Preah Ang Thom, a Buddhist temple with a reclining Buddha, was the first stop. There are hundreds of steps to climb to get to it, of course. The temple is relatively small, though it was pretty busy. Mostly locals visit; there are few foreigners. The temple dates from the 16th century as was actually Hindu before the Buddhists took it over. You can still see many Hindu carvings, mostly Vishnu (the elephant).

Nearby the temple is Phnom Kulen Waterfall. There is a small falls at the top with water flowing over flat rocks that you can walk on before it finally tumbles down the main waterfall. To get the that you have to climb down wooden stairs that are broken and missing several steps. It’s a bit dangerous, as are the slippery boulders you have to climb around to get to the actual falls. Once there, the effort is worth it. You can go swimming and climb the rocks at the base of the falls. The water has “massage fish” in it, the same fish that nibble on your feet you see in tanks outside massage parlors in SE Asia.

1000 Lings, Siem Reap River
1000 Lings, Siem Reap River

Because we finished with the falls sooner than anticipated and we couldn’t head back down until after noon, we decided to see the 1000 Lingas. There are carvings of phallic symbols known as linga that cover the bottom of the Siem Reap River. It’s believed they bless the river before it reaches the Angkor temples.

While Phnom Kulen isn’t an life-changing destination, it is a nice place to visit if you want to get away from the tourist hordes and just have a relaxing day trip. You’ll mostly encounter locals and the surrounding area is quite beautiful. There were hundreds of butterflies everywhere. The place was very relaxing and enjoyable.

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  1. Thanks for your post! I’m planning a trip to Cambodia in mid-May 2013. I am excited to visit Phnom Kulen! I was wondering which travel agency you used for this particular excursion? As well, do you know of any buses that take you to Phnom Kulen, or should we hire a driver/rent a vehicle? Any advice would be appreciated! Hope to hear back soon! 🙂

    1. I am not sure which travel agent we used. They were friends of one of my friends. Typically any travel agent can help you out. I have dealt with about 4 or 5 in Siem Reap and they are all priced roughly the same. Though, shop around a little and don’t be afraid to bargain.

      As far as I know, there are no buses. Hiring a driver for the day is probably the same as going to a travel agent. With a travel agent, they may have a group so the price might be more reasonable than getting a driver. I almost never rent a car abroad, and certainly not in Cambodia. I would stay away from doing that–too many problems.

      When you get the park, the driver will just stay with the van/car, so it is self guided. The monastery is nice to walk around first (there is shopping on the way to it if that is your thing), then see the top of the falls, then the bottom of the falls. Be prepared for steps that are in really bad shape–be careful! Then go to see the linga and some more shopping (the people are nice to talk to, though they will try to get you to buy something–I usually politely decline and have a nice conversation).

      Let me know if you have more questions about Siem Reap or anywhere else. I am sure you will have a great time!

  2. Great blog! I just want to ask for other recommendations on places we can visit. Preferably non-mainstream tourist attractions 🙂 thank you!

    1. Thanks, glad you like the site. The countryside around Siem Reap has some great places to visit. Most of the developed infrastructure in Cambodia though is on the tourist trail and it is still worth a visit.

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